James Kay, a Democrat, won a hotly contested special election last year to represent the 56th House District. Now, with a year and a half of experience in the job, he is asking voters to give him a full term.
He is facing Republican political newcomer Ryan Schwartz in the district, made up of Woodford County, a portion of eastern Franklin County and a small portion of western Fayette County.
Kay deserves a full term.
The two men are similar in many ways: Both are young and display a genuine enthusiasm about improving life for people in the district and the state. With some slight variations, each supports limits on the rates payday lenders may charge and restoring voting rights for felons who have served their time. Both tout education as key to any future prosperity.
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But there are some critical differences that distinguish them.
Kay, for example, supports a statewide indoor smoking ban while Schwartz thinks clean air is the province of individual businesses and local communities.
Schwartz also supports a raft of so-called pro-business measures that would leave Kentuckians poorer, including right-to-work legislation and further deregulation of telecommunications companies. Schwartz' view of economic development seems rooted in, as he says, "getting government out of the way."
Kay displayed a more comprehensive understanding of how to further Kentucky's economy during the League of Women Voters forum that both attended. "Education is a form of economic development," he said, noting the state needed to invest more in early childhood education and making higher education more affordable. He recognized that the underlying issue with payday lending was lack of opportunity that leaves working people short of funds to meet their obligations.
Both expressed the requisite support for coal, but Kay went on to say that Kentucky must take a "wider view" by encouraging alternative energy sources.
Perhaps Schwartz' strongest suit is his promise to make government more transparent, a cause every legislator and citizen, should endorse. He mentioned specifically opening the books on legislative pensions to public scrutiny.
Kay supports Kynect, the state's successful insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act that has enabled about 500,000 Kentuckians to gain health insurance. Schwartz, repeating Republican talking points this election cycle, referred to Kynect as a "website" and raised the spectre that money spent on insuring Kentuckians would detract from education funding.
We don't question Schwartz' sincerity, but Kentucky needs lawmakers committed to finding ways that Kentuckians can have both quality education and health care rather than scaring voters with a choice of one or the other.
The unendorsed candidate may submit a 250-word response by noon Thursday.