Politics & Government

Fields set for 4 state House seats in crucial special elections March 8

They have only eight weeks to campaign, but the outcome of their political races will greatly affect how Kentucky is governed.

The field of candidates has been set for the four special state House elections that Gov. Matt Bevin has scheduled for March 8.

With Democrats now holding a 50-46 margin in the House over Republicans, Democrats have to win at least one of the elections to keep the majority they have enjoyed since 1921.

If Republicans win all four seats, the House will have an even split in party membership — 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. That has never occurred before in Kentucky and would produce interesting decisions on exactly who would preside over the chamber.

The four special House elections arose because of vacancies. The winners will serve through the end of the year.

All eight candidates in the special elections also have filed to run this year for the next two-year terms, which begin in January 2017. All 100 House seats are up for grabs in November, and many Republicans think it is inevitable they will control the House soon.

The filing deadline to run in this year’s elections for two-year House terms is 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The races are expected to attract a lot of money and scrutiny. Officials from each party reportedly already have requested expense records and video public records of those candidates who have held public office.

Here’s a look at the special House elections and their candidates, who were selected by district party leaders.

62nd District, which includes Owen County and parts of Fayette and Scott counties

Republican Ryan Quarles of Georgetown had to vacate this seat when he was sworn in this month as state agriculture commissioner, a position he won in the November general election.

The candidates to replace him are Republican Phillip Pratt and Democrat Chuck Tackett. Both are from Georgetown.

Pratt owns and operates Pratt’s Lawn and Landscape. He is a 1980 graduate of the University of Kentuckywith a degree in agricultural economics.

He began his career with Southern States as an assistant manager in its Georgetown and Maysville stores. He later worked for Cargill, an international farm products manufacturer, in Scott and Harrison counties and TruGreen ChemLawn as a commercial sales representative. He formed his own business in 1995.

“It’s time to give back to this community that has been so good to my family and me over the years and represent the people’s interests in Frankfort. I am in this race to win this seat and give the government back to the citizens of the commonwealth,” Pratt says on his campaign website, PrattforKY.com.

Tackett lost to Quarles in the 2014 House race. Tackett, a former Scott County magistrate, ran at the request of then-Gov. Steve Beshear in the redrawn district. Quarles won by his largest margin of victory, 59 percent to 41 percent.

On his campaign website, Chucktackett.com, Tackett said he’s “tired of the Washington-style partisan politics that only leads to more bickering and fewer solutions to our state’s most pressing needs, like making sure that Kentucky families can raise their children in strong communities, with good jobs, and schools that provide our young people with an education built for the 21st century.”

54th District, made up of Boyle and Casey counties

Two Danville attorneys are running in this special election — Republican Daniel B. Elliott and Democrat Bill Noelker. They will battle over the seat vacated by Republican Mike Harmon, who was elected state auditor in November.

A native of Boyle County, Elliott attended Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville Law School.

Noelker is a former Navy fighter pilot who served in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. He was a commercial pilot while serving in the Naval Reserve but returned to active duty after 9/11. He got his law degree from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University in 2010.

8th District, made up of parts of Christian and Trigg counties

The candidates are Democrat Jeffrey R. Taylor and Republican Walker Wood Thomas, both of Hopkinsville. Each wants to replace Democrat John Tilley, who left the legislature to serve as Bevin’s justice secretary.

Taylor is chairman of the Christian County Democratic Party. He recently retired as a Tennessee Valley Authority senior project manager for economic development.

Taylor is the only black candidate in the special elections. He had been a candidate for the Hopkinsville city council until the House seat became vacant.

Thomas is a businessman and former Hopkinsville city council member; he owns Roller Dome Fun Plex, and Kentucky Moving and Storage. He also is a shareholder in the Kentucky New Era.

Bevin is to headline a fundraiser for Thomas on Feb. 9 at a private residence in Hopkinsville.

98th District, which covers parts of Boyd and Greenup counties

Former Greenup Circuit Judge Lew Nicholls will be the Democratic candidate, and Greenup County Commissioner Tony D. Quillen will be the Republican hopeful.

Each wants to fulfill the remaining term of Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, who was appointed to an administrative law judgeship by Bevin in December.

Nicholls, a retired Army serviceman, was a judge for 29 years. He was a district judge for 10 years, a circuit judge for 13 years and participated in the senior judges program for six years.

Quillen, a consultant at EN Engineering in Catlettsburg, is the longest serving commissioner in the history of Greenup County Fiscal Court. He was elected countywide in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics