Candidates put best feet forward
The other two, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and state Supreme Court candidate Judge Glenn Acree, did not attend. The event was sponsored by the Woodford Chamber of Commerce and the Midway Woman's Club and was held in the Duthie Auditorium.
Candidates were given three minutes for an opening statement and two minutes to respond to each question. Here's some of what they said:
State representative, 56th District Introductions
Rep. James Kay, a Democrat, has been in office since June of 2013, when he won a special election to take the place of state Rep. Carl Rollins. He was reelected in 2014.
Kay said he grew up working on a farm, is a graduate of Woodford County High School and the University of Kentucky's (UK) College of Law, and has his own law firm in Frankfort.
Kay said he was working to build a new and better Kentucky that works for all residents, no matter their origin or background.
Daniel Fister, a Republican, said he was a farmer and retired general contractor who received his bachelor's degree in accounting from Eastern Kentucky University.
". And above all, I am not a politician ." Fister said.
Fister said unbroken Democratic party control of the state House of Representatives for the last 95 years has hurt the state and that it was time to break up the status quo in Frankfort.
What have you done in the last six months to find out the needs of the 56th District and the state?
Fister said his campaign had taken him to forums like this and one front door to another and that he'd met many people across the district and state. He said he'd met with organizations like the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers and had learned about issues that will have to be addressed by the General Assembly.
Kay said he'd been running for the job for three years, that he was about to take part in his third election, and that he tried to meet as many people as possible. He said he was one of the hardest-working members of the General Assembly, had the most committee appointments and responded to nearly 1,000 emails a week, particularly during the campaign season.
Do you have a plan to slow down rising college tuitions and ease student loan debt?
Kay said he'd been a leader in the fight against student loan debt and knew the issue in part because he still had such debt. Kay said since he began attending UK in 2001, state KEES (Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships) funds had declined so much that the program "will not put a dent in college tuition." Kay said the state wasn't paying its share to state universities and that he'd backed efforts to prevent Kentucky Lottery funds from being raided for other expenses.
Fister said he didn't have a plan, per se, but reiterated an earlier comment about the state education system being broken. He said after UK officials accepted a 1.8 percent cut in state funding, "they started laying people off and raised tuition and then they turned around and gave their president a 48 percent salary increase. I find that insulting ." Fister said. "We've got to get these systems up and operating properly."
Describe your plans for restoring health to the state pension systems. Fister said the top priority should be making actuarial payments and that he'd like to see it "moved up to a 20-year plan" rather than the existing 25 or 30-year plan. Fister said the state could get the extra money needed to increase pension funding by growing the economy with new jobs made possible by tax cuts.
Kay said his pleas about Kentucky's $38 billion pension debt fell on deaf ears when he took office in 2013. Kay said one solution was to move all state legislators into the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, because "a legislator is no better than a state employee and deserves no better pension." Kay also said there were too many state political patronage jobs, with nearly 1,000 in the executive branch.
What is the greatest opportunity for change in the 56th District?
Kay said while Woodford County's educational system is one of the best in the state and the county's unemployment rate one of the lowest, the heroin crisis must be addressed. Kay said he favored legislation to limit the ability of doctors to prescribe pain pills and making drug treatment programs more available.
Fister said he agreed with Kay's description of the heroin problem but not his solution. "I do not believe that limiting a doctor's ability to write prescriptions is going to solve that ." he said. Fister said when the state previously tightened rules on prescribing pain pills, some patients began looking for street drugs. He said better education and law enforcement will help.
What is your position on charter schools?
Kay said: "We do not need to privatize education in Kentucky. The last thing we need to do is take money from our public schools, which is exactly what charter schools would do. I will never support putting a shareholder above a student ."
Fister said he wasn't for charter schools everywhere, but believed they were an important tool. "It's not going to be for every school; it's not going to be for every community, and hopefully, we won't have to use it anywhere. But shouldn't it be available if we do need it?" he said.
U.S. Congress, 6th District
Nancy Jo Kemper said she was a Lexington native, a minister for nearly 50 years, and a mother of two whom she'd raised without any child support. She attended Transylvania and Yale on full scholarships, joking that when when she attended the latter, women constituted just 10 percent of the student body. "Thirty women, 300 men - pretty good, a lot of fun," she said to audience laughter.
