Rand Paul

Among 14 candidates running for 7 state House seats in Fayette, one says 'I don't think I can win'

Meyer, left and Mitchell
Meyer, left and Mitchell

FRANKFORT — The seven contested state House races in Fayette County this fall include a contender who wants to be Kentucky's next lieutenant governor, several incumbents and a candid candidate who predicts she will not win.

"I don't think I can win this race. My fellow Democrats have not supported me," said Creasa Reed, who is running against Republican incumbent Robert J. Benvenuti in Fayette County's 88th House District.

But as soon as the Nov. 4 election is over, Reed said, she plans to start her 2016 race for the state House seat.

For now, the focus is on the fight for control of the 100-member chamber. Democrats have a 54-46 majority, but Republicans are hoping to wrest control from them for the first time since 1921.

Three state House districts in Fayette County are not contested in the Nov. 4 general election: Republican incumbent Stan Lee in the 45th District, Democratic incumbent Kelly Flood in the 75th District, and Democrat George A. Brown Jr. in the 77th District. Brown won the Democratic primary and will succeed Democrat Jesse Crenshaw, who did not seek re-election.

Here's a look at the seven contested state House races involving Fayette County.

39th District

Incumbent Democrat Bob Damron of Nicholasville is running for judge-executive of Jessamine County this fall, creating a contentious race to replace him in a district that includes part of Jessamine County and six precincts in Fayette County near Nicholasville Road.

Seeking to replace Damron, who has been in the House since 1993, are Democrat Russ Meyer, the mayor of Nicholasville and an insurance company owner, and Republican Jonah Mitchell, a Realtor and adjunct teacher at the University of Kentucky's Gatton School of Business.

Both candidates are from Nicholasville.

Mitchell is trying to inform every voter in the district that Meyer raised taxes as mayor.

"I am for smaller government and he is not," said Mitchell

Meyer said there was a fee increase on beer, liquor and wine to raise money to pay for public safety.

"I guess my opponent is not for police and firefighters and does not want the public to be protected," said Meyer.

Meyer said he is "a conservative small businessman" who has the knowledge and experience to be an excellent representative for the district.

He said he knows how to create jobs, taking credit for helping bring 2,700 new jobs to Nicholasville during his two terms as mayor

Mitchell, a former president of the Jessamine County Chamber of Commerce, calls himself "a conservative Reagan Republican."

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, about 55 percent to 45 percent, but Jessamine County has been trending more conservative in recent years.

The race between Meyer and Mitchell appears to be one of the most expensive House races in the state. As of early October, Meyer had raised about $107,000 and Mitchell about $58,000.

56th District

In this district of genteel horse farms that covers Woodford County and parts of Franklin County and western Fayette County, there is a gentlemanly race underway for the state House.

Democrat James Kay, an attorney who won a special election last year to represent the district, is being challenged by Republican Ryan Schwartz, who also is an attorney. Both are from Versailles.

"We're both staying very positive in this race," said Schwartz. "We went to law school together. He's a nice guy. I like him but we have our differences on issues. James has been a gentleman."

"It's certainly a gentlemanly race," said Kay. "I just believe that I have been responsible to the voters of this district and deserve to be re-elected."

Schwartz said he thinks he has had "a broader range of experiences than James."

"My wife and I have three children, ages 9 to 3, and James has no children yet," Schwartz said. "I hope he will someday, and I grew up in a low-income family and have been working since I was 10.

"I think life experiences play a big role in helping public officeholders in their jobs," he said.

As of early October, Kay had raised about $82,000 for his campaign. Schwartz had taken in about $30,000.

62nd District

Ever since Republican Ryan Quarles of Georgetown defeated Democrat Charles Hoffman in 2010 for this state House seat, he has been a target of Democrats for removal from the state legislature.

This fall, Quarles, a farmer and attorney, faces Democrat Chuck Tackett, also of Georgetown, in the district that includes Owen County and parts of Scott County and northern Fayette County.

Quarles touts his ability as a state legislator to work with both major political parties. He notes that he is one of few legislators to author bills that became law during their first two terms in office. One clarified voter instructions and another dealt with youth referees.

He bemoans that Democrats last year dramatically changed the boundaries of the district to make it more friendly to Democratic challengers.

"It now almost goes to the Ohio River and Georgetown is split three ways," said Quarles.

Tackett, a farmer and magistrate on the Scott County Fiscal Court, said he had "no input" on the redistricting.

