Warren County voters have three choices for judge-executive in Tuesday's election
Warren County voters will choose a new judge-executive in Tuesday's general election. The seat is open for the first time in nearly three decades with the retirement of Republican Mike Buchanon.
A current GOP magistrate is Buchanon’s hand-picked successor, but he’ll have to first win the election against a perennial candidate and a newcomer.
The race is a three-person contest featuring Republican Doug Gorman, Democrat Keith Evanoff, and Independent Jim Duffer.
Gorman has served as First District Magistrate since 2015. He was endorsed by current Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon early in the race, and he won the GOP primary in a landslide, but Gorman says he’s not taking anything for granted. He’s campaigning on his experience as a former small business owner who says he understands the needs of the region.
”I think what really sets me apart is that I owned an operated a small business for 25 years. I owned Booth Fire and Safety with many employees and I had to make payroll every Friday for 25 years, and I think the private sector, being able to work in those conditions sets you up for that," Gorman told WKU Public Radio. “I also have the most experience in county government, so I understand the employees, the jobs, the budgets."
One of Gorman’s priorities would be enhancing quality of life and one of the biggest challenges to that is growth. Warren County has exploded in population from less than 80,000 in 1990 to about 135,000 today. Some projections have the county ballooning to 200,000 residents by the year 2050.
“I say to people sometimes if you like your view in Warren County, you should buy it. It’s impossible to say it’s gonna be that way forever," Gorman said. "The biggest challenge for magistrates is always growth. How are we doing it, but we need public input about the type of county we want to have in the future.”
Bowling Green and Warren County’s existing housing shortage was exacerbated by last winter’s tornado. Now, the community is preparing to welcome a few thousand additional residents to work at the Tyson Foods manufacturing plant under construction in the Kentucky Transpark, as well as Envision AEC, the second-largest economic development project in state history. The electric vehicle battery plant is projected to need 2,000 workers.
“People are going to come from everywhere. We’re going to have a lot of people commute who aren’t going to live here, which is great. We can take advantage of that," Gorman said. "But I think in the next year, you’re going to start to see a ramped up increase of people coming to the community.”
Just a few years ago, the county needed about 1,000 new housing units each year. Now, it needs 3,000 new housing options per year.
“When you have that type of pressure, you’re going to have denser populations in certain area and that means more multi-family, more quarter-acre lots for housing, but we have to keep up with that demand."
Gorman said he anticipates a lot more housing growth in northern Warren County as Fiscal Court continues to invest in infrastructure there.
Gorman is on the ballot with Democrat Keith Evanoff, who is making his first run for public office. The Richardsville resident is a retired project manager for IBM, who says his private sector experience qualifies him to run county government.
“I did a lot of finance on deals and contracts, so I’ve covered pretty much everything I think would be involved with the Warren County Judge-Executive job," Evanoff said. "It’s a fiscal job mostly.”
At the top of his campaign platform is also managed growth. Evanoff wants to create a strategic plan for the county to assure that growth and development doesn’t outpace existing and planned infrastructure.
“I want to make sure the infrastructure grows with the growth of the city. I mean we’re building houses everywhere," said Evanoff. "They’re having a real problem in the Chaney’s Dairy Barn district. Some of the roads aren’t right for what they’re putting in there. They won’t handle the traffic.”
Evanoff thinks the transpark has been good for Warren County, especially given the large manufacturers planning to locate in the coming months. But faced with a population explosion and a housing shortage, he thinks many of those new hires should come from Warren County.
“We need to make sure the schools and the businesses are on the same page," Evanoff said. "With the battery plant, you’re going need electrical and chemical engineers. Does Western have those majors or are they going to have to go somewhere else to get an education?' Can we get businesses to help educate the people that are here instead of going everywhere in the country and bringing in more people? Let’s see if we can educate our people to do those jobs.”
Evanoff proposes what he called a VUBER service, county-financed vans that would take residents without transportation to and from work.
Independent Jim Duffer is the third candidate on the ballot for judge-executive. The Air Force veteran and retired handyman is making his fourth run for the county’s highest elected position.
Duffer is a long-time opponent of the Kentucky Transpark, and former leader of the non-profit Warren County Citizens for Managed Growth. Twenty years ago, he railed against the industrial complex mainly for environmental reasons. Now, his beef is more financial. He says the $300 million investment has been a failure.
“Mike Buchanon, in every meeting we had, he promised 7,000 new jobs in ten years. Twenty years out, we barely have 3,000," Duffer said. "And in 2007, they put a 1% occupational tax on county employees to make up for the shortfall that was going into the transpark, which he promised would never happen.”
Duffer adds he thinks the tax incentives given to “bribe” companies to locate in the transpark haven’t been worth the number of jobs produced.
“We actually exempt in taxes more than we take in every year. Fiscal Court knew this before they offered Tyson Foods $10 million in tax exemptions to bring 250 jobs here," Duffer said. "They already knew we had 7,000 unfilled jobs and then they give the Japanese battery company $116 million in tax relief to bring another 2,000 jobs.”
Duffer believes the state would be better served had those companies been enticed to, in his words, go where they didn’t want to go, referring to eastern Kentucky. Duffer adds he’s not against growth, but growth in the wrong places.
Duffer also wants to eliminate occupational taxes, raise property taxes, and pay volunteer firefighters.
Duffer says, if elected, he’d be a judge-executive only by name, adding county magistrates should be the ones making decisions. He’d eliminate the title altogether and refer to himself as Chief Magistrate.
He also would create another magisterial district, serving those along the Barren River that he thinks are under-represented. He adds that would also eliminate the need for the judge-executive to break tie votes.
Republican Doug Gorman is the runaway leader in the fundraising race. He spent nearly $200,000 for the May primary and has receipts of more than $66,000 for the general election, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Neither Democrat Keith Evanoff nor Independent Jim Duffer have reported any spending in either the primary or the general election.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, voters on Tuesday will choose who will lead Warren County through a new era and population and industrial growth.