Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Daviess Co. voters prepare to elect first judge-executive in more than a decade

Democrat Bruce Kunze (left) and Republican Charlie Castlen are vying for Daviess Co. Judge-Executive.
Bruce Kunze FB\Charlie Castlen FB
Democrat Bruce Kunze (left) and Republican Charlie Castlen are vying for Daviess Co. Judge-Executive.

For the first time in 12 years, voters in Daviess County will elect a new leader. Judge-Executive Al Mattingly is retiring at the end of the year.

A current county commissioner and a former member of that group are running for the open seat in the general election.

Daviess County Commissioner Charlie Castlen, a Republican, is facing former commissioner Bruce Kunze, a Democrat, who is making his second run for judge-executive.

Both men are well known, but the the Castlen name runs particularly deep in Daviess County. Charlie Castlen comes from a long line of farmers, entrepreneurs, politicians, judges and businessmen. Now, he wants to be the next leader of county government.

Charlie Castlen FB

Castlen spoke recently at the Red, White, and Blue political forum hosted by the Owensboro Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s been my pleasure to serve each of you for the last 12 years as your county commissioner. Prior to that, I served ten years as a city commissioner," Castlen said. "I love this community. I love the people that we are, and that’s why I put my name on the ballot to be your next county judge-executive.”

Castlen emerged the winner of a competitive the Republican primary against former Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire and businessman Will Mounts.

Bruce Kunze ran unopposed in securing the Democratic nomination. He's a retired teacher and counselor in Daviess County Public Schools. This is his second attempt at leading the county. Twelve years ago, he lost the judge-executive’s race to Al Mattingly.

Democrat Bruce Kunze is canvassing neighborhoods ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Lisa Autry
Democrat Bruce Kunze is canvassing neighborhoods ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

During this year’s campaign he’s been reconnecting with voters and meeting new ones. He recently went door-to-door meeting residents on Hill Avenue in Owensboro.

“I’m Bruce Kunze. I’m running for Daviess County Judge-Executive. Public safety and economic development are my two top priorities, which I think everyone is interested in," Kunze said to one homeowner. "I’d appreciate your vote.”

Kunze served as a Daviess County commissioner from 1999-2010. Today, he pours much of his time into volunteer work and owns a vineyard on his farm near Utica. As he jumps back into politics, Kunze said campaigning is still the same.

“People are still people. They have the same concerns they’ve always had," Kunze reflected. "They want a safe community and be able to find a job if they need a job.”

Public safety and economic development is at the top of his platform. He wants to provide better funding for the sheriff’s department and boost pay for correctional workers.

"The detention center where we have 300 odd local prisoners, as well as about 300 state and federal, those detention center officers, in my opinion, are underpaid, and that's a very tough job that very few people would want to do," Kunze explained.

Both candidates also want a new judicial center for Daviess County, citing overcrowding and security issues at the current facility.

Daviess County is far down on the state’s priority list for constructing new judicial centers. While neither Kunze or Castlen are opposed to the county picking up a greater share of the burden to expedite construction, both are cautious about raising taxes or taking on debt.

Castlen calls himself a friend of the taxpayer. He has his own business as a certified public accountant and says that experience qualifies him to lead county government.

"In the real world you have to make payroll and pay your bills. You have to make right decisions so things go well," Castlen said. "My perception is it’s been easy for some in elected office to say sure we can do this when it makes zero sense.”

Both candidates say they would build on a decade-long effort to revitalize downtown Owensboro. However, Kunze points out that Castlen voted against tax increases passed in 2009 to fund the improvements when he was a city commissioner. Kunze, then a county commissioner, voted for the tax hike.

“It was a tough decision to make because we had to implement a tax increase in order to have the funding for that," Kunze told WKU Public Radio. "I think most people would agree now it was a good move.”

Castlen says he didn’t vote against economic development downtown, but instead voted against raising taxes.

“I did nothing to block that. Only thing I did was vote against the tax increase and how it was handled," Castlen said. "It was voted on when half of Owensboro sat home in the dark because power was out because of the ice storm. But the bottom line is, even with half of Owensboro without power, the chambers were packed with people frustrated with where we were going, moving forward with this.”

While Castlen doesn’t discount the progress of downtown Owensboro, he thinks future improvements should occur with fewer tax dollars and more private sector investment.

The nominees for judge-executive also differ on the need for more diversity in county hiring and appointments. Kunze has pledged, if elected, at least 50% of the appointments to boards made by Fiscal Court will include women, minorities, and people under 45.

"It brings in different insight and perspective that they might not ordinarily have," Kunze commented. "I think it sends a message to prospective businesses and people moving into the community that we appreciate diversity and we know everyone has something to offer. A lot of businesses, especially with nationwide reach, want to see that.”

Castlen disagrees, saying a diversity pledge is more about filling quotas than hiring or appointing the best people for the job.

“If you look at some of the appointments over the years, I’ll say at the federal level, it’s the first, but not the best," Castlen said. "We’re trying to help our community. I’m not going to look at race, gender, creed, color, whatever.”

Something else Castlen says he won’t do is support what’s known as a fairness ordinance, should the movement revive itself under the next judge-executive. Fairness ordinances offer legal protections for members of the LGBTQ population in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. Efforts to pass the measure failed in 2020 when a vote by Daviess County Fiscal Court resulted in a tie.

“I didn’t last time and I won’t support it again because I don’t think it’s needed in our community," Castlen said. "I think many fairness ordinances, you look at Colorado, Oregon, and Lexington was one. There were lawsuits filed saying you violated this ordinance, and ultimately the three cases I’m thinking of, the t-shirt guy in Lexington, he won his case after spending thousands of dollars to defend himself. I think these laws are used largely by activists to make a point.”

Democratic nominee Bruce Kunze is more receptive to a non-discrimination measure.

“If it’s brought to us again, I want to make sure we bring everyone in the community together so that if we do pass something, it’s not so divisive," Kunze explained. "I’m opposed to discrimination in any form. We’ll take a serious look at it and if we can work out something that’s in the best interest of the community, we’ll move forward on it.”

Both Castlen and Kunze bring similar experience to the race as current or former county commissioners. Now, they have one week to sell voters on their different visions for the future of Daviess County.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.