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Race for Barren County State House Seat Attracting Outside Political Groups

Rhonda Miller

The race for the 23rd District seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives has a bull’s eye on it. The district covers Barren County and part of Warren County and has an open seat with the retirement of Democrat Johnny Bell.

Republican Steve Riley is facing off against Democrat Danny Basil in a race that could help decide whether the Kentucky House will remain the last legislative chamber in the South controlled by the Democratic Party.

Basil and Riley spoke to a group of students from Glasgow High School at Glasgow City Hall about issues of interest to the young people now and in the future.

”If I’m fortunate enough to be elected, education is one of my priorities in the legislature," said Basil.

Riley and Bail take turns speaking on issues like careers, roads and taxes, and taking questions from the students. The scene is far removed from the nastiness that’s been dominating the presidential race. The candidates are polite and admit that they agree on the importance of some issues, like education and economic development, even if they differ on how to reach their goals.

Basil says some decisions about education are split along party lines.  

“I think education is really a big important issue, especially in light of flipping the House.”

Flipping the House refers to the effort by Republicans to gain control of the chamber that Democrats have controlled for 95 years. Currently the Democrats hold 53 seats and Republicans have 47.

Basil says the Democratic majority has been vitally important. 

“In the spring, Gov. Bevin, whom I respect greatly, proposed and tried to implement a large cut to higher education. The Democrat-controlled House is the only thing that stood in the way of that and was able to offset most of that.”   

Riley says his career as a teacher, coach and principal provides him with a strong foundation to make important legislative decisions about education, as well as its long-term impact on economic development.

“Educating our young people to get into areas of skilled jobs, welding, machine tool, electrician, those type of jobs I think is very vital because the number one reason industries come into an area is do you have enough skilled workers. That’s important for Barren County and the part of Warren County that we represent, but it’s also important for the state of Kentucky as a whole.”

Some of the campaign information describing the candidates’ stand on issues does not come directly from those who are running for office.

For example, a door hanger with Riley’s photo says he wants to repeal the state income tax and he supports making Kentucky a right-to-work state. That means a worker can’t be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. That door hanger comes from the Americans for Prosperity…

“…this is a group that’s underwritten by the Koch Brothers. They’re a 501C-4 so they have to focus on voter education," said  Nick Storm, managing editor of CN2 Pure Politics, a nonpartisan statewide cable TV program. Storm says this category of nonprofits cannot advocate specifically for a candidate, but can highlight issues. Storm says several outside groups are a factor in Kentucky races.

“Also playing a role in this election is Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. They’ve got an ad highlighting Mr. Riley and positioning him well. And also GOPAC, there’s another group that’s also been spending pretty big in the area.”

The New Power Political Action Committee sent out a mailer with Democrat Danny Basil’s photo that says he will help protect affordable access to health care for all Kentuckians.

In addition to the possible influence of outside groups on Kentucky House race,  there’s the question of whether the combative presidential race will have an effect on the down ballot.

Steve Riley doesn’t think it will have a decisive impact.

“I think we’re trying to run our own race. I know that in the presidential race the discourse on both sides is not what a lot of our citizens want it to be. I think we’re trying to make this thing about what’s best for the state of Kentucky rather than trying to be negative toward anybody or my opponents or those type of things.”

The impact of the presidential race and the influence of outside groups will be seen when voters in the 23rd District choose between Danny Basil and Steve Riley on Nov. 8.










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