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Candidates gearing up for the Nov. 2 election had a final chance to sway the public Monday during the county's largest political forum.
The nearly three-hour event was hosted by Shelby County Organized for Preservation and Enhancement (SCOPE) and The Sentinel-News, who have partnered on the event since 1988.
SCOPE President Ronald R. Van Stockum Jr. served as the moderator, and Steve Doyle, editor of The Sentinel-News, offered the questions.
The only races not represented were U.S. Senate, between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul, and U.S. Congress, between Republican Brett Guthrie and Democrat Ed Marksberry.
Every local election was covered, and only two candidates were unable to attend.
The some 150 in attendance heard views and political stances from challengers for state Senate, 53rd District Judge, Circuit Court Clerk, Shelbyville City Council, Shelby County Fiscal Court, sheriff and the school board.
Candidates were asked at least two questions and given two minutes to answer them. Opponents received one minute to respond to those answers. Each candidate was given a minute to summarize his or her candidacy.
State Senate, District 20
The state Senate race for Shelby, Spencer and Bullitt counties has become one of the hottest races around.
Democrat David Eaton and Republican Paul Hornback seem to be similar despite their party separations, but they did start to show some distinction in their messages.
Eaton stayed on his platform of experience in government, job creation, full-time commitment and an end to partisanship.
He even noted his traditionally non-Democratis ways.
"I'm pro-life, I'm an NRA member and I'm pro-family," he said. "There are a lot of things Paul and I do agree on."
The two agreed that horse racing, and the equine industry as a whole needs help, and that slot machines may be the way to do it. Although Hornback sees it as a short-term fix and Eaton said that decision should be up to the public.
They agree on education issues, both stating that the goal of getting every child to college, while admirable, may not be right for every child.
However, Hornback touted the success of the community college program, and the fact that a spark can be ignited in every student if they're given the right information.
Eaton instead focused on his career in education and noted that it's important to "help kinds go the route the desire to go."
But the biggest differences between the two fall in immigration and Eaton's desire to make the senate position a full-time job.
Hornback said the immigration issue will need federal litigation.
"We all need to call our federal legislators and make them enact some legislation on the issue," he said. "We don't have the funding locally or at the state government level to take care of this problem. It cost [almost] twenty-five thousand dollars to deport one person, they’re not going to come here and help if we don't have a lot of people. The penalties have to be placed on the employers so they stop hiring undocumented workers. We have to hit them hard enough the first time, so they won't do it anymore."
Eaton asked why we should wait for federal legislation to hit employers.
"There are things that can be done locally, as well," he said. "There is no reason the state can't hand out those penalties to employers. That's something I'm willing to work on."
Eaton has also stated that if elected, he'll leave his job as the Simpsonville City Administrator to focus full time on the senate.
"The reality is, things have changed, and it's not a three-month job anymore," he said. "Problems and opportunities are happening all year and I can't miss something for my district because I was at my other job."
Hornback, who runs a large agricultural operation, disagreed.
"Our forefathers didn't intend this to be a fulltime job," he said. "I'm going to be out there working in the district; seeing people and hearing their concerns, and anyone can look at my level of commitment. I'm always involved."
Shelby County Sheriff
Incumbent Democrat Mike Armstrong and Republican challenger Stewart Shirley focused on the police presence in the county, from both their perspectives.
"It would be nice if I could have deputies in all communities at all times," Armstrong said. "Since I've been in office, we have hired five more deputies, and we're probably in your community more than you know. We've written nineteen hundred traffic violations and served sixteen hundred civil summons. Dispatch has taken fifteen thousand calls, so we have deputies in those areas taking calls."
Shirley, who served as the Shelbyville Police Chief until 2004, said he has heard the same concern of the Sheriff's Office needing a bigger presence in the county.
"I have laid out a plan to double the shift coverage by splitting the county into four sections," he said. "I think we can do that without needing any more tax dollars."
Shirley has been out of law enforcement for several years, but he saw this as an opportunity to get back to serving the community.
"I think the community needs more," he said. "I think I can take the force in another direction."
Along with adding deputies, Armstrong noted the technological advances his office has undergone.
"We have gotten four hundred and fifty thousand dollars in grant money, and a lot of it has gone to technology," he said. "We're second to nobody in the state in using technology."
Despite his time out of law enforcement, Shirley was positive the technological advances would not be lost on him.
"I'm POPS [Police Officer Professional Standards] certified, so all I need is a refresher course," he said.
Both also cited drugs as the biggest problem facing the county over the next several years.
"That's why I want to get officers out in the community," Shirley said. "Shelbyville does a good job in the city and Simpsonville does fine with its force, but we need to combat the problem out in the rural areas."
"That's been one of my number one concerns since I took this office," Armstrong said. "And it's not just a person using cocaine, but it's assault and robbery to get money to buy drugs. It breaks up a lot of families and a lot of lives, and it always will be one of my focuses in this office."
Magistrates, District 4
Whoever wins the Cropper/Bagdad district will have big shoes to fill, taking over for longtime magistrate Cordy Armstrong. Republican Bill Hedges and Democrat John Lewis both applauded Armstrong's service but had different ideas of how to follow it.
"I don't think I'd do anything different because Cordy did such a great job," Hedges said. "I would govern in the same conservative way."
Lewis, however, looked more big-picture.
"Cordy has done an excellent job in the past, but Shelby County is changing," he said. "More and more residents are in neighborhoods, and quite a few don't farm. And it's not just dealing with the district, but the whole county and surrounding counties."
Both candidates would be first-time office holders, but both also say they have some experience.
Lewis said, since winning the primary he's already been fielding calls.
"One guy called about getting a tree taken down that he's been after the state to do," he said. "So I worked with Carl Henry [the county road supervisor] to get that fixed. And another guy called about a narrow road."
Hedges said he learned a lot by losing to Armstrong by more than 300 votes in 2002.
"I considered that pretty good, since Cordy was such a good man," he said.
Magistrate, District 7
Republican Jeff Carman is taking on longtime incumbent Mike Whitehouse in the Finchville area of District 7.
Carman, a political newcomer in Shelby County, said he has watched during the past seven years as Finchville has become somewhat of a racecourse.
"My son and I have been throwing baseball in the front yard for about six years, and it seems the speed [down KY 55] picks up every day,” he said. “When I first moved there, I would tell friends when they see that thirty-five mile-per-hour sign, they better slow down because there is a cop waiting, but not any more.
“Whether it's the width of the roads, the drop-off on the shoulder, the lack of speed enforcement or the interstate ramps, traffic [in the district] is a real problem."
Whitehouse said the increase in speed has come with the times.
"I understand the speed concerns in Finchville, but I also understand the sheriff's office has more than 300 miles to patrol in the county," he said. "When you talk about roads, when I took over in District Seven there were 17 miles of gravel roads and 35 miles didn't have city water, but all have water and are paved now. We shoveled out a brand new sidewalk [in Finchville] by hand, and we're starting another new one. But this time we have a twenty thousand-dollar grant to do it."
Circuit Court Clerk
Republican Lowery Miller was appointed to the position of Circuit Court Clerk late this past summer after the retirement of longtime clerk Kathy Nichols, so he has a slight edge in experience over Democratic nominee Austin Redmon.
"Like my opponent I took the test and was interviewed," Miller said. "I'd like to think I was appointed because I was the best candidate."
Redmon said this election, however, doesn't haven anything to do with the appointment.
"This is about letting the people decide," he said. "That's why I'm here. I want you to decide who should represent you as Circuit Court Clerk."
Besides party affiliation, the biggest difference is the age difference between Redmon, a student at Kentucky State University, and Miller, a retired manager from Leggett & Platt.
"You just have to be 21 to run for this position, so really, at 22, I'm overqualified from that standpoint," Redmon said of jokingly of his age. "But really, I don't see age as a problem. This campaign is about bringing fresh ideas and new ideas to old problems."
Miller said life experiences do play a big role.
"I'm not 22, that's for sure," he joked. "But I have business experience, and running this office is a lot like running a business. I also worked in a public company, and this is a very public office. Lessons learned in life go a long way. I think leadership experience and life experience along with business experience can help me serve Shelby County well."
Redmon's lack of experience in work and life, he said, are not problems.
"I don't want you to vote for me unless you believe in me," he said. "Don't vote for me because of who I know, who I'm related to or who I'm connected to, but vote for me because you believe in my motivation and my vision."
53rd District Judge
Challenger Darby Smith has tried to build his campaign on how he would handle things differently if he were to topple incumbent Judge Donna Dutton. However, both focused on being tough on drug and DUI cases.
"Over the last four years I've been known to be pretty tough on drug offenses, and I will continue to be tough," Dutton said. "Also, repeat offenders. If I enter into a probation agreement with someone, and I see them back in my courtroom, they are going to jail, and they know it."
Smith chose to highlight cases where Dutton wasn't as tough. Citing one case where a DUI conviction was taken over a statement and admittance of smoking marijuana.
