Sunday, October 31, 2004
Parties seek gains Tuesday in Ky.'s divided legislature
By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - Kentucky Democrats are looking to regain an advantage in the state Senate in Tuesday's election, while Republicans are fielding opponents in hopes of a greater House presence.
Currently, Democrats enjoy a 64-35 edge in the House with one vacancy, while in the Senate the GOP has a 22-16 advantage.
"I think the day of the two-party system in Kentucky has arrived," state Republican Party Chairman John McCarthy said.
Hovering over this year's legislative races will be the lingering effects of the General Assembly's inability to pass a state budget this past spring.
Indeed, another factor that could play into the election - and the General Assembly's future makeup - is the just-concluded special session. In the midst of huge public outcry, Gov. Ernie Fletcher called lawmakers back to Frankfort to deal with the 2005 health insurance plan for state workers and teachers.
Lawmakers eventually settled on a plan sweetening next year's health insurance benefits.
Democrats have hopes of voters taking out frustrations against Fletcher, a Republican, and his initial health insurance proposal on other incumbent GOP candidates.
"It's not just a generalized dissatisfaction with the governor," State Democratic Party Chairman Bill Garmer said. "It's a specific dissatisfaction with the governor."
Nineteen seats - half the Senate - and all 100 of the House seats are on the ballot.
The Senate has six open seats, due to retirements, redistricting, and two incumbents' primary losses. Six incumbents - four Democrats and two Republicans - are facing opposition. That means eight incumbents aren't facing opposition and are thus guaranteed another term, and one Republican seeking an open seat is unopposed.
One of the more high-profile Senate races involves former Gov. Julian Carroll, a Democrat, and Republican Harold Fletcher, the governor's older brother. They are vying for a Frankfort-area seat made vacant by redistricting.
Democrats were also eyeing seats currently held by incumbent Sens. Jack Westwood, of Erlanger, and Damon Thayer of Georgetown. Westwood is opposed by Democrat Kathy Groob, a member of the Fort Mitchell city council, while Thayer faces Cliff Wallace, a former school superintendent from Williamstown.
Democrats' Senate wish list also includes the seat previously held by Republican Sen. Virgil Moore, of Leitchfield. That race features Carroll Gibson, a Leitchfield Republican, against Democrat Barry Cannon, of Caneyville.
In eastern Kentucky, Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, is engaged in a bitter race against Republican Chris Ratliff, a Pikeville attorney.
Meanwhile, in the House there are seven open seats. However, the GOP candidate running for the seat previously held by Rep. Charlie Walton, R-Florence, is uncontested.
There are 47 House candidates guaranteed election Tuesday. That breaks down to 26 incumbent Democrats, 21 incumbent Republicans and the candidate running unopposed for Walton's seat, Addia Kathryn Wuchner of Burlington.
Republicans have fielded opposition against 33 Democratic incumbents, while 13 GOP incumbents face Democratic challengers.
Even members of the Democratic House leadership are facing challengers.
Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark is opposed by Republican Trace Chesser of Louisville, who had used one of Clark's House floor speeches against him in radio ads. And House Majority Whip Joe Barrows, of Versailles, is opposed by Republican Tony Moreno of Midway. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harry Moberly also has a race against Republican Chuck Luke of Richmond.
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