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Newcomer runs against incumbent judge-executive in Hopkins County primary

Incumbent Jack Whitfield (left) and newcomer Aaron Garrett (right) are running for judge-executive in Hopkins County this year.
Derek Operle
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Incumbent Jack Whitfield (left) and newcomer Aaron Garrett (right) are running for judge-executive in Hopkins County this year.

The Hopkins County primary election for judge-executive this year will effectively decide the winner of the seat, as a Republican incumbent and a political newcomer vie for the GOP nomination with no Democrat having filed for the race.

Incumbent Jack Whitfield is running for a second term in office, this time facing Aaron Garrett in the May 17 Primary Election.

Jack Whitfield

Whitfield said his priorities are to recover from the December tornado, manage the budget and increase broadband access in Hopkins County. For tornado recovery, he believes it’s important to have continuity with the state government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and tornado survivors.

“We’ve still got some cleanup to do and a lot of rebuilding — lives, houses and the economy in the areas that were hit,” Whitfield said. “If somebody else comes into the office, they’ll have somewhere to start, but it’s still going to be a huge learning curve. The job itself is [a hard one to learn], and that added on top of it will certainly make it more difficult.”

Broadband access is something Whitfield considers lacking throughout the country, but especially in rural areas such as those in Hopkins County. Partnering with Watch Communications, receiving a grant from the Delta Regional Authority and diverting county funding toward this effort has enabled him to make some headway.

“We saw through the pandemic how important [broadband access] is,” Whitfield said. “I’m working with a few other companies to continue that expansion.”

Whitfield also intends to move forward with the planned $13.9 million Madisonville sports complex, which was approved by both the Madisonville City Council and the Hopkins County Fiscal Court in early March.

“We certainly expect that [the sports complex] will help bring some businesses into the county,” he said. “Our economy is growing already, and we’ve got about 1,500 job openings in the county right now. Now, we just have to work on getting people here.”

Attracting people to the county is another goal Whitfield aims to solve in part by improving the park systems. He’d like to install a mountain bike trail, like the one in Madisonville, somewhere else in Hopkins County.

Nearing the end of his first term as judge-executive of Hopkins County, Whitfield has owned the Melody Lanes Bowling Center in Madisonville since June 2018. Before that, he owned the RJ Temper construction business with his father.

“Having been a business owner, I understand some of the issues that other business owners face, whether it’s finding employees or the taxes that we have,” he said. “All the taxes that we have I’ve paid at one time or another.”

Following a pandemic and tornado, Whitfield believes he’s been a steady leader for the county and hopes to solve additional problems in a subsequent term.

“Part of what I’ve done as judge so far has been to be collaborative with others,” he said. “I started the West Kentucky Coalition. We started that coalition to bring attention to west Kentucky issues. Our voice as 24 counties and a hundred cities is a lot louder than each one of us individually.”

Aaron Garrett

Newcomer Aaron Garrett said his platform centers on bringing the community together so Hopkins County can be a place where young people desire to stay instead of moving elsewhere. This would involve tending to smaller cities besides Madisonville.

“You’ve got one city (Madisonville) that’s prospering in our county, and that’s where all the focus is,” Garrett said. “But you can’t honestly in good faith say that the county’s prospering when eight out of the nine are not.”

One of Garrett’s goals is to uplift existing local businesses as opposed to courting franchises, although he acknowledged the importance of the latter.

“I want to keep the money in the county,” he said. “I want my daughters to be able to do what I’ve done — to have a life and a family and stay so they don’t have to move off.”

A driving force behind Garrett’s decision-making is his faith in God, noting one person can’t change everything in the county. That’s why he stresses the importance of the community holding elected officials accountable.

“You don’t have to worry about what I’m going to be doing when I’m not in the light, when I’m in my office,” he said. “When you quit worrying about yourself, start believing in Godly principles and worry about your neighbor, it transforms everything. It’s intertwined in everything we do.”

Transparency is another key facet of Garrett’s platform, noting some Hopkins County websites haven’t been updated since 2019. As such, he’s making himself known to residents by knocking on their doors.

Formerly a coal miner, Garrett is now an employee of General Electric Aviation where he’s picked up life skills he said would prove useful if he were elected.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “I’ve seen what this county was and what it is now, and I just want to cry. It just breaks my heart. Me stepping up and running letting everybody else know that you don’t have to be someone with a college education. You just have to love your community and want to see it do better and put the work in and time in.”

Garrett said he wants to ensure the physical and mental health of his residents above pursuing money, making county-centric decisions irrespective of what the rest of the state may do.

“I will be a strong man,” he said. “I’m strong in my faith. I’m strong in my principles. I will defend the people. I will be a voice for the people. I will be somebody you can call. You can tell me your concerns, and I won’t just blow you off.”

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

Dustin Wilcox is a television production student at Murray State University. He graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 2019.
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