"I think I'll take a more conservative view toward statutory evidence," Smith said. "If you use drugs and get behind the wheel of a car, you will go to jail."
Dutton could not recall the specific cases cited by Smith.
"Our court handles thousands of cases, but I first candidate ever to receive the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, and I don't think I get that because I'm soft on DUI or drug offenses. Our court has the highest DUI conviction rate, in both Shelby and Anderson counties."
Dutton touted her experience on and off the bench.
"I've practiced law going on 20 years now," she said, "and I've done it at every level all the way up to the Kentucky Supreme Court. I have proven my commitment with experience in the courtroom, and that I can handle the case load. And I think my stance against drug and repeat offenders stands for itself."
Smith, however, noted his experience trying cases in district court, although not being on the bench.
"I've handled about every kind of case you can think of in district court since 1996," he said. "I'm the only candidate in this election to try a case in district court. If elected, I'll be impartial, consistent and tough when necessary."
Shelbyville City Council
With nine candidates running for six spots, the Shelbyville City Council was handled a little differently on Monday. Each council member was asked one question and given one minute for a closing remark. Norris Beckley was unable to attend the forum.
Here’s what they had to say:
George Best – “Shelbyville is in good financial shape because of the good fiscal planning of the people on the council now. Despite the troubles in the economy, Shelbyville can whether the storm for a long time. I think the local government is the only place left where democracy still works like it should. I urge everyone to vote for the present city council. Their fiscal responsibility will allow us to whether this storm without losing any services.”
Robert Burry – “I'm an architect and contractor, and my specialty is urban renovation and reconstruction. There have been a lot of changes and growth in Shelbyville, and I think urban restoration is very important and needed. Downtown means a lot to me. I've lived in this city for three-quarters of my life, and I feel like its time to give back. It's important to preserve that small town feel that we cherish.”
Donna Eaton – “I try to represent everyone as well as I can, but I do believe being a woman on the council allows little girls to see a face in legislation. Currently, I'm very involved in several issues, and I would like to become more involved in issues facing women. I want to thank the voters for allowing me to serve the last four years. I enjoy working with each and every one of you, and I would like to continue.”
Alan Matthews – “Having a vibrant downtown is important to me and everyone up here. That's why it's important that the city continue to support and help the organizations that benefit our downtown. Crime is down 17 percent this year and 20 percent from last year, and we haven't had a tax increase in five years. So I think we're doing something right.”
Frank Page – “It's hard to identify the issues the city has missed without being in the middle of it. I think it's important to have the chance to review all the facts and opportunities out there before determining the biggest issues over looked. But I do look forward to hearing what the citizens think are the issues that need to be looked at more closely. I feel like the last 20 years of my life have been preparing me to serve on this council.”
Shane Suttor – “When I grew up in Shelbyville, the police department new which lights were supposed to be on and which businesses were supposed to be open. With our growth, that's going to be hard to do again, but I think that's something we can try to aim for again. All of us are committed to Shelbyville, or we wouldn't have decided to raise our families here. I have the experience and the energy to continue to do this job, and I'll be here for the long haul.”
Jon Swindler – “Shelbyville and this county still need to find jobs, and our next council needs to be actively looking for more jobs for this area. Also, I'd like to urge the voters to not vote for six members. There may be a couple of us that you really know, so concentrate your vote.”
Mike Zoeller – “Keeping up with the issues of the community takes communication and getting out into the community to hear people's concerns. Whether it's in Walmart or just walking the streets, and that's something I feel like I do. I've served on one committee for the entire six years I've been on city council and that's the finance committee. Over the last five years taxes have stayed the same, and we've built a new fire station, hired more firemen and hired seven new policemen, and added a civil engineer and public works employees.”
Andrew Cline and Doug Butler will square off in the non-partisan District 1 race for a seat on the school board, but Cline was unable to attend the forum because an out-of-state work obligation with Louisiana State University.
Butler answered questions alone, about the decision to open a second high school, and the lack of ethnic diversity in leadership positions throughout the schools.
Butler said the decision to open Collins was based on the size of SCHS and mandates handed down by the state.
"With student-teacher ratios mandated by the state, another school was the only way to create the space we needed."
Butler said the lack of diversity is something the district needs to focus on, but he reminded the public that the board doesn't hire anyone but the superintendent and the school board attorney.
"I hope we can find a way to encourage our school to find the best candidates, and bring diversity into our school system, because we certainly have it in our county,” he said.