Candidacy challenge against Louisville Dem lawmaker dismissed Skip to content

Candidacy challenge against Louisville Dem lawmaker dismissed

Judge says challenger ‘fails to establish’ requirements to disqualify a candidate

2 min read
Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D-Louisville) asks a question about House Bill 47, an act related to religious liberty, in a February meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. (LRC Public Information)

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge has dismissed an eligibility challenge to sitting Democratic State Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s appearance on the primary May ballot. 

Kulkarni is running for a fourth term to represent the 40th House District in Louisville. 

The opinion, rendered by Judge Mitch Perry, said the challenge to Kulkarni’s eligibility “fails to establish the heavy burden required to disqualify a candidate from the ballot.”

“While it is true that Ms. Kulkarni should have been more diligent in preparing the paperwork, she also took immediate action to correct the issue when she learned of it,” Perry wrote. “Notably, the issue was resolved shortly after Ms. Kulkarni’s discovery of it.”

Dennis Horlander, who previously represented the House district and lost to Kulkarni in the 2018 and 2020 Democratic primaries, challenged the validity of Kulkarni’s candidacy papers. Horlander alleged that Kulkarni was not a bona fide candidate because one of the two witnesses who signed her papers was a registered Republican at the time. Witnesses have to be from the same party as a candidate and eligible to vote in the election. 

James Craig, Kulkarni’s attorney, told the Kentucky Lantern that “elections should be decided by voters, not courts” and praised Perry’s decision.

“I think there’s a general distaste amongst elected leaders, including judges, for cynical attempts to disqualify candidates for standing for office,” Craig said.

An attorney for Horlander, Steven Megerle, filed an appeal Thursday to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. 

Megerle told the Kentucky Lantern Perry’s decision upends “over a century of closed partisan primaries” in the state. He pointed to other decisions about similar cases, like a 2022 ruling that disqualified a Republican from the ballot in Western Kentucky after a Democrat had signed her paperwork. 

“Today’s decision sets more than a century of closed partisan primaries on its head,” Megerle said in a statement. “We have already filed a notice of appeal as this case was always going to be decided by an appeals court, no matter who prevailed at the trial court level. Apparently, election petition requirements apply to everyone but Nima Kulkarni.” 

When asked about the appeal, Craig said the Kentucky legislature intended to avoid “a technical gotcha bonafide challenge” after the Court of Appeals previously weighed in on a case like the one Kulkarni faced.

Both Kulkarni and Horlander testified in court last week. At the time, Kulkanri said she had no reason to believe that the witness was not a Democrat as they had discussed Democratic politics and policies at length. 

Kulkarni became aware of the issue by way of House Democratic Leadership after the filing deadline passed in January. The witness then changed her voter registration. 

No Republicans filed to run in the 40th House District. Kulkarni has one challenger — William Zeitz, of Louisville. 

“Viewed in that permissive light, the Court cannot justify interfering in the electoral process on the inadequate grounds presented here,” Perry wrote.


Written by McKenna Horsley. Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.

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Kentucky Lantern

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service. We’re based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.