Politics & Government

State Senate races in Fayette feature claims about 'messy divorce' and a defamation lawsuit

12th district, Alice Forgy Kerr, top left, and Kathy Warnecke Ryan bottom left.
28th district. Ralph Alvarado, top center and R.J. Palmer bottom center.
34th district, Jared Carpenter, top right, and Mike Cope, bottom right.
12th district, Alice Forgy Kerr, top left, and Kathy Warnecke Ryan bottom left. 28th district. Ralph Alvarado, top center and R.J. Palmer bottom center. 34th district, Jared Carpenter, top right, and Mike Cope, bottom right.

FRANKFORT — In one of this fall's three state Senate races that include a portion of Fayette County, the challenger is bringing up the incumbent's "messy divorce."

In another, a doctor is trying to knock off an incumbent who leads Senate Democrats in hopes of becoming the first Latino to serve in the Kentucky General Assembly.

Two women are battling it out in the third race.

Only half of the Senate's 38 districts — the 19 even-numbered districts — are on the ballot Nov. 4. Republicans, who outnumber Democrats now in the Senate 23-14, are expected to keep control of the chamber.

Incumbents in each of the three Lexington races appear to have an edge, but the challengers are running spirited campaigns. Here's a look at those races.

28th District

The race in this district, which includes Clark and Montgomery counties and part of northeastern Fayette County, is one of the most expensive and nastiest legislative races in the state.

As of early October, Democratic incumbent R.J. Palmer had raised about $144,000 and Republican challenger Ralph Alvarado had collected about $70,000.

Alvarado has spent much of his money on TV ads describing Palmer as an "Obama liberal."

Palmer, a financial advisor in Winchester who has been in the legislature since 1999, also has spent big on TV ads, including one that has drawn a lawsuit from Alvarado claiming defamation.

Alvarado wants the courts to stop a Palmer ad that he said uses spliced courtroom footage to cast him as a doctor who knowingly prescribed pain killers to a drug dealer. A hearing is scheduled Thursday in Scott Circuit Court.

Palmer said the lawsuit is without merit and that Alvarado's ads that portray him as an "Obama liberal" are a crude attempt to capitalize on the president's unpopularity in the state.

Palmer said he deserves re-election because he has shown that he can work with Republicans and has brought jobs and projects to the district.

Alvarado touts his conservatism and said he understands what small business owners need from his experience as a medical practice owner.

As a physician, Alvarado said he would like to chair the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, a position being vacated by Republican Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville.

As for his bid to become the first Latino in the state legislature, Alvarado said, "I've heard nothing but positive comments about that."

34th District

Republican incumbent Jared Carpenter of Berea is seeking his second term in the district that includes Madison and Rockcastle counties and part of southern Fayette County.

Democrat Mike Cope, who operates a commercial glass and general contracting firm in Union City near Richmond, said he crossed party lines four years ago and voted for Carpenter but is running against him because of "his clear lack of integrity."

"Carpenter ran four years ago as a Christian proud of family values," said Cope, who lost the Democratic primary election that year. "Since then, we have come to find out there's been a big, nasty divorce and infidelity was involved."

Asked if that should disqualify Carpenter from the race, Cope said, "I'm not saying that. I'm just saying he ran on family values last time and this time I see nothing about family values from him."

Carpenter, who is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said Cope "has nothing to say to the people except to sling mud."

He accused Cope of using his divorce "as a way to attack me."

"I'm human. I made mistakes. I've been through a divorce but I'm still a family man who takes care of my kids," he said.

Carpenter, a banker, said he will not run a negative campaign against Cope, "but I do think it would be a disgrace for him to be a senator."

Carpenter, who had raised about $91,000 for his campaign in early October, said he has spent his time in Frankfort focused on keeping government in its proper role.

He said he has been active in promoting job creation in his district, continuing the fight against the federal Affordable Care Act, preserving Second Amendment rights for Kentuckians and keeping taxes low.

Cope, who reported raising about $7,000 in early October, said he wants to fight prescription drug abuse; work for a more diverse, fair and sustainable tax base; and promote a culture of fairness.

Cope said he favors a statewide fairness law to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

12th District

Two women are vying to be the state senator from this district in southern Fayette County.

Republican Alice Forgy Kerr has held the seat since 1999. She is chairwoman of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee.

Kathy Warnecke Ryan, an attorney whose husband, Michael Ryan, was killed in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 on Aug. 27, 2006 at Blue Grass Airport, is challenging Kerr in her first bid for public office.

"It's time for a change in the Senate," said Ryan. "I feel I am much more qualified than her."

Kerr did not return repeated phone calls requesting an interview for this story.

In her campaign, Ryan is touting a platform called EDGE, for education, diligence, good government and equal protection.

Ryan said Kentucky needs to better fund early childhood education, raise the minimum wage and overhaul the tax code.

"You can't change the priorities in Frankfort without changing who we send to Frankfort," she said. "We need legislators who will acknowledge our problems and actively and independently work at the job of legislating."

Ryan said money is not a problem for her campaign, although she said the state Democratic Party has not provided as much support "as I would like."

As of Oct. 3, Ryan had raised about $25,000 and had about $21,000 cash on hand. She said she has since provided her campaign with a $35,000 loan.

Kerr had raised more than $49,000 and had about $29,000 cash on hand.

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