WKMS News sent an issues survey to candidates vying for seats in the Kentucky state representative and state senate races in our coverage area for the Nov. 3 general election. The survey for candidates included questions on police reform and coronavirus response, as well as the opportunity to elaborate on which issues candidates want to address within their district. Candidate coverage was based on timely response to the election survey. Below are the responses:
Senate District 1
Republican candidate Jason Howell is running unopposed in Kentucky’s District 1 Senate race. Howell did not respond to the election survey.
District 1 is currently represented by Republican Sen. Stan Humphries. Humphries is not seeking reelection.
The district includes Calloway, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Lyon and Trigg counties.
Senate District 3
Incumbent Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield said he will always keep an open mind about policies presented to the Senate and Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. He said the first topic at the first meeting in June of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary was a presentation on possible policing reforms. He said these reform topics included the use of citizen review boards rather than internal affairs units, the use of no-knock search warrants, the use of body cameras by law enforcement and the use of force in general. Westerfield said there are “multiple drafts floating around” on the topic of no-knock search warrants alone.
“I’m actively reviewing policy options on all of these topics by examining the policies of other states,” Westerfield said.
Westerfield referenced the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and said the economic recovery of the state is “critical to reducing unemployment” and restoring a sense of normalcy for Kentuckians. He said one of the key topics in the upcoming session will be related to this, addressing the “use of, and reasonable limits on the use of, emergency powers during an emergency.”
“The all-or-nothing approach used by the Governor [Andy Beshear], coupled with the frustratingly inconsistent application of various orders and guidelines, has depressed Kentucky’s economic recovery,” Westerfield said. “We need to resolve the inconsistent application of executive orders, and safely re-open Kentucky’s economy as quickly as possible.”
Westerfield said he’d like to tackle tax reform and eliminate the personal income tax if reelected. He said such reform would help the entire Commonwealth and District 3 be more competitive with Tennessee.
“A look at satellite images of the state line is easy evidence demonstrating the growth Tennessee continues to see, chiefly because of the lack of income tax luring the workforce out of the Bluegrass,” he said.
Westerfield said, if reelected, he also plans to file on the first day of the session his Born Alive Infant Protection Act. He said the act would ensure that children born alive, whether from a failed abortion or otherwise, be given “appropriate medical care, not left to die.”
He said he will also continue working on criminal justice reform issues, including disproportionate minority contact issues within the juvenile and adult criminal justice system. He said these issues are particularly significant in Christian County.
Westerfield faces Libertarian challenger Amanda Billings on the ballot. Billings did not respond to WKMS’s election survey.
Senate District 3 includes Christian, Logan and Todd counties.
House District 1
Incumbent Republican Steven Rudy is running uncontested in Kentucky’s District 1 House of Representatives race. Rudy did not respond to the election survey.
District 1 includes parts of Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman, and McCracken counties.
House District 2
Incumbent Republican Rep. Richard Heath faces Libertarian challenger Joshua Gilpin on the ballot. Neither Heath nor Gilpin responded to the WKMS election survey.
District 2 includes parts of Graves and McCracken counties.
House District 3
Bridges and Snardon debated early this month at Paducah Chamber of Commerce’s Power in Partnership Breakfast. See WKMS coverage of the debate here.
District 3 includes part of McCracken County.
House District 4
Princeton musician and Democratic challenger Alonzo Pennington said he believes Kentucky needs to do a better job in vetting police officers. He said potential officers should go through the same “rigorous process” that the state puts potential appointed judges and other high-ranking officials through.
“I do believe that the majority of officers are good men and women who take pride in their service and try to serve all people equally. However, we could do a more intense background check and a better job in reviewing ‘questionable’ activities of current and potential new hires,” Pennington said.
Pennington said the state should also pay officers an increased wage that “reflects this type of dedication to such a dangerous job. He said he supports the state’s officers and is thankful for them, but state officials need to find a way to better reach those who fear and dislike the police.
Considering the coronavirus pandemic, Pennington said that although he doesn’t believe District 4 has been affected “quite as hard” as some of the metro areas in the state, “my district was already struggling with a very poor economy.”
