FRANKFORT — For 27 years, Republican state Rep. Lonnie Napier has knocked on thousands of doors in Garrard and Madison counties, searching for votes to propel him again and again to the state House.
Napier, an affable auctioneer known for his colorful speeches in the legislature, is on the campaign trail again this year, but he's not seeking votes for himself.
Napier, who will turn 72 on May 24, is backing Nathan Mick as his replacement in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Opposing Mick in the May 22 Republican primary election is Jonathan Shell, a 24-year-old Garrard County farmer.
Mick, 34, is the economic development director for Garrard County. He enjoys the support of Republican Party stalwarts in the 36th House District, including Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson.
Mick, whose great-great-great-grandfather fought for the Union in the Battle of Perryville in 1862, said he wants to be a state representative to use his experience creating jobs on the state level. He also said improving education is "a high priority."
Shell said he will bring "a fresh start" to the state and the House district.
"It doesn't take much to look around and see we're in a rut — our state isn't growing economically and young people are leaving in droves to go to other states to raise families," Shell said. " I do not want to raise a family in a country that I am not trying to change for the better."
Both are making their first bids for public office.
The winner faces Democrat Bradley "Bud" Montgomery, owner of Montgomery Farm and Garden in Berea, in the fall's general election. Larry Woods of Lancaster withdrew on April 3 as a Democratic challenger to Montgomery, according to the secretary of state's office.
Mick has a financial advantage in the race. His campaign recently reported raising about $44,000. Shell's campaign reported $33,856, while Montgomery has raised $5,200.
Napier said he is certain whoever wins the Republican primary will win the fall election.
The district has 14,690 registered Republicans, 14,372 Democrats and 2,443 "other" political party registrations.
Montgomery, 44, said he "strongly" disagrees with Napier's prediction.
Napier, who has received much publicity in recent years for an unsuccessful push to require drug testing for welfare recipients, decided in late January not to seek re-election after House Democrats moved Madison County out of his district. The state Supreme Court later ruled the legislative redistricting unconstitutional and kept in place the old district boundary lines, but Napier still decided to step aside.
"Yes, I've had second thoughts about not running again, but I believe Nathan Mick is a worthy successor," he said.
Mick is a former legislative intern for Napier, who also recommended Mick for a job as deputy chief of staff in Washington for U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, who was in office from 1997 to 2009.
It was Wilson, the judge-executive, who recruited Mick in 2007 to be Garrard County's first economic development director.
"He's far exceeded our expectations," said Wilson, noting heavy media attention to Garrard County last year when Mine Shields announced it would make mine refuge chambers in a Lancaster building.
The race has been "very quiet," Mick said.
"There have been no debates, and both of us have been very positive," he said.
Shell said he wants to work on changing the state's tax code and addressing problems in the state employee pension system.
Shell said he is "not a career politician and will not sit on any political fences or climb a political ladder."
Asked how he plans to overcome Mick's backing by Republican leaders in the district, Shell said the 36th District seat belongs to the people.
"Lonnie Napier and John Wilson have every right to support their friend and business partner," he said. "But last I checked those are two votes, the rest Nathan and I will have to fight to earn, not inherit."