Politics & Government

Democratic state Rep. Keith Hall loses seat in down-to-the-wire primary in E. Ky.

W. Keith Hall, left, and Chris Harris
W. Keith Hall, left, and Chris Harris

FRANKFORT — A Democratic state lawmaker who has been embroiled in controversies lost his House seat Tuesday.

In unofficial results, incumbent Keith Hall of Phelps was defeated by Pike County Magistrate Chris Harris by 209 votes in the Democratic primary election for the 93rd House District. The district covers eastern Pike County and Martin County.

Harris' campaign manager, Kim Geveden, said Harris declared victory at 10:30 p.m. but added that Hall, 54, had not conceded. Hall, who was seeking his eighth term in the state House, could not be reached for comment.

In 2011, the Legislative Ethics Commission fined Hall $2,000 after one of his companies won $171,000 in no-bid sewer line projects that he voted to include in the state budget. More recently, state and federal investigators have examined Hall's ties to a former coal mine inspector to whom Hall — a coal mine operator — once claimed he gave an unspecified sum of money. Hall has denied any unethical behavior.

In the primary, Harris, 43, portrayed himself as a reformer. He said he decided to run because he got tired of being embarrassed by Hall's "continued corruption."

The race between Hall and Harris was one of the most-watched in Tuesday's primary, which sets the stage for this fall's state House races, with Republicans aiming to take control of the chamber for the first time since 1921.

All 100 seats in the state House, in which Democrats now hold a 54-46 majority, are up for grabs this year, but only 22 districts were contested Tuesday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, expressed confidence Tuesday night that the Democratic majority in the House will return "and our ranks grow." House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, could not be reached for a comment about the GOP's chance of taking over the House.

Here's a look at other contested House primary elections on Tuesday:

In Fayette County's 77th House District, former Urban County Councilman George Brown Jr. defeated Fayette County Magistrate Michael Haskins to replace Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, who is not seeking re-election this year. No Republican filed for the race.

Crenshaw, who has been in the House since 1992, had backed Haskins in the heavily Democratic district in northwest Lexington. Brown said Tuesday night that he thought his name recognition and hard work propelled him to victory.

He also pledged to keep fighting for an issue dear to Crenshaw: restoring voting rights to most ex-felons after they complete their sentences.

Also in Fayette County, Republican Richard Marrs defeated Lavinia Theodoli Spirito to take on Democratic Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo in November in east-central Lexington's 76th District.

This year marks the third time that Marrs, who runs an advertising firm, has sought Palumbo's House seat. He lost to Palumbo by 20 percentage points in 2010 and by about 10 points in 2012.

In Tuesday's GOP primary, he faced a rematch with Spirito, a lawyer. Marrs said he thinks he is building name recognition in the district.

In south-central Lexington's 79th House District, Ken Kearns II turned back Urban County Councilman George Myers in the Republican primary to face Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom this fall.

Of the six state House seats contained entirely in Lexington, three incumbents — Palumbo, Westrom and Republican Robert Benvenuti — will face challengers in November.

Democrat Creasa Reed, a Lexington health advocate, filed to challenge Benvenuti in Lexington's 88th District.

In Jefferson County, former gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffett defeated Shellie May for the Republican nomination for the 32nd House District seat left open by GOP incumbent Julie Raque Adams, who decided to run for the state Senate. Moffett is a Tea Party activist who lost to then-Senate President David Williams in the 2011 GOP primary for governor. He will face Democrat Ashley Miller in the November general election.

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