“You can only go so far down until you hit the bottom, “ he said. “The people here that are hurt the most economically, were already hurting. It seems to me that paying for housing and utilities has been the biggest struggle.”
Pennington acknowledged churches, food banks and other organizations in his district that have helped people. He said the job market is opening back up and people are getting hired but some may have to rethink options for finding work.
“We may even have to work jobs that we normally wouldn’t have but if you’re willing to work, there is work out there. If you can’t work, we need to make sure you get the assistance you need to get by that is offered through the state and other organizations,” he said.
Pennington said District 4 needs jobs and suggested acquiring funding for the “long term goal” of establishing a bridge across the Ohio River from Marion, Kentucky to Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. He said the bridge would open up possibilities for factories and other manufacturing jobs that work 24/7. He said the Cave-In-Rock ferry currently closes before 10 p.m. The ferry’s last run from Illinois is at 9:40 p.m., while the last run from Kentucky is at 9:50 p.m.
“There is no convenient way to get across the river if you work 2nd or 3rd shift and live on one side or the other. Over the years this could bring some serious economic strength to those in Crittenden and Livingston counties,” Pennington said.
*Pennington did not submit a photo.
Crittenden County native and Independent challenger Austin Valentine, Jr. said he supports law enforcement and corrections officers 100%. He said he fully understands that there may be instances in the law enforcement system that “may be questionable or have questionable legality,” but said such instances should be sorted out within the judicial system.
“So far as reform, like anything presented to me, I will give suggestions or proposed legislation a thorough review...Nevertheless, if elected to the office, I will give the proposed legislation the timely review it deserves,” Valentine said.
Valentine said the impact of COVID-19 has been “devastating” to the state and nation. He said the virus is real and has had deadly consequences for many Americans.
“Being the virus has not yet been contained nor cured; the future is very uncertain for all of us. Therefore, it is essential that we work together, putting politics aside, and construct a solid economic recovery plan for our state – district by district,” he said.
Valentine said a statewide plan addressing the pandemic could be beneficial, but “based on the state’s demographics, a district-wide plan may be necessary for future economic success.” He said demographics can be a beneficial tool if containment of the virus proves ineffective and larger companies may decide to relocate into areas with smaller populations with good highway, river and rail access.
“That makes Kentucky’s 4th district a prime location for such relocations. Furthermore, citizens living in larger towns may also decide to move into more rural locations, which could also benefit areas like the 4th district. As history has shown during the Great Yellow-Fever and Spanish Flu pandemics, citizens of larger towns have – for the most part – relocated to a more rural setting.”
Valentine said more rural districts like district 4 could grow in size, which he said could promote economic growth.
Valentine said, if elected, his primary focus would be pension reform because “we need to fulfill our obligation to our teachers and state workers.” He said state officials also need to focus on tax reform but “not at the expense” of working-class citizens. Valentine said officials need to find ways to preserve the government and infrastructure system without burdening the working class.
Valentine cautioned against partisanship and said electing more individuals “bound to party politics” is not the answer.
“We need individuals in government that work for the people and not a party,” he said. “That is why I am an Independent candidate, a candidate for the people, and not for a political party.”
Valentine and Pennington face incumbent Republican Rep. Lynn Bechler. Bechler did not respond to WKMS’s election survey.
District 4 includes Caldwell, Crittenden and Livingston counties and part of Christian county.
House District 5
Roberts said Kentucky’s government needs more transparency and better accountability measures, which would be a focal point for her, if elected. She pointed toward a 2014 Harvard study which listed Kentucky as having the highest legal corruption. Since that time, she said, and with passage of Kentucky’s House Bill 351, transparency is “even murkier.”
“It is time for a change,” she said. “We must provide a pathway for citizens to express their concerns about potential corruption, and ethical violations committed by their direct governing bodies or individuals therein.”
