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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Democrat Lamar Allen and Republican Dan Fister running for state House seat being vacated by Graviss

Lamar Allen, Democrat; Dan Fister, Republican
By Nicholas Hall
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

State spending and the tax code are points of contention between Republican Dan Fister and Democrat Lamar Allen, the candidates for the race to represent Woodford County in the state House.

While both candidates agree that the government should secure pensions for state employees, they disagree on what changes should be made to pay for it.

Allen, 32, of Lexington, grew up in Louisville and works as a teacher, but also drives for Uber and Lyft. Allen said he was inspired to run by a desire to help students beyond his work as educator.

“I realized that it was time to have an advocate who will fight for them outside of the classroom just the same way that I will fight for them inside the classroom,” he said in an interview.

Allen became the Democratic nominee by defeating Woodford County educator Bob Gibson in the primary election. While Allen lost by more than 500 votes in Woodford, which cast 60% of the primary vote, his 1,000-vote lead in Fayette County and 329-vote margin in Franklin County won the primary.

Fister, 60, has lived his entire life within 15 miles of the Versailles hospital where he was born. He has been a farmer and a senior accountant for a multinational corporation, and operated his own construction company for 34 years.

Fister ran for the seat in 2016 and 2018. He said he was inspired to run by seeing the problems he saw in the community that his grandchildren would grow up in, noting in particular the murder of six-year-oldLogan Tipton of Versailles in late 2015. “We’ve got to do something, and I’m not doing anything, so that’s when I agreed to get involved.,” he said in an interview.

Fister said that he’s running this time for the same reasons. “I just see it as an extension of the first one,” he said. “I’m still running for the same office; I think it’s a good fit.”

Fister ran unopposed in the Republican primary this year. He won primaries in 2016 and 2018, but lost to Democratic incumbent James Kay in 2016 and to Joe Graviss in 2018.  Graviss is running for the state Senate, so the House race has no incumbent.

The district includes all of Woodford County and parts of Franklin and Fayette. Its voter registration is 53 percent Democratic and 38 percent Republican, but many registered Democrats, especially those in Woodford County, vote for Republican candidates.

Allen says Kentucky’s education and health-care systems need more support from state government. He stressed that funding for public education system should not be rerouted to charter schools or school vouchers, tax credits for private education.

Fister did not reply to questions about those two issues. Earlier, he said the education system should be supported, calling it “a driver in all directions,” but would like to bring in more business by reducing tax rates.

Allen disagreed, saying past tax cuts have benefited Kentucky’s highest earners at the cost of hurting working-class Kentuckians. He said the state should consider an additional tax bracket for Kentucky’s highest earners.

The preservation of state pensions was important to both candidates, though Fister noted that Gov. Andy Beshear’s budget plan in March 2020 would have reduced pension benefits. “I would like to see some changes in it, to make it, to make it go forward in health, okay?” Fister said. “The way it’s set up right now you’ve got fewer people working supporting a larger group of retirees and we’ve got to fix that mix somehow.”

Allen said the government needs to secure the pensions of state workers. “I think that we have a group of people who are doing a lot with a little, and they’re often getting the least amount of resources and they’re still expected to provide the same outcome,” he said. “And at minimum what we should be doing, because oftentimes these people are underpaid, is making sure that they are set up for life after work.”

Allen said state government should decriminalize marijuana to reduce the strain on the criminal justice system, or even legalize it, to bring in new agriculture opportunities. He also said the government could bring in more revenue by expanding gaming and continuing to raise taxes on cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.

Fister emphasized the need for the state government to exercise fiscal responsibility. “You know it’s just like at home, you look around you can find waste, you know. Government, the way the budgets are designed and the way it’s been done since the beginning of time is if you don’t spend what you budgeted for, you won’t get it next year,” he said. “So if you don’t need that money this year, instead of wasting it, let’s cut it out and you can get it back next year if you need it, you know?”

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