Six Lexington incumbents face challengers in state House races

Chris Ware | Staff

FRANKFORT — Six Kentucky House members who represent Fayette County voters face challengers this fall. Most of Lexington's incumbent lawmakers have the advantage of more money and more name recognition, but some still face a bumpy path to re-election on Nov. 6.

The most-watched race is a rematch from 2010 in the 62nd House District, which includes Scott County and part of northern Fayette County. Republican Rep. Ryan Quarles defeated longtime state representative Charlie Hoffman in 2010 by 221 votes.

Hoffman, a meat cutter at Kroger and former chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, said anti-incumbent sentiment, fueled by the Tea Party movement, swept him out of office. Now he's the underdog challenger.

"During my time in the General Assembly, I was able to bring back much needed funding for important projects in what is now the fastest-growing house district in the state," said Hoffman, who was first elected in 1997.

Hoffman, 56, of Georgetown, also points to his sponsorship of legislation that made use of seat belts mandatory, saving an estimated 150 lives a year.

Quarles, a recent law school graduate and part-time farmer in Scott County, said he has established relationships with Democrats and Republicans over the past two years, bringing home much-needed money for roads and other projects.

"Even though I am in the minority, I have been able to bring home a $43 million, fully-funded road plan," Quarles said. "I understand that politics is about relationships. I quickly became friends with people on both sides of the aisle and in the governor's office. I don't have the political baggage that my opponent may have."

The 29-year-old said he represents a younger, much-needed voice in Frankfort. Quarles said one of his top priorities is to help more students graduate from college on time and with less debt.

Hoffman has the financial advantage in the race, according to reports filed in early October with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Hoffman had raised $59,709 and had $45,182 on hand going into the final month of the election. Quarles had raised $42,754 and had $36,831 left to spend.

79th House District

Political observers also point to the 79th House District in central Fayette County as one to monitor on election night.

In that race, Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom, 60, faces Republican Chris Logan, 45, to represent the district that includes parts of Lansdowne and Chevy Chase.

Westrom, who has served the district since 1999, said she has long championed more transparency and accountability in state government and has pushed the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release more information about children who were killed as a result of abuse and neglect.

The district needs someone who can work with both sides, Westrom said.

"My intent from the very beginning is to make sure that I did a very broad scope of legislation, from consumer protection to public protection to business protection," Westrom said.

Westrom said Logan is a Tea Party movement candidate who will represent a small segment of Republicans in her district.

"I have always represented all parties and all people," she said.

Logan, a minister, did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment. On his Web site, Logan says he supports charter schools, right-to-work legislation, legalizing industrial hemp and moving legislative pensions to a 401(k)-style program.

Logan probably has relatively high name recognition in the district after twice running unsuccessfully for Urban County Council, but he's being outspent by Westrom by more than a 3-to-1 margin.

Westrom had raised more than $73,384 as of early October and had more than $54,372 left to spend. Logan had raised $19,328 and had $15,679.19 on hand.

76th House District

Another longtime Fayette County Democratic incumbent faces a familiar Republican challenger.

In a rematch from 2010, Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, the longest serving woman in the General Assembly, faces Republican Richard Marrs in northeast Lexington's 76th House District.

Palumbo defeated Marrs, who owns an advertising agency, by 20 percentage points two years ago.

Palumbo, 63, had more than $46,684 to spend on the race, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Marrs had $13,464. But Marrs was outspent by a Republican challenger in the May primary by an 8-to-1 margin and still won.

Marrs, 45, said a previous run for the seat and a prior run for Urban County Council has improved his name recognition with voters in the east-central Fayette County district.

He is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and said he would like to end legislative pensions and is willing to take tough votes to tweak Kentucky's tax code.

"You need a much more engaged, informed and involved state representative," Marrs said.

Palumbo, who was elected in 1991, touts her track record of representing the needs of the district, including getting money in the state budget for a new Bryan Station High School, infrastructure improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park and other brick-and-mortar projects.

