FRANKFORT — Republicans in Fayette County will choose their party's nominees for three state House seats during the May 22 primary.
In southwestern Lexington's 45th District, state Rep. Stan Lee, a Lexington attorney, faces Chris Tyler, a mechanical engineer who has never held an elected office but is a familiar face in Frankfort. No Democrat is seeking the office in November's general election.
In east Lexington's 76th District, GOP voters will choose between Richard Marrs, an advertising executive, and Lavinia Spirito, a lawyer. The winner will face longtime Democratic state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo in the fall.
In south-central Lexington's 79th District, Republican Chris Logan, a minister and former financial planner, and Kenneth Kearns II, a trainer for a lighting company, are competing for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democratic state Rep. Susan Westrom in November.
Lee, who was first elected in 2001, holds a sizeable financial advantage over Tyler. Lee's campaign has more than $54,000 on hand, compared to about $3,500 for Tyler, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance reports.
Lee, one of the most conservative members of the House, has been endorsed by several conservative groups, such as the National Rifle Association, Right to Life, several area ministers and the Fraternal Order of Police.
He has consistently voted against tax raises or fee increases and is a strong supporter of bills aimed at limiting abortion.
"Long before the Tea Party movement, I was fighting against excessive spending and borrowing in Frankfort," Lee said. "In part, because of my efforts, they are now focusing on debt."
Tyler counters that he brings a fresh perspective and a proven track record of getting things done in Frankfort as advocacy chairman of the Kentucky chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.
Tyler said he was able to garner Republican and Democratic support for "green building" legislation that would encourage more cost-efficient, green building efforts in Kentucky. The legislation was approved by the House this year, but but was gutted in the Senate and replaced with a measure to help the March 2 tornado victims.
Tyler said his experience as an engineer helps him view issues differently.
"As a engineer, what I'm tasked to do is gather the data, put the information together and then solve the problem," Tyler said. "It will help break gridlock in Frankfort."
Spirito, a first-time candidate, has far out-raised Marrs, who ran unsuccessfully for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council in 2008 and the 76th House District in 2010.
Spirito's campaign had raised $40,438 and had $10,144 on hand, according to recent campaign finance reports. Marrs had raised close to $5,000, but had just $785 cash-on-hand.
Spirito said it's time that a conservative speak for the 76th District, which Palumbo has represented for nearly 22 years.
"My opponent has gone up against her before and he was beaten by 20 percentage points," Spirito said of Marrs. "As an attorney and a woman ... I have a real wide base of support."
Spirito said the state's burgeoning unfunded liability in its pension system is a concern.
Raising taxes to put more money in the underfunded pension system is not an option, she said, but she does support moving future state employees to a 401(K)-style system with defined contributions, not defined benefits.
Spirito, who represents children and parents in child abuse and neglect court, said she thinks its time for social workers to get a raise, although she's not sure how the state should pay for it.
Marrs said he has spent more than four years learning about the 76th District and is more knowledgeable than Spirito about the state's finances.
He said he supports overhauling the state's tax system, which has not kept pace as the state moves to a more service-based economy. In general, Marrs said he supports moving away from income taxes and toward more consumption-based taxes, such as sales taxes.
"By moving to more consumption-base taxes, the system will also become more transparent," he said.
Regarding state pensions, Marrs said future state employees should go into a 401(K)-style system.
Neither candidate in the 79th District has generated a large amount of campaign contributions, although Logan has out-raised Kearns 5 to 1.
Logan had raised $5,140 and had $2,042 on hand earlier this month, according to campaign finance reports. Kearns had raised $1,525 and had $1,024 on hand.
Logan, who ran unsuccessfully for the Urban County Council in 2008 and 2010, said Kentucky needs to do more to attract and keep jobs.
"We need to figure out how to create a more business-friendly environment," Logan said. "You have to look at the whole gamet of things such as right to work, implementing tort reform, and looking at our corporate tax structure."
Kearns is a former staffer for the Legislative Research Commission, the administrative arm of the legislative branch. He also worked for U.S. Rep. Larry Hopkins in the late 1980s.
Kearns ran unsuccessfully in 1990 against then-state Rep. Bill Lear, a Democrat.
He said his time in state government and private business make him the better choice over Logan.
"I've just had a lot more experience," Kearns said.
Kearns said he would support right-to-work legislation — allowing non-union workers in unionized workplaces — and backs allowing charter schools in Kentucky.