Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Three from Versailles seek state House seat in June 25 special election, have three different stands on casinos

By Megan Smiddie and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

On June 25, voters in Woodford County, eastern Franklin County and parts of western Fayette County will decide in a special election who will replace former state Rep. Carl Rollins in the 56th District.

From left: Kay, Hack and Crews at Woodford Co. Farm Bureau forum
The candidates are Republican Lyen Crews, Democrat James Kay and independent John-Mark Hack, all of Versailles. They will meet in their only public forum Tuesday, June 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Anne Hart Raymond Building at Midway College.

Hack, 46, was once a Democrat but is seeking Republican votes with some of his issue positions, such as opposition to casino gambling and a return to biennial legislative sessions.

Hack is co-owner of the Marksbury Farm Market in Garrard County and is the founder of the new Local Food Association.

Hack’s top priority is tax reform. “It is the only issue we can afford to focus on,” he said in an interview.

Kay, 30, is a lawyer in Versailles and has been an aide to House Democratic leaders. He is supported by Rollins, who resigned to head the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

“I’m the candidate that is going to stand up for the education system and state workers, like my mom,” who works for the General Assembly, Kay said. “Not just for them, but for what’s right.”

The district has many state employees, is well educated and has one of the state’s highest income levels, so voter turnout is expected to be larger than in most special elections, perhaps 20 percent.

Crews recently resigned as vice president of financial and business affairs at Midway College to accept a finance position with eCampus online textbooks in Lexington. He ran against Rollins in 2010 election and lost by about 5 percent of the vote.

“With my experience in health care, education, being a CPA, my experience with finance, I am uniquely qualified to hold this position,” he said in an interview.

Crews is hoping to give Republicans a head start on taking control of the House in next year’s elections. Currently, Democrats hold the House majority, 54-45, plus Rollins’ vacancy, while Republicans hold the Senate 23-14, plus one independent who caucuses with Republicans.

Democrats hold the majority of voter registration in the 56th District with 18,125. Republicans have 10,256, and 2,219 people are registered as independents or members of other parties. For a larger map of the district, click here.

Because the parties are close in the House, both and their allies are pouring money into the election. One Republican group has reported spending $140,538; the Democratic group that is expected to play a leading role on that side has yet to report any spending, but a report is due soon.

Education, tax reform and the horse industry are just a few topics being debated in the race. One major difference among the candidate is expansion of gambling to help support the equine industry. Kay supports the idea, Crews is for putting it on the ballot, and Hack is outright opposed.

“I do not support bringing predatory, addictive, machine-based gambling to Kentucky,” Hack said at a Farm Bureau forum. “If purse sizes are the real concern, we can look at other solutions,” such as a surcharge on all Kentucky motel and hotel bills, with a line on the bill saying it’s for the Thoroughbred industry.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, for whom Kay once worked, has said gambling could be expanded without a constitutional amendment, but Crews says would like to see it put it to a vote.

“I am strongly in favor of an amendment put on the ballot for the people to decide,” he said in an interview, “and when we craft the language for that amendment, the horse industry has to be very much a part of that discussion.”

An issue all the candidates were able to agree on, at least generally, was tax reform.

“Our tax system is outdated, inadequate and unfair,” Kay said in an interview with the Midway Messenger. “We need to reform it to help fund public education and a tax system that will invite businesses to come into Kentucky.”

Crews agreed that the tax system was “antiquated,” and added that it needs to be reformed. “I support tax reform that will lower rates, broaden the tax base, and encourage business development within our state – thus producing greater overall tax revenue,” he said.

But he added, “The people of the Commonwealth should not be burdened with additional taxes. Kentucky must learn to live within its means, and this can be accomplished by eliminating wasteful spending, opposing policies that are hostile to business, and ultimately ensuring that Kentucky provides an environment that is friendly and attractive to businesses.”

Hack said, “I favor a tax code that is fair, just and progressive. . . . There needs to be a comprehensive reform of the tax system, spending priorities and the pension system.”

But he said that before passing any tax reform, government spending needs to be assessed. “We have a spending problem in Frankfort, and we have a spending problem in government in general,” said Hack.

Crews said he also believes there is a spending problem and wants to implement a “No Budget, No Pay” policy that would require legislators to go without pay when their failure to pass a budget results in a special session of the General Assembly. Hack also favors such a measure.

Click on image for larger version
Another issue that separated the candidates at the forum was the merit system, in which state employees are hired and promoted based on their ability to perform a job, rather than on their political connections.

