FRANKFORT — Two more candidates joined the fray Monday to succeed Lexington Democrat Kathy Stein in the Kentucky Senate, setting the field for what promises to be an intense battle in the Dec. 10 special election.
In a surprise move Monday night, Republican leaders in the 13th Senate District chose Michael E. Johnson to be their nominee.
Republican Party of Kentucky spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said in an email that Johnson is a full-time minister with Hands On Ministry and works in the state Senate during legislative sessions. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported last December that Johnson founded a Tea Party group in Lexington with the hopes of making both political parties take more notice of black voters.
Cooper said Johnson and Lexington councilman Chuck Ellinger II sought the GOP candidacy and Johnson was elected by a majority vote of the committee.
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Richard Moloney, a former member of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council who recently announced that he will retire Oct. 30 as the city's commissioner of environment and public works, filed earlier Monday as an independent candidate in the special election set by Gov. Steve Beshear.
Democrats last week selected Reggie Thomas, a lawyer and professor of criminal justice and business law at Kentucky State University, as their nominee.
Beshear appointed Stein to an open Fayette Circuit Court judgeship earlier this month, creating the rush for her state Senate seat.
The winner of the election will represent the newly redrawn 13th Senate District, centered around downtown Lexington and the University of Kentucky campus.
It's traditionally a staunch Democratic district. In last year's presidential election, the district had 41,157 registered Democrats, 18,606 Republicans and 7,152 independents.
Johnson, who has lived in Lexington for 30 years, said in a statement that his 15 years of ministry "created this opportunity for me to serve all of the community and bring change for our next generation through the conservative values that I've learned as a member of the Republican Party."
He said education, job creation and creating "hope for our youth," would be top issues in his campaign.
Last year, Johnson told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he wants to bring the Tea Party message of limited government to minorities who haven’t been exposed to that message.
"My whole goal is that starting in 2013, 2014, no candidates that affect my community will get in office unless they come through my community,” Johnson told the newspaper. “That’s the most hurtful thing about what I saw in 2010, 2011, and 2012, how my community was taken for granted."
Moloney said in a news release Monday that he will formally announce his independent candidacy next week.
He said he was seeking the Senate seat as an independent because "people are fed up with gridlock in both Washington and Frankfort."
He said Democrats and Republicans are both responsible for "the mess we face."
"We need people in office who can work with both Republicans and Democrats to break the logjams that currently frustrate us all," said Moloney, a former Democrat who had considered seeking that party's nomination in the special election.
"I have a long career of working with people of all parties and walks of life to get things done."
Moloney submitted the signatures of more than 200 registered voters in the district with his petition to run as an independent. He needed 100.
Moloney served seven terms on the Urban County Council. He also was state commissioner of housing, building and construction from 2008 to 2010. He was chief administrative officer for the city of Lexington for two years.
For the last nine months Moloney has been commissioner of public works for the city.
Moloney is the grandson of former Senate Majority Floor Leader Richard Moloney and the nephew of former Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Michael R. Moloney, both of whom represented the 13th Senate District.