KY Capital

Proving that it’s never too soon to start working on the next election, two Democratic candidates have declared for the 2018 KY House race.

Several Democratically-oriented political groups such as The Kentucky Initiative, New Kentucky Project, and Emerge are actively recruiting Democratic candidates to run for General Assembly seats in 2018. They are especially focusing on House races where there were no Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents in the 2016 election cycle. These efforts are beginning to show some results.

Two northern Kentucky men have filed their letters of intent to run as Democratic candidates in two 2018 northern Kentucky House races. Jason Kilmer, a CADD (computer aided drafting and design) professional, has filed his intent to run in District 68, located in Campbell County. (Map – large PDF!) The GOP incumbent in his district is Representative Joe Fischer who has been in his seat since 1999. Josh Blair, an adjunct professor at NKY University, has announced his intention to run in District 63, which includes parts of Kenton County and Boone County. (Map – large PDF!) The Republican incumbent in District 63 is Diane St. Onge which she has represented since 2013.

Josh Blair

Josh Blair believes that personal contact will turn the tide in his district. “District 63 has been unopposed since the year before I could vote,” Blair says. “I’ve lived in this district for nearly 15 years, yet not once has a candidate or representative knocked on my door, called me, mailed me a postcard, emailed me.” According to his press release, Blair wants to identify effective, research-based solutions to combating the opioid epidemic. He says that he also wants to enhance Kentucky’s educational system at all levels by promoting best educational practices.

Jason Kilmer

Jason Kilmer also wants to focus on better representing the constituents of District 68. He says, “Representative Fischer goes to Frankfort with a personal mandate. He doesn’t listen to his constituents and even votes against their wishes. It is a rare feat to get Mr. Fischer to venture outside of his comfort zone.” Mr. Kilmer notes that District 68 has two excellent school districts, and he wants to provide strong and consistent support for public education. He will also resist efforts to make Kentucky’s tax code more regressive. He notes that Representative Fischer “has been on video record stating he is in favor of the governor’s potential tax shift to the middle and lower income earners to make up our budget shortfalls.” Jason Kilmer also wants to help develop new approaches to the opioid crisis. He says, “Because of Mr. Fischer’s strict religious beliefs, he thinks you can just pray the heroin epidemic away and that those that use heroin are criminals instead of victims.”

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The appearance of Democratic candidates in these northern Kentucky districts is significant because Joe Fischer and Diane St. Onge have not faced Democratic challengers in recent electoral cycles. Diane St. Onge, for instance, has not had a challenger in the last three campaign cycles.

Prior to the 2016 election, the Democrats held a narrow 53-47 majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives. However, in both the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, the Democrats had difficulty finding candidates to run in Republican-held districts. In the 2016 election, only 52% of the GOP House incumbents faced an opponent, compared to 79% of the incumbent Democrats. Moreover, nearly 50% of the GOP House members without a challenger in 2016 had also been unopposed in the 2014 election cycle, according to Kentucky Board of Elections records.

Both Kilmer and Blair say they have identified experienced campaign professionals to manage their campaigns, and are actively working to build their communications and outreach teams. Both candidates will face a difficult race in the general election if they win their respective primaries in May of 2018. According to Board of Election records for 2017 the voter registration in District 63 is 34% Democratic, 52% Republican, and 14% Independent. The registration percentages in District 68 are 36% Democratic, 53% Republican, and 11% Independent.

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Greg Leichty

Greg Leichty is a professor of Communication at the University of Louisville. His teaching and research interests are in the areas of conflict management and social movements. He has been involved in several social justice organizations in the Louisville area over the last decade.