Roberts proposed creating an Executive Branch Ethical Oversight Committee which would be granted the power to administer significant fines and other penalties deemed appropriate to individuals found guilty of corruption and/or ethics violations. She said public servants found guilty of ethical violations would be required to pay damages from their personal finances, submit a written and public statement of guilt, and complete community service hours.
Roberts said she also wants to see reform in education with fully funded schools, increased teacher salaries and expanded funding for early head start and head start programs; improved access to healthcare and mental health facilities and lowered prescription drug prices; and statewide “smart investments” including broadband access in rural communities, improved road infrastructure, tax reform which benefits the middle class, and sustainable economic growth.
Roberts said stimulated and sustainable economic growth is created by fostering partnerships between the private sector, higher education and the community. She said better access to high-speed internet is also a major component in economic growth.
When asked about police reform and the potential for police reform bills in the wake of worldwide racial injustice protests, Roberts said racial injustice “must be dealt with by direct action” and reforms in the criminal justice system must be a priority. She said that reform would include empathy training for every officer, placing social workers on every shift, legalizing marijuana, and providing pay incentives to departments with ethical practices.
“We will never be a great nation until our brothers and sisters of color can assume their full potentials,” she said. “We must take our knees off their necks and invest in their communities, by investing in the people of their communities. We must give the people the resources needed to create, build, and grow their dreams, ideas, and innovations.”
Roberts is vying for the seat currently held by Republican Rep. Larry Elkins, who’s not seeking reelection. Roberts’ Republican challenger, Mary Beth Imes, did not respond to the WKMS election survey.
District 5 includes Calloway County and part of Trigg County.
House District 6
Incumbent Republican candidate Chris Freeland faces Democratic contender Al Cunningham in the Kentucky House of Representative District 6 race. Neither candidate responded to the WKMS election survey.
District 6 includes Lyon County, Marshall County, and part of McCracken County.
House District 7
Incumbent Rupublican candidate Suzanne Miles is currently running unopposed in the Kentucky House of Representatives District 7 race. Miles did not respond to the WKMS election survey.
District 7 includes Union County, part of Daviess County, and part of Henderson County.
House District 8
Incumbent State Rep. Walker Thomas, a Republican from Hokpinsville, is seeking reelection for a third term.
Thomas said the connections he’s made during his time at the statehouse can be “a voice” in all levels of government for those in his district, and added he’s willing to work with all legislators, including those across the aisle.
Thomas currently chairs the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protections committee, and he said issues regarding law enforcement often come before that committee. Walker said the committee on Oct. 28 plans to hear stakeholders on both sides of the issue of “defunding the police,” a phrase which can have various meanings.
“We’re looking at the issue. Me, personally, I think I am standing behind the men and women in blue. I don’t think we need to defund law enforcement. In some places, we might need to increase it some,” Thomas said.
Thomas noted Kentucky Senate President Republican Robert Stivers is working on a bill to ban most “no-knock” warrants. He said he would have to read Stivers’ bill and hear from more involved on the issue before making a decision whether he would support such a bill. He said he’s talked to some law enforcement officers who consider such warrants to be a “useful tool.”
State Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat who represents part of Jefferson County, has also introduced a bill that would ban no-knock warrants statewide.
Thomas said communities need to still keep “vulnerable” people safe during the pandemic while trying to reopen the economy and schools. He said the economy should keep moving while still recommending the use of masks and social distancing.
“I have talked to so many parents that this is really rough on their kids. It’s really rough on the families. So we just have to be careful the cure is not worse than the cause,” Thomas said.
Thomas also said he wants to again introduce a bill that would make military pensions exempt from state income taxes, as another reason to encourage those working at the Fort Campbell military installation along the state border to live in Kentucky instead of Tennessee. Thomas also wants to introduce legislation that would allow licensing in other states for professions including speech pathology and audiology to also transfer to practice in Kentucky.
Thomas is the co-owner of Kentucky Moving and Storage in Hopkinsville and is a past member of the Hopkinsville city council.
Democratic candidate Pam Dossett of Hopkinsville said she wants to be an advocate for public education funding, having been an educator herself for decades, and also wants to bring equitable healthcare coverage and access for Kentuckians, citing her daughter’s experience as a diabetic.
