GEORGETOWN — Under different circumstances, Scott County Judge-Executive George Lusby would be a shoo-in for re-election.
He's an incumbent. He has had no major scandals. As chief executive officer of the county, he administers a $34 million budget with no debt.
"We have put in over 200 miles of water lines; zero debt," Lusby said. "We have replaced over 50 bridges; zero debt. We bought the (Scott County) museum building and paid for it; no debt. We have bought 250 acres of park land, built softball fields; zero debt."
But as Scott County has grown more conservative, Lusby, a Democrat, is perceived by some as ripe for defeat. Republican registration in Scott has increased from 12 percent in 1990 — the year Lusby first was elected judge-executive — to 41 percent now.
Four years ago, Republican unknown Micah Ingram took 42 percent of the vote in a race against Lusby.
In a year when Republicans want to send a message to President Barack Obama — and many of them might cast straight-ticket votes to underline their message — that could make Lusby vulnerable.
But Mike Bradley, a Stamping Ground grocer and Lusby's Republican challenger, said the real issue is that residents are tired of career politicians.
"You ask anybody whether they want someone who's been in business the last 18 years ... whether they prefer that experience to somebody who has been in government for 24 years, and most of the time the answer is 'business,'" Bradley said. "Because they know in business, you're watching every penny, and in government it's not their money. They don't care about the pennies."
Bradley was a member of a citizens committee that gathered enough signatures to put a recall petition on the ballot. The petition would have allowed Scott County voters to decide whether they wanted a tax increase to pay for a second high school.
But days after the petition was certified by the county clerk in January, the Scott County Board of Education backed off the tax increase. The school board still intends to build the second high school, but in phases.
"I don't see myself as riding any kind of anti-tax wave," Bradley said. "I do see myself as a candidate who believes strongly in fiscal responsibility, efficiency and accountability, which we are sorely lacking in Scott County right now."
The county has a $23.4 million general fund budget plus $10 million in road, jail and other separate funds, for a total budget of $34 million. Thanks to $30 million in reserves, the county has no debt because it has been able to pay for projects without borrowing. County government has 245 full-time and about 50 part-time employees.
Overseeing it all is Lusby, 78, an institution in Scott County politics. He won his first election to Georgetown City Council 51 years ago.
Asked whether age was an issue in the race, Lusby, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan's 1984 quip about Walter Mondale, says of Bradley: "I don't think he's too young and inexperienced."
Lusby argues that Scott County will need a steady, experienced hand to guide it with so many new faces coming onto fiscal court. Five of the seven magistrates won't return when the January swearing-in ceremony rolls around. (Tom Prather is running for Georgetown mayor, Charles Tackett is running for state representative and John T. Hoffman is running for Scott County jailer. Stewart Hughes and William K. "Bill" Parker were eliminated in the May Republican primary for judge-executive.)
Bradley said the magistrate candidates were more experienced than Lusby gives them credit for.
"From what I can tell, you've got a pretty good group of people running," Bradley said.
One issue in particular offers a clear distinction between the candidates. Bradley supports a merger of the Georgetown fire department and Georgetown-Scott County EMS (operated by fiscal court) into one agency. Bradley contends the merger would promote efficiency.
"There is redundancy. Since we're all doing the same tasks, why do we need that redundancy?" he asked. "We can merge into one agency and solve a lot of that problem."
Lusby sees no need for a merger.
"To tear up something so good would be a disaster," he told an audience at a Sept. 20 candidate forum at Zion Baptist Church. "Response times are excellent. ... When you have the best, why would you want to change?"