"I've also been a strong advocate for women and for children," Palumbo said.

She successfully sponsored bills that require insurance companies to pay for reconstructive surgeries after a woman has a mastectomy and increase breast cancer and ovarian cancer screenings, she said.

In 2010, Palumbo was cited for 15 code violations at a home she previously lived in and still owns in North Lexington. When neighbors complained earlier this year about the house, which still hadn't been repaired, Palumbo told the Herald-Leader that work had been delayed because of hazards such as asbestos, mold and lead paint that require specialists to remove.

Palumbo said her experience trying to fix the house has made her realize that too many people live in houses that contain environmental hazards.

45th House District

In southern Fayette County, Republican Rep. Stan Lee has two challengers in the 45th House District, but neither is a Democrat. After easily turning back a Republican in the primary, Lee faces independent Breck Withers, 47, and Geoff Young, 56, a Green Party candidate.

Lee, who has represented the district since 2001, has a clear advantage in name recognition and campaign cash over the two unknown political newcomers. He had amassed $44,121 and still had more than $40,000 left to spend in early October. Withers and Young had not raised enough money to report to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Lee, 51, touts his record as a fiscal and social conservative who has received endorsements from conservative groups such as Right to Life. He has consistently opposed bills that would increase the state debt throughout his tenure, he said.

Young and Withers attack Lee's record, saying the legislator has accomplished little during more than a decade in Frankfort.

"I've contacted Lee over the years and never had a very good response ... actually zero response when calling my state representative," Withers said. "As I talked with people, that was a very common experience."

Lee, 51, counters that he has been responsive to the constituents in his district.

"I will let my record of constituent services speak for itself," he said.

Young, a retired state employee, said Lee is out of touch with voters in the district.

He said more needs to be done to correct Kentucky's antiquated energy policies. Kentucky's coal industry is in shambles because of the availability of cheap natural gas, not a "war on coal" by President Barack Obama, Young said. To be competitive, Kentucky needs to increase its production of alternative energy sources, he said.

56th House District

Democratic Rep. Carl Rollins, 65, has a substantial financial advantage over Republican newcomer Doug Jones, 78, in the 56th House district, which includes Woodford County, a section of western Fayette County and eastern Franklin County.

Rollins, a marketing manager from Midway, had raised $75,621 and had $56,441 to spend in early October. Jones, a retired management executive from Lexington, had raised $9,093 and had $3,885 on hand.

First elected in 2006, Rollins is chairman of the House Education Committee and recently pushed a successful measure that makes it easier for community college students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

"He's never even run for office before," said Rollins of Jones. "I have been in different elected positions for 25 years."

Jones is running as a fiscal conservative, saying he backs charter schools, right-to-work legislation and business-friendly reforms to the state's tax system.

"If we keep sending the same people to Frankfort, we're going to get the same thing," Jones said.

39th House District

Longtime Democratic Rep. Bob Damron, 58, of Nicholasville, also has a clear fund-raising advantage over Republican challenger Matt Lockett in the 39th House District, which includes a small sliver of southern Fayette County and all of Jessamine County.

Lockett, 38, of Nicholasville, works in a doctor's office and ran unsuccessfully in the 2012 GOP primary for the 6th Congressional District.

Damron, an investment banker and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, had amassed a sizable campaign war chest of $172,562 and had $128,173 left to spend as of early October. Lockett had raised $13,593 and had $12,916 cash on hand.

Damron, who was first elected in 1992, said he represents the conservative values of the voters in his district.

"I am a proven leader and I have been engaged in this district for a long, long time," Damron said. "There are a variety of issues that I have championed over the years from protecting the Second Amendment to enhancing options for senior citizens."

Lockett counters that Damron is too liberal for Jessamine County voters, who need a fresh, more fiscally conservative voice.

"He's been there for 20 years," Lockett said. "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem."

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