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Ky. GOP incumbents square off in remapped District 12 primary

House District 12 Representative Jim Gooch and House District 4 Representative Lynn Bechler will face off in the GOP primary for the newly redistricted House District 12.
Legislative Research Commission
House District 12 Representative Jim Gooch and House District 4 Representative Lynn Bechler will face off in the GOP primary for the newly redistricted House District 12.

A pair of Republican incumbents are facing off in May’s primary election to decide who will represent the GOP in Kentucky’s newly formed District 12 – which now comprises Crittenden, Union, McLean and Webster counties – in fall’s general election.

District 12 incumbent Jim Gooch is running for reelection for his 15th term in the House against District 4 incumbent Lynn Bechler who has been a legislator for the past 10 years. The winner of the GOP primary will face Webster County Democrat Alan Lossner in November’s general election.

Gooch has served nearly 28 years in the legislature and is currently the chair of the Natural Resources & Energy committee. Before taking political office, he worked in the coal and steel industries and in insurance. As a legislator, he’s got three things in mind: remembering who sent him to Frankfort, avoiding political spin and working for the next generation.

“Those are the three things that I've always tried to do and I'll always continue to try to do going forward,” Gooch said.

Bechler worked in the private sector before he became a legislator, which he thinks makes him qualified to work on economic development. He’s been ranked as one of the top conservative voices in the Kentucky House of Representatives by the American Conservative Union for anyone who’s served for more than three years.

“I think that we need conservative leadership in the House, and I look forward to continuing my service and to doing that,” Bechler said.

For Gooch, there’s a lot of things for him to be proud of in his nearly three-decade career as a representative. An early example of his work in education comes from his time under former Gov. Paul Patton when reforms strengthened partnerships between community colleges and regional universities.

“We made sure that your credit hours would transfer from a community college to the regional [universities], so that people could start out, maybe get the first couple of years,” Gooch said. “If they wanted to go to a regional university later, they could, and it saved them all a lot of money.”

The reforms also focused on partnering with industries to make sure needed skills were getting taught. Gooch said this year’s education budget was probably one of the best ones that’s ever been passed and that the legislative work to give parents a choice about where they send their kids for school is a good thing.

Gooch has also spent a lot of time focused on energy. When he started in government, the majority of Kentucky’s energy came from coal and provided a lot of jobs in the state, especially for citizens in his region. Less of Kentucky’s energy comes from coal now, and Gooch points to policies from Washington D.C. being one of the major causes. He said Kentucky probably didn’t diversify its energy sources as early as it should have, but, with the increasing use of natural gas, things on that front are getting better.

“I want to make sure that we're fighting in Kentucky to be able to make our own choices, our own decisions, and not just whatever whim [President] Joe Biden decides that he wants to mandate upon us,” Gooch said.

From this previous legislative session, there are two environmental bills Gooch is really proud of – one to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and another that aimed to help communities improve their water systems but ultimately didn’t become law.

In Bechler’s career, he’s got some specifics he’s pretty proud of too. He’s done work on requiring coroners and medical examiners to reach out to transplant associations about organ donations for those that signed their driver’s license. He’s spent time on the Child Welfare and Oversight committee to make tougher laws on people who forfeit their parental rights. Bechler has also worked on legislation increasing the punishment against those found guilty of sex crimes against minors.

In the most recent legislative session, Bechler supported legislation to stop mask and vaccination mandates,to prevent transgender athletes from participating in girl’s and women’s sports,to prohibit local governments from instituting sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants, and to prevent the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

“Fortunately, two of the areas where I sponsored legislation are now law — the prohibition against transgender athletes participating in girls and women's sports and as is the prohibition against teaching critical race theory,” Bechler said. “Both of these pieces of legislation were vetoed by the governor, but we were able to override a veto.”

He’s also been a long-time supporter of anti-abortion rights legislation. Bechler is a member of a variety of committees within the assembly.

Going forward, Gooch is looking at a lot of the same issues that the General Assembly has been dealing with in recent years. He pointed to work done on the pension system and primary, secondary and higher education funding.

“One thing I was very interested in was making sure that we were fully funding all day kindergarten, because I think early childhood development is very, very important,” Gooch said. “We want to make sure that we just don't get behind, that they have a foundation, where, as their education continues, they have something to build on and go forward with and so I'm really a proponent of early childhood education.”

Gooch said that it’s important Kentucky continue to have “citizen-led choice legislature” and a variety of walks of life within the assembly.

One of the things Bechler’s looking at going forward is reducing and possibly eliminating the state income tax. He also plans to continue work on children’s issues.

“We'll see what happens during the interim, what issues have been brought up and how we can address those, but those are the areas that I'm looking forward to working on in the future,” Bechler said.

The 2022 primary elections will take place on May 17. Learn more about races in the region in our Primary Election Voter Guide.

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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