Kemper said she'd dedicated her career to the pursuit of social justice and that seeking the U.S. Representative seat was a natural extension of her life's work.
What would you do to care for America's veterans using VA hospitals and to cut the number of homeless and unemployed vets?
Kemper said veterans were owed a great debt and believed the VA had vastly improved its services. "We need to make sure veterans have quick access to all they care they need ." adding that Congress may need to look at VA funding. The fact that there are homeless veterans is a crying shame, she said.
"What it represents is the fact that we have not paid equal attention to the mental health needs of our returning soldiers as well as their physical needs, and I would want to address those ." she said.
What is the single biggest area of waste in the federal budget?
Kemper said she wasn't sure of any one particular area, but felt there were clearly unnecessary expenditures in the Defense Department, including the purchase of new tanks not likely needed in future wars.
Under what circumstances would you support military intervention in another country?
Kemper criticized an attack ad by Barr she said unfairly implied that she didn't have a position on the matter. She said she believed in a "just war" theory that allows U.S. military action if people are unfairly attacked, particularly non-combatants. "I think we need to be wise and work with our allies always to make sure we are doing the things that will build for greater harmony in the world and less war ." Kemper said.
What changes would you make to fix our immigration system?
Kemper said she believed in the Dream Act, which would allow immigrants who come to America as young children and agree to serve their country to be given citizenship. "There's no way we can send home 12 million (illegal immigrants). We need those workers in our society ." Kemper said. Kemper said the problem has many facets, including illegal immigrants and refugees from non-European countries that some saw as a problem. She said she'd worked with Kentucky refugee ministries and knew the latter were carefully vetted for two years.
What would you do to reform health care laws and ensure all citizens can get affordable health care?
Kemper said since the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the country had "made good progress" in cutting the number of uninsured people. She said as the mother of a child and grandchild with pre-existing conditions, she appreciated the ACA reform that kept them from losing their coverage. Kemper said statistics proved claims that the ACA had cost jobs and increased health care costs were myths.
U.S. Supreme Court, 5th Appellate District Introduction
Judge Larry VanMeter, a Winchester native, has been a member of the state Court of Appeals since 2003 and before that, was a circuit and district judge in Fayette County since 1994. He graduated from UK's College of Law and before becoming a judge, specialized in transactional work, such as helping people plan their business or personal affairs.
He said his private legal work and experience as a trial and appellate judge, including roles in a number of related committees, "is a unique qualification for the Supreme Court" possessed by none of its present judges.
What is the greatest obstacle to justice, if any?
VanMeter cited the expense and delay of litigation, and said the heroin crisis clogs up criminal and family courts. He also mentioned the badly underfunded state and teacher pension programs.
"The pension crisis is sucking all the money out state government ." he said, adding that the public pension oversight committee meetings he regularly attends showed the judicial pension system was in far better shape with lower fees.
Another obstacle to justice was underfunding of the state public defender system.
"The men and women who do that work - I'm not going to say it's God's work, but it's close ." VanMeter said.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in your legal career?
VanMeter cited the elderly people he'd helped with estate planning, then said he was proud of the support from members of both parties and independents that he'd received every time he'd run.
"I think there's a number of people who don't even know what party I am, and that's what I want it to be," he said. He said he didn't see his judicial posts as partisan jobs and that judges "are to make rules based on what the law is, and that's what everybody wants."
VanMeter said if elected, he'd be just the third person in state history to have served as a district, circuit, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court judge.
How will you prepare yourself for cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?
VanMeter said the higher up the judicial chain judges go, the more they rely on the attorneys arguing the cases before them.
"I do have a broad background in many areas of the law and what I like to say is my estate planning skills have gone way down, but my criminal law skills have gone way up over the last 22 years," he said.
VanMeter said his experience and that of the other judges on the Supreme Court would be cumulative. His experience in probate cases would be beneficial to another judge with a lot of experience in employment law, and vice versa.
"You rely on the lawyers and you rely on the other judges," he said.