Friday, October 31, 2014

Race for state representative is part of a larger contest between parties for control of the state House

By Sidney Rose Emison
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
               The race for state representative between freshman Democrat James Kay and Republican challenger Ryan Schwartz could turn out to be part of a pivotal move for Kentucky.
               In the Nov. 4 election, Republicans have a chance to gain control of the state House for the first time since 1920-21, and a Democratic group is attacking Schwartz in radio commercials in an effort to protect Kay.
               In June 2013, Kay won a three-way special election to replace Democrat Carl Rollins of Midway, who resigned to become head of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.
               Schwartz and other Republicans are criticizing Kay for his vote to reverse a small decrease in the state gasoline tax, which is dedicated to highway projects.
               “I was disappointed to see that he did that,” Schwartz said. “I think the last thing that our economy and Central Kentucky families need right now is more money coming out of their pockets. We need to look at other ways of stimulating growth in our economy, and we need to look at other ways of financing our big road projects.”
               Kay says that because the gas tax is based on the average wholesale price of gasoline, so when prices go up, some motorists may drive less, and cars are increasingly fuel efficient, so less gas is bought and less tax revenue is raised.
               The tax fell to 30.8 cents per gallon from 32.3 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, its first decrease since 2010. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear proposed setting the old rate as the new floor for the tax, to keep road projects on schedule. Kay voted for that, with almost all other House Democrats, but the Republican-controlled Senate blocked it.
               “They try to politicize every issue,” Kay said of Republicans. “The reality is the road plan. That’s what I voted for. . . . a plan that gave millions and millions of dollars brought back to this district. . . . Now we have one billion dollars of unfunded projects in the state on rural roads, like here in Woodford County where people get in car wrecks -- young kids, high-schoolers -- get in car wrecks and die all the time.”
               The candidates also disagree on “right to work” legislation, which would ban union contracts that require employees to join the union or pay fees to it. Schwartz favors the measure, as well as comprehensive tax reform, “to help Kentucky to get a more competitive footing with some of our surrounding states, particularly Tennessee, which seems to be attracting so many manufacturing jobs that should be going to Kentucky.”
               Kay, who is supported by labor unions, opposes the legislation. “All this really is,” he said, “is an attack on unions, and I can tell you, the states that have the right to work legislation right now are in worse shape than we are.”
               Both candidates are lawyers who live in Versailles. Radio ads from Kentucky Family Values, a committee that supports Democrats, say Schwartz is a lawyer who buys foreclosed properties and sells them for a profit.
               Schwartz said one client of the Lexington firm in which he works “is a company that purchases delinquent property tax bills. What happens is, for whatever reason, when property tax bills go unpaid, county governments all over the state suffer. . . . When the state cannot collect on these tax bills, the county clerks are required to sell them to third party investors who don’t get any kind of extraordinary profits.”
               Kay says he has earned re-election. ““I have listened to my constituents. I am responsive to their concerns,” he said. “I know my community. I’m in it, I’m of it, I’m around it all the time. I have brought home things to this community that will help this community that will better serve it, and will make it better able to serve itself. I think at the end of the day, we need somebody born and raised here that knows this community to best represent it.”
The race is in the 56th House District.
               Schwartz, asked why he should be elected, described a variety of working perspectives. “I’ve worked outdoors, I’ve worked indoors. I’ve worked in offices and I’ve worked in factories. . . . The next thing I want to do is promote job creation by getting the government out of the way.”
               Kay said job creation begins with education. “We are poised to go backwards in education and we have been going forward for the first time in a decade.”
The district comprises Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties. In last year’s special election, held before the district lines were redrawn slightly, Kay got 44 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Republican Lyen Crews and 22 percent for independent John-Mark Hack.

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