Politics & Government

GOP expected to maintain control of Kentucky Senate

FRANKFORT — Republicans have controlled the Kentucky Senate since 2000, and it will stay that way after Nov. 6, Democratic and Republican leaders agree.

Although there are 10 contested races for seats in the 37-member upper chamber, only three of those are viewed as competitive, virtually guaranteeing that the GOP will maintain a solid grip on the Senate.

Currently, there are 22 Republicans, 14 Democrats and one independent, who caucuses with the Republicans in the Senate.

The three races to watch on Election Day are in southeastern Kentucky, Louisville and far Western Kentucky.

In the Republican-leaning 21st Senate District — Laurel, Estill, Powell, Jackson and Menifee counties — former Republican state Sen. Albert Robinson is in a tough battle with Democrat Amie Hacker, 34, a political newcomer and a small businesswoman. Robinson, 73, is a lawyer who once held the seat vacated by Republican Tom Jensen earlier this year.

In southern Louisville's 37th Senate District, a heated race has developed between Democratic Sen. Perry Clark and Republican challenger Chris Thieneman. The candidates have traded sharp accusations. Clark has questioned whether Thieneman really lives in the district. Thieneman has charged that Clark is a drug user. Clark denies the charge but acknowledged this summer, when unveiling a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, that he has smoked marijuana

In Western Kentucky's 1st Senate District, former U.S. Rep. Carroll Hubbard, a Democrat, faces Trigg County Judge-Executive Stan Humphries, a Republican. Hubbard is looking for political redemption after serving prison time more than a decade ago for federal campaign-finance violations. The seat was vacated by Republican Ken Winters, who retired earlier this year. The district covers Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Lyon and Trigg counties.

In Central Kentucky, Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown and Democratic Sen. Julian Carroll of Frankfort are expected to win re-election with ease.

7th District

Carroll, a former governor, faces Frank Haynes, a Republican, who has twice run unsuccessfully for a state House seat in heavily Democratic Frankfort. The 7th Senate District includes Franklin, Anderson and Woodford counties, and rural portions of northern Fayette County.

Carroll, elected to the Senate in 2005, said he has been an advocate for current and retired state employees and has backed measures that would improve educational attainment.

He helped sponsor a bill in 2008 that would give school districts more tools to combat bullying, which he said is a perplexing and growing problem. Carroll also pushed the state Department of Education to change the way it calculated graduation and dropout rates.

Dealing with a growing projected shortfall in the state's pension system is a top priority for Carroll, who said he will fight to ensure that the system becomes solvent while protecting pensions of current state employees.

Haynes, an Army veteran who most recently was inspector general for the Kentucky National Guard, said he would like for a commission that is studying the state's tax code recommend changes that would make the state more business-friendly. The commission is expected to release its recommendations before the legislative session in January.

"Our tax structure is not friendly to small businesses," Haynes said. "We also don't have a right-to-work law."

Haynes also said he would vote to repeal a 2005 measure that allows lawmakers to significantly increase their legislative pensions if they take a higher-paying job in the other two branches of government.

As of Oct. 22, Haynes had raised $6,699 and had a little more than $1,598 left to spend before Nov. 6, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Carroll had raised $18,937 and had $13,316 left to spend in the race.

17th District

Thayer faces newcomer David Holcomb, a Democrat, in the 17th Senate District, which includes Scott, Grant and Owen counties and a portion of Kenton County.

Holcomb, director of purchasing for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, has raised no money. Disgust with state leaders for failing to pass a state budget on time prompted him to throw his name in the ring, Holcomb said. Earlier this year, Gov. Steve Beshear called a special legislative session after lawmakers failed to approve a budget by the constitutionally required deadline.

"I am essentially running out of general dissatisfaction with the performance of our legislature," Holcomb said. "They have been dysfunctional for so long."

Holcomb said he would support a non-partisan group to oversee the redrawing of legislative districts every 10 years. After a contentious redistricting fight earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ultimately declared the redrawn legislative districts unconstitutional.

Holcomb said he decided against raising money because he equates campaign donations with "IOUs."

Thayer, who has raised more than $117,000 for his re-election, said he has actively campaigned despite his opponent's muted efforts.

"This is a job interview with the voters," Thayer said. "I don't take this job for granted."

Thayer, a marketing consultant who was first elected in a special election in 2003, has sponsored failed bills that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow casino gambling at the state's racetracks. Thayer said he hopes voters will soon get a chance to vote on the issue.

As chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, Thayer is co-chairman of a task force that is expected to propose possible solutions to fix the states' underfunded retirement system.

"I think that I've proven that I am a strong conservative but independent voice in the state Senate," Thayer said. "I'm not afraid to take on big issues such as pension reform, tax reform and special district reform, and a constitutional amendment on gaming. I've also proven that I am willing to work across party lines in order to get things done."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader