We have long had mixed feelings about District 39 Rep. Bob Damron's priorities.
In his last term, for example, he continued to expand the state's concealed-carry gun laws, yet after the Tuscon shootings he wisely pushed legislation that makes it easier to take guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
He pushed a law that died in the Senate that requires state contractors to use the federal system to identify undocumented workers but it was offered as a more rational approach than the overly punitive Arizona-style immigration law proposed at the time.
And while socially conservative with a "tough on crime" record, he also has built a reputation as someone who looks after the mentally ill, nursing home patients and consumers in general. For example, he sponsored legislation to aid consumers buying life insurance and to toughen regulations on continuing care retirement communities.
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On balance, he gets our endorsement.
In office since 1993, Damron is responsive to his district — which covers Jessamine County and one precinct in Fayette — including pushing for state economic incentives for the University of Kentucky. As House Democratic Caucus chair, he is in a key position to determine the House agenda and he has shown a willingness to aid Lexington in negotiating police and fire pension funding issues with the legislature.
Challenger Matt Lockett, who works for an ophthalmologist firm, appears to be waging a serious campaign. But he has more passion than understanding of many pressing state issues and is most detailed in his anti-abortion strategies. He said he never sees a reason to raise any tax at any time although the state is in desperate need for new revenue.
His biggest complaints against Damron are that he is not pro-life enough and is too soft on crime because he supported legislation that let some nonviolent inmates out of prison to relieve the state's budget crisis.
Lockett, who also ran for the 2010 Republican primary for the U.S. House 6th District seat, articulates well the outrage many voters feel toward a legislature that too often doesn't get its work done on time yet passes increases in pensions for members' part-time work. The "throw the bums out" message has appeal.
We resist in this case because Damon is an effective policymaker, with enough clout to make a difference and a track record of looking out for some of the state's neediest citizens. That's worth keeping.
The unendorsed candidate may submit a 250-word response by noon Friday.