She said she believes local law enforcement and particularly school resource officers have a positive impact on the community in developing relationships with residents, but that it’s unfortunate to watch abuses by some law enforcement across the country in the media, including the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
Dossett said she supports Breonna’s Law, a bill introduced by Democratic State Rep. Attica Scott, that would ban “no knock” warrants statewide and expand body cameras in law enforcement.
“As a private citizen, I don't think police officers, even with a search warrant, should be able to enter my home without knocking on my door, alerting me to their presence and identifying themselves as law enforcement. I just don't know how you could defend that,” Dossett said.
Dossett said she supports law enforcement “in the difficult job they do” but believes wrong-doing should be held accountable.
She also said local businesses and restaurants have taken an economic hit dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic the past six months, and said her district needs to continue to follow state coronavirus guidance for schools and businesses to safely operate and protect communities.
Dossett said federal CARES Act money needs to continue to sustain local businesses and entertainment venues in her district, which she considers vital to her community.
Locally, she plans to advocate for the continued renovation of the Pennyrile Parkway and believes more signage of Hopkinsville and Cadiz would promote tourism in the region.
“Look at Cadiz there, right there off the lakes. They have lots of opportunities for vacation spots, vacation homes. It is close to the number one retirement spot. In Kentucky, people love that area. They want to stay there, they want to retire there. So we want to build on that, we want to expand that,” Dossett said.
District 8 includes part of Christian and Trigg counties.
House District 9
Incumbent Republican Myron Dossett is running uncontested in Kentucky’s District 9 House Representatives race. Dossett did not respond to the election survey.
District 9 includes part of Hopkins and Christian counties.
House District 11
Wiederstein said Kentucky’s government needs to focus on improving the quality of investigations without compromising the safety of officers and the public. He believes there should be expanded training and increased benefits for law enforcement.
He also believes the General Assembly needs to “be prepared to accept criticism over its failure to provide funding for many of these initiatives.”
Regarding COVID-19, Wiederstein said he has attempted to discuss a plan for Kentucky’s economic recovery and if elected, he proposes the following seven bills in the 2021 session:
Kentucky Digital Entrepreneur Act of 2021
Kentucky Regulatory Cost Minimization Act of 2021
Kentucky Right to Repair Farm, Excavation & Mining Equipment Act of 2021
Kentucky Transparency in Healthcare Pricing Act of 2021
Kentucky Controlling Healthcare Costs through Competition Act of 2021
Kentucky Small Business Empowerment and Opportunity Act of 2021
Kentucky Timely Judgments and Responsive Courts Act of 2021
“These ideas are not ‘magic bullets’ to an ailing national and global economy. The first step in the economic recovery is to reduce the rate of covid infections and instill confidence in the public that the virus is contained.”
Wiederstein noted that the bills he proposed are 99% completed, and he believes they would improve the business climate, promote small businesses, and have bipartisan appeal.
One specific issue to District 11, according to Wiederstein, is the chronic problem of low birth weight infants, suggesting that several mothers are struggling to access the prenatal healthcare they need. He has introduced a bill to “study the use of Neonatal Intensive Care Units which do amazing work but are extremely expensive interventions.”
He also hopes to propose a bill that changes the way hospitals and physicians are paid for delivering children. He suggests doctors who deliver babies receive higher pay.
Wiederstein is facing Republican challenger Jonathan Dixon. Dixon did not respond to the WKMS election survey.
District 11 covers parts of Daviess County and Henderson County.
House District 12
Incumbent Republican candidate Jim Gooch is running against Democratic contender Art McLaughlin in Kentucky’s District 12 race. Gooch and McLaughlin did not respond to the WKMS election survey.
District 12 covers McLean, Webster, and parts of Hopkins and Daviess counties.
Rachel Collins, Liam Niemeyer, Sydni Anderson, Dalton York, Scottlynn Ballard, Chloe Moore and Retiazsha Chambers contributed to this report.