Kentucky Politics

Though Kentucky has no regular elections this year, voters in three legislative districts will participate in special elections in November, filling vacancies created by the deaths of two lawmakers and the resignation of another.

The elections will take place in House District 51 around Campbellsville, House District 89 around Berea and Senate District 22 around Nicholasville.

The outcome of the elections won’t determine who controls the statehouse, but all of the vacant districts have long been held by Republicans. So far, Democratic candidates have outraised their opponents with hopes of winning the seats this year.

Republicans have overwhelming control of both legislative chambers, with 29 out of 38 seats in the Senate and 73 out of 100 seats in the House (including vacancies).

The special elections will be the first test of a new election law that passed the legislature earlier this year that slightly expanded early voting and locations where people can cast their ballots.

Election day is Nov. 2, but voters will be able to start casting ballots in person on Oct. 28 (you can check your registration status and where to cast a ballot at GoVoteKy.com).

Voter turnout is usually low during special elections for legislative seats, around 10% to 20% of registered voters.

Seats Up For Grabs

22nd Senate District: South of Lexington

This district includes Garrard, Jessamine and Washington Counties, part of Fayette County. This seat was vacated after the death of Sen. Tom Buford, a Republican from Nicholasville who was first elected in 1990.

The district includes part of suburban Lexington and extends south and west to cities like Nicholasville, Lancaster, Harrodsburg and Springfield.

The Democratic candidate is Helen Bukulmez, an immigration attorney and adjunct professor at Northern Kentucky University who lives in Paint Lick in Garrard County.

In an interview, Bukulmez said she thinks politicians in Frankfort are distracting voters from what really matters.

“We deserve affordable housing, affordable healthcare, we deserve better public education, we deserve opportunities and we deserve for our hard work to be rewarded with prosperity,” Bukulmez said.

Bukulmez graduated from Emerge Kentucky, a group that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office.

The Republican candidate is Donald Douglas, medical director at the Tony Delk IMAC Regeneration Center in Lexington.

According to his website, Douglas grew up outside of Owensboro and graduated from University of Kentucky College of Medicine, where he was the first Black president of the school’s medical class.

On policy issues, he says he supports a constitutional ban on abortion in Kentucky, is against red flag laws that temporarily take guns away from people determined to be a danger to themselves and “will fight to end” critical race theory in Kentucky schools.

Kentucky’s junior U.S. Sen. Rand Paul endorsed Douglas at a fundraiser earlier this month.

Bukulmez has raised $21,085 for the race compared to $7,835 for Douglas, as of the most recent campaign finance report.

51st House District: South-central Kentucky

This district includes all of Adair and Taylor Counties. This seat was vacated after the death of Rep. Bam Carney, a Republican from Campbellsville who chaired the House Education Committee and became the chamber’s Majority Floor Leader.

The district includes the cities of Campbellsville and Columbia in south central Kentucky.

The Democratic candidate is Edwin “Eddie” Rogers, the former judge-executive of Taylor County. He was first elected to the county’s top job in 1999 and retired in 2019.

During a recent interview, he said he’s getting back into politics to try and bring more jobs and school funding to the district.

“I want to be pro-education legislator, which we’ve needed for a long time so we can secure more funding for our local school districts for Adair and Taylor County and to ensure our kids and my grandkids get the best possible education and ensure that our teachers get the pay they deserve,” Rogers said.

The Republican candidate is Michael “Sarge” Pollock, an insurance advisor from Campbellsville. In a Facebook video, Pollock said he wants to “stand for conservative values,” including opposing vaccine mandates.

“I want us to make sure these mandates that are coming down from Frankfort and Washington D.C. that we have the right to choose whether we want to get vaccinated or not get vaccinated and what that looks like. I think it’s important that we get back to work and we stand strong,” Pollock said.

Rogers has raised $9,950 for the race, as of the most recent reporting deadline. Pollock has raised $2,100.

89th House District: Eastern Kentucky

This district includes all of Jackson County and parts of Laurel and Madison Counties. This seat was vacated after the resignation of Rep. Robert Goforth, a Republican from East Bernstadt. Goforth allegedly attempted to strangle and hogtie his wife in 2020 and is fighting criminal charges over the incident. He ran for governor in 2019 and lost to incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin in the Republican primary.

The Democratic candidate is Mae Suramek, a small business entrepreneur who owns two restaurants in Berea. She previously worked as executive director of the Bluegrass Rape Center, alumni director for Berea College and investigator for the Lexington-Fayette County Human Rights Commission.

Suramek says she wants to push for basic human rights like safe and affordable housing and health care. And she says she already has experience working with Republicans who control Kentucky’s legislature and congressional seats.

“Sexual assault doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t pick between whether you’re Democrat or Republican. I’ve had to successfully work with the offices of Mitch McConnell and folks in Frankfort who are Republicans to make sure the violence against women act was reauthorized and that we had sufficient funding for our programs,” Suramek said.

Suramek was recently featured on the Louisville Public Media podcast Where Y’all Really From about Asian Americans in Kentucky.

The Republican candidate is Timmy Truett, the principal of McKee Elementary School and owner of Truett’s Pumpkin Patch in Jackson County.

In an interview, Truett said he wants to bring jobs to the district and be a conservative voice for educators in Kentucky.

“The area that I live in is struggling. The economic development is almost non-existent,” Truett said. “I knew with the experience I had with running the school and taking the school that was a low-performing school to a five-star school that I had the ability to pull people together for the betterment of everyone.”

Truett said he wants to change what he called the state’s “one-size fits all mindset” on education issues and wants to push for schools to teach career-ready skills instead of college-ready skills.

McKee Elementary was one of 37 elementary schools in Kentucky to get the state’s top rating under the state’s new assessment system in 2019.

Suramek has raised $44,591.00 compared to Truett’s $10,735.00 as of the most recent campaign finance report.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.