Both Crews and Kay agreed that the merit system was good. Crews said that the merit system was important, because it protects employees from partisan changes. Kay agreed that the merit system was a safeguard. “The merit system is valuable because it prevents partisan employees without fear of political retribution,” he said.

Hack said the merit system is a good start, but there needs to be something “that further protects dedicated public employees from abuses prevalent from recent governors.”

He said he would like to find a way to stop the practice known as “burrowing,” in which political appointees gain merit-system protection near the end of an administration by transferring from political to career jobs without going through a fully competitive application process. “These political appointees make their way into the merit system so they can latch onto the state, and this causes a high degree of uncertainty,” Hack said in the interview.

At the forum, Hack said he hired 22 people at the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy and insisted they all be non-merit. “The merit system can hamper productivity,” he said. “An over-reliance on the merit system can make some people less productive than they might otherwise be.”

While the candidates have different opinions on how to solve the issues in Kentucky, they have some common ground, agreeing that the education system was not broken, but has room for improvement.

Hack said at the forum that “the public education system is capable of producing outstanding students,” but is too “test-centric” and is “bloated and top-heavy,” both at the state Department of Education and local districts. “We have almost 200 school districts with independent administration across Kentucky who have six-figure salary employees, who may or may not have an impact on the way our children learn,” he said in the interview.

Hack said Kentucky should invest in community-based schools, or charter schools, to stop district administration salaries from “ballooning” and “the quality of our education from going down.”

“I believe that charter schools offer us an opportunity at catalyzing the kind of innovation we need in the public-school system,” he said.

As chairman of the House Education Committee, Rollins was perhaps the leading legislative opponent of charter schools, and Kay also disagrees with the idea. “Charter schools should not even be a topic until we can take care of our public schools and ensure our children a good education to prepare them for the future,” said Kay. “We went from being ranked 34th in the nation in education to 10th in just the last few years. We’re doing something right.” Kay referred to the Quality Counts survey of the states’ education performance, taken each year by Education Week magazine.

Crews said at the forum that while working for Midway College, “Each year I watched as students come in less and less prepared.” He added that he found that the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 wasn’t as good as people thought it would be and the legislature doesn’t need to be telling teachers what, how and when to teach. “One of the main reasons I am running is because I want to ensure that our children get the effective public education that they deserve,” he said in the interview. “I believe that we can do that by empowering our teachers and making sure our tax-funded resources actually make it into the classroom.”

Crews is also for charter schools. “Because public charter schools must abide by the tenets and projected student achievements outlined in their charter contract, there is a greater degree of accountability,” he said.

As the outsider in the race, Hack is running against the legislature, calling for repeal of the 2000 constitutional amendment that began annual sessions, an end to “full-time pensions for part-time legislators,” making all public pension payments public records, and turning legislative redistricting over to an independent, non-partisan commission.

Hack’s proposals drew varying agreements and disagreements from his opponents.

Crews said legislators shouldn’t have pensions at all, and agrees that any public employee’s pension should be a public record.

Kay said legislators should be in the same pension system with state employees, and legislative salaries and pensions should be set by an independent body. As for making all public pensions public, “It’s something maybe I’d consider, but I’d want to hear from the state employees first.”

Crews and Kay said they favor keeping annual sessions, to keep legislation current, but they disagreed on the idea of an independent redistricting commission. Crews said he doubts that a truly nonpartisan commission could be created, and “I think it’s the responsibility of the legislature to do it, and the legislature is accountable to its constituents.”

Kay said he supports the idea because partisanship has prevented passage of a current redistricting plan, and he thinks a nonpartisan commission is possible. “I have a little bit more faith in people,” he said.

For a look at the race from a statewide perspective, by Ronnie Ellis of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kays comments on public education make more sense than pouring more and more money into bussing our students, who sit in hot, non productive school busses, wasting as much as two hours of our children's time. When do they get to study, play, or just have family time??? When students get to school, they are managed, down to each bathroom breaks,and 20 minutes for lunches.Our teachers do their best to keep them focused on what they need to know, not what they want to know. As for the Democrat candidate, he has the same polotical talking points as in his associates in Washington, such as "affix a tax to all new socially engineered programs,
It just makes sense to have a tax program that is friendly to new business, owners and those already established.Why should legislators ask the people to pay more taxes when all they would need to do is streamline the budget. What ever happened to Bill Cinton's welfare to work program. It was very successul, and whish they would bring it back.