Politics & Government

Thirteen weeks later, this race for a seat in the Kentucky House is finally over

Rep. Jim Glenn says he won his House election twice

After former Kentucky state Rep. DJ Johnson withdrew his election contest, Rep. Jim Glenn says he would have won regardless.
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After former Kentucky state Rep. DJ Johnson withdrew his election contest, Rep. Jim Glenn says he would have won regardless.

Thirteen weeks and three days after polls closed on Nov. 6, the race for Kentucky’s 13th House District finally finished Friday.

After an election that was decided by only one vote, after the election was contested and taken to the House of Representatives, after nine names were pulled out of film canisters to determine the members of an election contest board, after a recount of paper ballots and the counting of five unopened absentee ballots determined it was a tie, Democrat Jim Glenn of Owensboro kept the seat he claimed last month in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Former Rep. D.J. Johnson, R-Owensboro, who lost the election and filed an election contest to get a recount, told the House of Representatives’ election contest board Friday that he was withdrawing his contest, keeping the balance of power at 61 Republicans and 39 Democrats.

“What is best for my people, what is best for my district, is that we end this,” Johnson told the House Election Board.

Johnson said he made his decision as the board’s nine members — six Republicans and three Democrats — scratched their heads about what to do with a recount that had resulted in a tie. Johnson’s attorney suggested they decide the race with the flip of a coin, but Glenn’s attorney, Anna Whites, said that wasn’t going to happen.

“You cannot impeach Jim Glenn with the flip of a coin,” Whites said, arguing that the five absentee ballots shouldn’t have been opened and alleging that Johnson and his attorneys had interfered with the recount process.

Johnson said the fact that Glenn wouldn’t accept a coin flip decision caused him to withdraw.

“In this case, success for me personally in a win, was going to create turmoil in my district. it was going to create a legal circus for who knows how long,” Johnson said. “That is not in the best interest of the people of the 13th district, so sometimes you have to put your personal best interest aside as a public servant and do what’s right for the people.”

Former Rep. D.J. Johnson, R-Owesboro, shakes Rep. Mary Lou Marzian’s, D-Louisville, hand after he withdrew his contest to an election he lost by only one vote. Daniel Desrochers

The recount was held a week ago, and though Glenn had won when all the paper ballots were counted, the race was tied after they opened five absentee ballots that county officials decided should have been counted.

In the case of a tied election, Kentucky law calls for election officials to decide the race by casting lots. As recently as 2018, a county election to determine whether to allow the sale of alcohol was decided by a coin flip (alcohol won).

But Whites, Glenn’s attorney, made it clear Glenn would not accept the result of a coin toss to determine who holds the seat, especially since Glenn had been sworn in as a state lawmaker in January. She had problems with the way Johnson’s attorneys played a role in the recount and didn’t think the absentee ballots should have been opened since there was no way of verifying if any changes had been made to them since they were last handled by county election officials.

It was then that Johnson decided he would drop his election contest. In an emotional statement, he made it clear that he didn’t like either the prospect of a special election or a coin flip and he thought it would be best if he withdrew his contest. He still has to foot the bill for the recount.

He was then embraced by several of his Republican colleagues as Glenn made his way over to shake his hand.

Afterword, Glenn was adamant that he had won the election, regardless of Johnson’s decision to drop his contest.

“I’m not a six year old, I’m a grown man. I won this race,” Glenn said. “The request was to count the paper ballots, all the paper ballots were counted and that was the return on it. I won already. I wasn’t planning to go back for a coin toss. We’re not in elementary school where we’re shooting marbles.”

Johnson said he hasn’t decided whether he will run again in 2020, saying the election is still too far away. But he didn’t rule out the possibility.

“I still have my yard signs,” he said.

Daniel Desrochers has been the political reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader since 2016. He previously worked for the Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia.