Three Warren County Republicans are running for the southern Kentucky House seat held by Democrat Jody Richards since 1976. Ben Lawson, Troy Brooks, and Todd Alcott are seeking the GOP nomination for the 20th District House seat, which covers part of Warren County including Bowling Green.
WKU Public Radio is introducing you to all the candidates on the ballot in next week’s primary election. We previously reported on the five Democrats in the race, including Patti Minter, Slim Nash, Ashlea Shepherd Porter, Rick DuBose, and Eldon Renuad.
Among the Republican field is Ben Lawson who says toxic language and lack of civility has people frustrated with the state of politics. Lawson, who works in the insurance industry, says he offers a fresh perspective to some of Frankfort’s challenges. Central to his campaign is fiscal conservatism.
“The mess that’s happened with the whole pension deal is a big reason I got involved because I feel like it was avoidable to some extent," Lawson told WKU Public Radio. "We can’t live in a world where we think times are good now, things aren’t going to get bad down the road. We need to plan with conservative estimates on our returns. We need to have yearly checks to see if we’re hitting our benchmarks to make sure we can fulfill our promises down the road that we’re making today.”
At 28 years old, Lawson is the youngest of all eight candidates in the 20th District House race. He’s the founder of Southern Kentucky Young Republicans. In 2016, he served as co-chair of the 2016 presidential caucus in Warren County.
Troy Brooks is making his second run for public office. He launched a campaign to challenge State Senator Mike Wilson in 2013, but withdrew from the race. For Brooks, this race is about second chances. Years ago, he was indicted on theft charges in Tennessee. At the time, Brooks was an attorney and was charged with misappropriating money from clients. He was disbarred in the volunteer state. Brooks responded in a written statement:
"Over 14 years ago, like many other people, I made a mistake. I have taken full responsibility for my actions. I repaid every penny to my former clients. The Court saw fit to dismiss, all of charges leveled against me, and my record was totally expunged, meaning it was wiped out. I asked God for forgiveness, and he has forgiven me. I have forgiven myself. Since then, I have pulled myself up by my bootstraps, dusted myself off, and have continued to move forward with my life."
Brooks says his real life experiences and ability to overcome diversity and hardships makes him the right choice for the 20th Legislative District.
Brooks now works as a small business consultant and wants to use his expertise to strengthen workforce development in Kentucky.
“In Bowling Green and Warren County, there’s about 5,000 jobs that remain unfilled. As I travel around the district talking to small business owners, they say, 'We don’t have a skilled enough workforce,' and they say, 'If we do find an applicant, they can’t pass a drug screen,' so that goes back to the opioid crisis that we need to solve.”
Brooks touts his 35 years of service in the Republican Party, including two terms on the state executive committee and a three-time alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention. While the 20th District will lose some influence in the Frankfort with Jody Richards’ retirement, Brooks says he could hit the ground running through his long-standing relationships in Frankfort.
The 20th District House race also features Todd Alcott, a retired Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force. He’s served all over the world from Las Vegas to Guam. Two years ago, he finished his tour at the Pentagon and returned to Bowling Green. Alcott says having served his country makes him uniquely qualified to serve his community.
“It’s about integrity, building trust. For me in the military, it was about earning the trust of my airmen. I always put them first," explained Alcott in an interview with WKU Public Radio. "My job was to take care of the mission, and to do that, I had to take care of my airmen, and I correlate that to putting the people of Bowling Green first."
Alcott is now in the trenches as an educator. He works as the JROTC instructor at Warren East High School. The pension system for public workers and its impact on education is at the heart of all three Republican campaigns.
At a recent political forum, Alcott was the only candidate to say that he would have voted for the controversial pension bill that Governor Matt Bevin signed into law.
"To me, it was a tough decision, but in the end, it was the right decision," he stated. "When Bill 151 passed it had been re-introduced and negotiated behind closed doors with several committees. However, it had been on the floor for a couple of weeks. It had already been passed once, been given to the governor and rejected. It was passed again, and had it not passed, if would have gone to the governor and he would have had full autonomy on what to do with that bill."
He says while the process lacked transparency, he thinks lawmakers saved the pension system from going broke. He believes it was fair to place new teachers into a hybrid retirement plan that includes aspects of both a traditional pension plan and a 401(k)-style plan.
While he would not have voted for the pension bill, fellow GOP member Ben Lawson doesn’t think new teachers are being shorted by not having a defined benefit plan that retired and current teachers were given.
“I think what they came out with, the 401K style plan with a no loss guarantee, is a very good idea. It takes the financial liability off the state moving forward," Lawson commented. "The market is unreliable, but it’s at least as reliable as expecting politicians to fulfill promises made so many years ago.”
Kentucky is one of 15 states that doesn’t gives teachers social security benefits. Along with their new pension plan, Alcott wants to allow newly hired teachers to opt in to the social security system.
Alcott is one of 43 teachers energized to run for the General Assembly, in part, as a result of a tumultuous legislative session. None of the three Republican candidates are shy in their disapproval of GOP Governor Matt Bevin’s job performance. Troy Brooks says he applauds Bevin for taking up pension reform that was passed over by former leaders, but he disagrees with the governor’s approach.
“Teachers have feelings too. I know Governor Bevin apologized and I’m glad he apologized," Brooks said. "There’s got to be more civility in state government. The best governing happens in the middle. When we retreat to the right or left, nothing gets done.”
WKU Public Radio has profiled all eight candidates this week who are running for Jody Richards’ House seat. Five Democrats and three Republicans are seeking the nomination in their respective parties in Kentucky May 22 primary election.