Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rollins taking nothing for granted in re-election bid; Atwood running low-key 2nd campaign for House

UPDATE: Rollins got 70.3 percent of the primary vote, defeating Atwood 2,985 to 1,263. He carried Woodford County with 74.7 percent, 1,825 to 619. In the Midway city precinct, he won 65 to 7; in the county precinct, he won 66 to 24. Parts of Fayette and Franklin counties are also in the district.

By Martha Groppo
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The race for the Democratic nomination for state representative from the 56th District has begun, and both candidates are from Midway. Incumbent Carl Rollins is running for reelection against Jerry L. Atwood.

Rollins has spent much more money on the race than Atwood, who is running a low-budget campaign, with an unpaid announcement in The Woodford Sun and a Facebook page. He plans to finance the campaign with his own money.

“I haven’t collected any money from anybody,” said Atwood, right. “I just have a hard time asking people for money. . . . I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”

Atwood ran for the Democratic nomination for state representative in 1998. He raised and spent about $4,700 in his race against Rollins’ predecessor, incumbent Joe Barrows of Versailles, who defeated him after spending only $1,700.

In his last race in 2010, Rollins defeated Republican Lyen Crews by a 4.53 percent margin of 744 votes. This time, he is taking no chances, purchasing a full-color ads in the Sun and The State Journal of Frankfort and maintaining a campaign website.

As of April 22, the date of his most recent report, Rollins had $31,607 in his account and had spent $1,778 on his campaign since Nov. 14.

Rollins, left, is in his sixth year in the legislature. He ran unopposed in 2008 and defeated Republican Kevin Locke in 2006 by 13 percentage points.

Rollins said his experience makes him a good candidate. He cited his “track record of working for local government” and the fact that he has “passed significant legislation,” as points in his favor.

Rollins was a councilman and mayor in Midway and a Woodford County magistrate before running for the House. He lives in Midway with his wife, Brenda, and has one daughter and two grandchildren.

During his time in the General Assembly, Rollins sponsored the bill changing Midway into a fourth-class city. In the most recent legislative session, he sponsored a bill allowing Midway restaurants with 50 seats to sell liquor; previously the minimum was 75. As chair of the House Education Committee, his political resume includes several major educational issues.

Atwood has not yet served in public office, but would like the chance to try.

“I’m the alternative,” Atwood said. “I think people deserve the opportunity to pick someone.”

Atwood worked in automotive sales for 46 years before retiring. He was born in Casey County in 1941 and has lived in Midway since 1950. He graduated from Versailles High School in 1959. He and his wife, Margie, have two children and two grandchildren.

The candidates agree on several issues, but have highlighted different topics in their campaigns.

In his announcement in the Sun, Rollins cited legislation he supported “preventing discrimination against those with disabilities,” efforts to improve staffing at nursing homes and several educational policies.

His first ad focused on education. It discussed his support of House Bill 308, which the ad said “toughens the oversight of the state’s for-profit colleges and universities and strengthens the ability of students to file for grievances.” Rollins co-sponsored the bill, which seeks to require more regulation of for-profit schools, some of which have been accused of focusing too much on recruiting students and getting their federal grant money than giving them an education.

Rollins said in an interview he has helped pass legislation making it easier for students to transfer from technical or community colleges to other schools, and hopes to institute an improved course equivalency system to ease college credit transfer. He said attending a smaller local school might enable more students to live at home for the first few years of their education without accruing significant debt.

“We need to makes some changes with our career and technical education,” Rollins said.

One controversial issue he has encountered as education committee chair is charter schools. He is concerned that charter schools will funnel talent and resources away from the school system.
“We must continue to protect public education from those who want to use public funds to provide the wealthy with private education in the form of vouchers and charter schools,” Rollins says on his campaign website.  He said he prefers to find other ways to “improve our schools without creating an entire additional level of bureaucracy.”

Atwood’s view of the issue was similar.“I don’t think we need charter schools,” he said. “Let’s fix the system we’ve got.” He agreed with Rollins that charter schools could take money and students away from the current public school system.

One education issue on which Rollins and Atwood differ is the proposal to raise to 18 the age at which students can drop out without a parent’s permission. Rollins is for it, and Atwood is against it. The idea of raising the dropout age from 16, set in the 1920s, has been debated for years and has most recently been pushed by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and opposed by Senate President David Williams, a Republican.

In the last session, Rollins worked to amend Senate Bill 109 in hopes that a compromise would get it passed. “We’ve got to change the culture,” to put more value on education, he told the House.

Atwood said he believes raising the dropout age “would be a mistake.” He asked, “Why make them stay until they are 18 if they don’t even want to stay until they are 16?”

In his candidacy announcement, Atwood highlighted two issues, gambling and Second Amendment rights, but he and Rollins seem to have little if any disagreement on them.

Debate over gambling in Kentucky has recently centered over the issue of whether it should be expanded in the state to allow casinos at racetracks. The most recent measure to amend the state constitution to expand gambling died in the Senate.

Atwood said, “It needs to be put on the ballot.” Rollins agreed, saying, “You want to allow people to vote.”

On gun issues, Atwood was unsure why he would receive a B+ rating from the National Rifle Association, since he has been a member of the organization for 40 years.

Rollins received an A rating, possibly because he has had the opportunity to vote for pro-gun legislation. According to the NRA website, an “A” candidate “has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office” or “demonstrated record of support on Second Amendment issues.”

Barrows, a man with experience with both candidates, said he expects the race “to be low-key, low-profile, with no major fireworks.”

In 2006, Rollins, who was then the magistrate for Midway, withdrew from the race for judge-executive and filed for Barrows’ seat when Barrows decided to end his campaign for re-election. Rollins ran unopposed in the primary.

Barrows said that his race against Atwood had not been a negative one, and that this race “will not be a negative campaign because neither are negative people.” Barrows said he expected the campaigns to focus on issues and the job that Rollins has done as a legislator—and that he believes Rollins has done a well.

“I thought Carl’s record before he was in the legislature was a good preparation,” Barrows said. “Former colleagues (in the legislature) tell me what a good job he is doing.”

Barrows said he couldn’t think “of any particular involvement in party politics” that Atwood has had, but “You don’t obviously have to have that to be a good legislator.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader endorsed Rollins, saying Atwood "seems to be making his second run for the legislature more because he enjoys interacting with people during a campaign than because of any complaints he has about Rollins' performance in Frankfort."

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