When veteran State Representative Jody Richards announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t seek re-election, several political newcomers were waiting in the wings.
Eight candidates are running for the Kentucky House in the 20th District, a seat that hasn’t been vacant in more than four decades.
In the days leading up to the May 22 primary election, WKU Public Radio is profiling each of the candidates.
Patti Minter wants voters to know that she has a history of showing up for students at Western Kentucky University where she’s been a professor for 24 years, for colleagues as a faculty regent elected three times to the WKU Board of Regents, and as a civil rights activist in the community.
The next place she wants to show up is at the State Capitol as a state representative for Kentucky’s 20th House District. She must first win a five-way race for the Democratic nomination, and then move on to the November election.
Minter is the only educator in the Democratic primary. She says her desire to strengthen Kentucky’s public school systems is a big reason why she’s running for office.
“I want my son and all the children in Bowling Green to have access to the opportunities that public schools have always afforded people," Minter told WKU Public Radio.
Minter says education has been under attack in Kentucky in recent years. She thinks the state needs to commit more funding for K-12 and higher education, and suggests closing corporate tax loopholes as means of generating more revenue. She also supports fair pay and benefits for teachers, something she thinks is missing in Kentucky’s new pension reform law.
“I have people coming to my office at WKU telling me they’re thinking about not becoming teachers. I have people telling me they’re going to get certified to teach so they can move to Tennessee or Indiana," explained Minter. "We don’t want that brain drain. We want to keep the best and brightest teachers here in Kentucky.”
Minter would like to see newly hired teachers placed in a defined benefit pension plan, the same one offered to retired and current teachers. The WKU history professor says Kentucky’s pension system isn’t fixed and she wants to be at the table as lawmakers consider future changes.
The recent legislative session fired up many Kentucky Democrats, including Slim Nash, who is also a candidate for the 20th District House seat.
“I could not have imagined a time in our history where a conservative Republican was going to villiainize school teachers," said Nash in an interview with WKU Public Radio.
Nash is referring to Republican Governor Matt Bevin who led the charge to overhaul the state’s pension system for public workers. He faults Bevin for blaming teachers for a problem created by the legislature. Chronic under-funding by lawmakers is one of the factors behind Kentucky’s massive pension deficit.
This is not Nash’s first political rodeo. He has served ten non-consecutive years on the Bowling Green City Commission and touts himself as the only Democratic candidate with experience governing.
“It’s fantastic sometimes to have somebody from the outside, but what I’ve been able to do is to prove myself as a legislator on the local level, and I’d like to take that perspective to Frankfort," commented Nash.
Nash works for a non-profit social services agency that provides support for families and children in foster care. As he goes knocking on one door to the next, he says education and pensions are top of mind with voters in the 20th district. He thinks a solution to both is additional revenue. He has two solutions for generating revenue without raising taxes. One is to legalize medicinal marijuana.
“Most people in Bowling Green know that I’ve gone through considerable health struggles with my daughter," Nash stated. "I’ve been in a place where I’m desperate for something to happen, and when you’re desperate, it changes your perspective on things.”
Commissioner Nash says the state can also increase revenue with a more efficient system for collecting existing taxes. In particular, he says there isn’t a good system for collecting taxes on 1099 employees, people who work for a business but are not considered official employees.
Nash and fellow Democratic candidate Patti Minter have both carried the flag for members of the LGBT community. Minter is a founding leader of the Bowling Green Fairness movement and has won the endorsement of the political arm of the Kentucky Fairness Campaign. She says anti-discrimination laws are key to a good business climate.
“There’s no question about it," Minter remarked. "We know that data from the Human Rights Campaign that good, well-paying jobs follow legal environments where everyone feels safe and welcome in the communities where they go.”
Both Nash and Minter support a statewide amendment to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes from discrimination. As a city commissioner, Nash has worked unsuccessfully to pass a local ordinance in Bowling Green.
“I appreciate the other candidate’s activism related to the LGBTQ issue, but there was only one person who was willing to risk their political career to say that civil rights are deserved by all people, including those who are LGBTQ, and that was me.”
Ahead of Kentucky's May 22 primary, WKU Public Radio will report on the other Democratic candidates in the 20th District House race-Ashley Shepherd Porter, Rick Dubose, and Eldon Renaud. We'll also profile the three Republicans in the race, including Ben Lawson, Troy Brooks, and Todd Alcott.