MIDWAY — The three candidates for Central Kentucky's special House election clashed Tuesday night on who has the experience necessary to best represent the people of the 56th District, which covers Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties.
They discussed their campaigns and stands on issues for about two hours at a Midway College forum sponsored by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce and Woodford Tomorrow, a citizens group working to improve the county.
The special election will be held next Tuesday to fill a vacancy created when Democrat Carl Rollins of Midway left the legislature to take a higher-education post.
Early in the forum, Republican Lyen Crews said his Democratic opponent, James Kay, lacks experience to be a state legislator.
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"At 30 years of age, he doesn't have a lot of experience," said Crews. He added that Kay might be "a good community organizer, I don't know," in a reference to President Barack Obama's early career in Chicago. Obama, a Democrat, is highly unpopular in Kentucky.
Kay countered that he is experienced in the courtroom and in the community as an attorney.
He said his youth can be an advantage, noting that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence before he was 30.
That prompted independent candidate John-Mark Hack to say to Kay, "It's pretty heavy to compare yourself to Thomas Jefferson."
Hack said he is the only candidate with experience in both the public and private sectors. Hack was an agricultural aide for former Gov. Paul Patton and now works in the food business. Crews is a financial officer for eCampus.com in Lexington and held similar posts at Midway College and the former Woodford Memorial Hospital.
The candidates agreed that state lawmakers should not be paid for special sessions to do work they should have completed in regular sessions. Special sessions cost taxpayers about $65,000 a day. Gov. Steve Beshear is expected to call one soon for legislative redistricting, which lawmakers failed to accomplish in the regular session.
But the candidates disagreed on whether convicted felons who have served their sentences should be allowed to vote, and on the death penalty.
Crews said he favors letting the governor decide whose voting rights should be restored, while Kay and Hack disagreed. "Restoring civil rights is one of the best ways to integrate people into our society," Hack said.
On the death penalty, Crews said it should be retained for heinous crimes. Hack said he opposes capital punishment but supports the sentence of life in prison without parole.
Kay said the state needs to look at the issue, which spurred Hack to ask him if he were for or against it. Kay said he needs time to think about it, but considers it unconstitutional now.
In the district known for its horse industry, the candidates were asked what they would do for the business. Kay said he favors expanded gambling, while Crews said the issue should be put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment for voters to decide.
Hack, who once headed the group "Say No to Casinos," said he opposes expanded gambling because it is predatory on Kentuckians. He said he backs putting a nominal surcharge on hotel rooms to be dedicated to the horse industry.
In next year's regular legislative session, Kay said he wants to work hard on the state budget, making sure education is a priority.
As a new legislator, Crews said, he would try to make Kentucky more business-friendly. He said excessive regulations are strangling the state.
Hack said most Kentuckians don't know how dire the state's fiscal condition is. He said he wants a complete review of state spending, a true account of the state pension programs and enactment of comprehensive tax reform.