Politics & Government

Money has likely role in runoff repeal bid

FRANKFORT - The entry of independently wealthy candidates in both parties in this year's crowded race for governor appears to be propelling a call to repeal a state law regarding primary runoff elections.

Under current state law, the top vote-getters in the May 22 primaries must receive at least 40 percent of the votes to win the Republican or Democratic nomination for governor. If no one in a primary reaches that threshold, the state must hold a runoff election a month later between the top two finishers in the primary.

State Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, is backing legislation to do away with that electoral overtime period.

Both Republican and Democratic races for governor have attracted candidates with large pocketbooks, who could have a distinct advantage in a runoff election. Paducah businessman Billy Harper, a Republican, and Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford, a Democrat, are ready to spend millions of their own dollars to be Kentucky's next governor.

Former Democratic governor and current state Sen. Julian Carroll of Frankfort said that, although he thinks it would be "unfair to change" the rules, he would support eliminating the runoff "because it will save taxpayers the money it would cost for another election."

He said a runoff also would require the candidates to raise as much as $3 million within two weeks, a feat that could most likely be accomplished only by wealthy candidates who could write their campaign a big check.

Lunsford said yesterday he is willing to spend whatever it takes to win the governor's race and that he was going to put in $2 million at the onset. He spent $8 million from his pocketbook in 2003 before dropping out of the primary race for governor.

Harper's campaign manager, Stan Pulliam, said talk of repeal of the runoff law is "typical of Frankfort politicians who want to change the law in the middle of the game."

"It makes sense for the party nominee to have at least 40 percent of the vote of his or her party going into the November general election between the party nominees," Pulliam said. "Keep the primary runoff law."

Former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup of Louisville, who is running on the GOP ticket, said through campaign manager Cam Savage that she "is solely focused on winning the Republican primary in May and right now we are perfectly content to leave this issue to the legislature."

Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who is seeking re-election, said of the runoff provision through campaign manager Marty Ryall, "We don't think it will have an impact in the Republican primary for governor. We fully expect to break the threshold that is current law.

"However, doing away with the runoff will save the state money and the governor will sign it, if it is passed."

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said, "I don't think Republicans have been supportive of a runoff. It's been a Democrat proposal." Legislation to repeal the primary runoff law "would be received favorably in the Senate," he said.

House Speaker Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat running for governor, said he did not know whether the primary runoff law will be repealed in this year's session. "I don't particularly like it but it makes no difference to me."