"People should vote for me because the House is controlled by Democrats, it's going to stay that way and I can be in a stronger position than my opponent to make things happen for this district," said Tackett.

This is another expensive race. As of early October, Quarles reported $100,492 in contributions and Tackett listed $60,081.

72nd District

Democrat Sannie Overly, an attorney from Paris, has represented this district — Bourbon, Bath and Nicholas counties and a northeast corner of Fayette County — since 2008.

She is the Democratic caucus chairwoman, and is the first woman to serve in a leadership role in the Kentucky House. Overly also is running for lieutenant governor next year on a ticket with gubernatorial hopeful Jack Conway, the state's attorney general.

Her opponent this fall, Republican Dwaine Curran of Sharpsburg, is raising questions about Overly's bid for lieutenant governor.

"Who is going to represent the 72nd District in the 2015 General Assembly while she is running for lieutenant governor?" asked Curran, a farmer and technician at JM Smucker Co. "Also, Jack Conway is a liberal Democrat who does not represent the values of the people of this district."

Overly said she plans to be present at the 2015 General Assembly every day it is in session.

"I will continue to represent the district with all of my energy," she said.

Asked if she will run again for a leadership position in the House, Overly said she will look at her options after the Nov. 4 election.

"I believe I have earned the people's vote," she said. "I've established a record of accomplishments."

Overly touted her work on legislation to battle human trafficking and said she has helped bring "long overdue" projects to the district, including schools, a courthouse and road projects.

Curran, who lost to Overly in the 2010 Democratic primary election, said he tells voters he's just like them.

"I know what it's like to struggle," he said. "I first ran as a Democrat but changed to Republican because I am a rural conservative."

The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance has not received a financial statement from Curran's campaign. Overly reported campaign contributions of $89,178 in early October.

76th District

For the third time, Republican Richard Marrs is trying to oust Democratic incumbent Ruth Ann Palumbo in this east-central Lexington district.

Marrs, a small business owner, got 40 percent of the vote in the 2010 race and 46 percent in the 2012 contest.

"I think I can surpass her this time," he said.

Palumbo, a community volunteer, has represented the district since 1991.

"My experience and skills in navigating the legislative process has served the district well," she said. "I've passed legislation to bring high-paying jobs to the district, provide better and safer roads and streets and improve education while standing up for women and children."

She said Marrs' improved performance in 2012 against her was due to bad publicity about her home on Deepwood Drive.

The Herald-Leader reported in January 2012 that city housing inspectors had warned Palumbo for two years to make major repairs to her vacant home in north Lexington or potentially face thousands of dollars in fines.

"Some people said I had abandoned it, while it was just undergoing renovation," she said. "Very silly."

Marrs said his campaign is emphasizing issues and not waging attacks against Palumbo.

"I'm conservative, she's not," he said.

As of early October, Palumbo had raised $26,505 for the race, compared to $17,376 for Marrs.

79th District

Democratic incumbent Susan Westrom, who has represented this south-central Lexington district since 1999, is being challenged by Republican Ken Kearns.

Kearns did not respond to repeated requests for an interview about his campaign.

Westrom, a Realtor, said she has worked "my bones for this district and I stay in touch with my constituent. I'm not used up yet."

She vowed to continue her pursuit of a statewide smoking ban in public places.

Westrom said she has "not seen hide nor hair" of Kearns on the campaign trail.

"I hope he's having a really good time," she said. "His campaign is missing in action."

Kearns' website says it is "time for change in Frankfort" and that he "has been endorsed by the Kentucky GOP, Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, Congressman Thomas and future Governor James Comer."

Campaign finance reports filed in early October showed Kearns' contributions at $12,110 and Westrom's at $78,589.

88th District

Republican Robert Benvenuti, an attorney, has represented this south Lexington district since 2013.

His Democratic opponent, Creasa Reed, said voters should pick her "because I've done more in managing." Reed doesn't think she can win, however.

"I will win the next time," she said.

Asked why she doesn't drop out of the race this year, she said, "I can't quit. I hate losing."

Benvenuti said of Reed's remarks, "That's her opinion. I still take every opponent seriously."

The incumbent said he has demonstrated that he understands the district and that the vast majority of voters in it want smaller government and more transparency in government and do not believe and trust in the federal Affordable Care Act backed by President Obama.

The latest campaign finance reports showed Benvenuti's contributions at $51,941. Reed had $8,324.

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