By DAVID BROCK
8:22 PM EDT, November 3, 2012
For the first time since 1985, the 36th District race will not include Republican Lancaster businessman Lonnie Napier, who decided to retire from the legislature earlier this year during a heated redistricting battle in the House.
Vying for the seat that includes Garrard and part of Madison County are Republican Jonathan Shell, 24, a farmer from Garrard County, and Democrat Bradley "Bud" Montgomery, a business owner from Berea.
Republicans are hoping Shell can hold on to the district and help the party inch closer to the 10 net seats it needs to challenge Democratic control of the House that has lasted 91 years. For Democrats, getting back a district that has been in Republican control for 27 years would be especially sweet.
Napier, who supported Shell's primary opponent, Garrard Country Economic Development Director Nathan Mick, has largely stayed out of the general election race. However, he said it was not because he's withholding support the man who defeated his former aid.
"I'm still a Republican," Napier said.
Shell is a newcomer to state and local politics, having entered the race for Lancaster City Council during primary season before withdrawing and throwing his hat in the ring for an improbable victory in the Republican primary for the 36th District House seat.
He said he decided to run for the spot occupied by Napier for over a quarter of a century because the area and state need a fresh start.
"It doesn’t take much to look around and see we’re in a rut, our state isn’t growing economically, and young people are leaving in droves to go to other states to raise families," Shell wrote in an e-mail. "I do not want to raise a family in a country that I am not trying to change for the better. All of the political games and the petty hand wringing have gone too far and I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem."
Shell acknowledged that the state's massive pension liability, which has been estimated at over $30 billion, has to be addressed. He mentioned the concept of switching from a system of defined benefits to one of defined contributions, but said he was hesitant to do anything that may require bonding, which a transition to defined contribution may require.
In addition to changing the way new hires are enrolled in some version of a pension system, Shell said he supported the repeal of HB 299. Critics have dubbed the 2005 legislation the "Greed Bill," claiming it paved the way for legislators to amass larger retirements when they move to other government jobs in the future.
"I think the best way for us to lead as legislators would to be to get rid of full-time pensions for part-time legislators. If this is not possible, we should change this pension to a 401K-style plan."
Shell said antiquated tax codes and wasteful spending are plaguing his district and the state as a whole.
"What I propose is to change our tax system so that we can be competitive in our region again. We are allowing surrounding states like Tennessee and Indiana to pull jobs away from us," Shell wrote. "States like Tennessee and Indiana are continually leaving us behind because their tax structures are better equipped to deal with our economy."
Despite parties that remain at odds on major issues in Frankfort, Shell said the atmosphere in the state is changing and people are tired of partisanship. Regardless of whether the House swings to the Republican for the first time in generations, Shell said he is confident he would be able to break through gridlock.
"The people are looking for leaders not party hacks. Our state is in the shape it is in because there has not been leadership to cut through party lines and say 'it’s not going to be easy but this is how we need to do this.' I am that kind of leader."
Shell said voters should choose him because he will have an "open door" policy and remain accessible to constituents. He said he was led to serve the district in by his Christian faith and described himself as "a concerned citizen with the goal of becoming a statesmen."
"I am focused on the needs of the people in this district, not on running a negative campaign against my opponent. I am not focused on elaborating on my own resume but on expanding ways to improve the livelihood of my constituents when I get to Frankfort. "
Bud Montgomery of Berea has never held elected office, but he believes it is time for someone to serve both Madison and Garrard counties who is comfortable interacting with a wide range of constituents and fellow legislators. It's a task he said his experience as a business owner and civic leader have prepared him for.
In an interview last week, Montgomery, owner Montgomery Farm and Garden and Silver Creek Storage, said he would draw on his background to help break through partisan gridlock. He said Job One will be convincing people in Frankfort to work together on creating jobs.
Montgomery pointed to the success of industrial parks in Berea and Richmond, which have benefited from their proximity to I-75, as examples of investment that can happen around the state when there is a concerted effort to attract business. He said he would push for projects like improvement and extensions to Ky. 52 and U.S. 27 in Garrard, and an unfinished bypass around Berea, infrastructure he said would advance economic development.
Montgomery believes a vocational school in southern Madison County would also be a big help in preparing young people for industries often unable to find qualified workers.
"College is not for everybody," Montgomery said. "We need a trade school in Berea that can help educate some of those kids in how to weld or machine. We have a lot of industries looking for that type of skill base."
Montgomery vowed to also zero in on the state's drug problem. While he praised the HB 1, which changed the way certain lesser drug crimes are punished, he said there needed to be more attention paid to rehab and preparing offenders to become contributing members of society.
"We're in the top four in meth production in the entire United States and people are dying every day from this stuff," Montgomery said. "I'll support any regulation or control of drug distribution that will punish the dealers. I also support rehabilitation."
The state has a massive hole to fill in the state pension system, an issue Montgomery said he would reserve judgement suggesting solutions to until a task force convened by Gov. Steve Beshear delivers its findings. He praised the teacher's retirement system for sound investing and management of its fund.
"I believe we can get the pension system under control. As a government, we just can't overspend and go back and borrow against the pension. I believe that is one of the biggest problems — too many hands being dipped into it."
Montgomery said the 20 years he spent in management with Carquest auto part stores and his time running his own business have given him the leadership skills and financial know-how to be effective. He noted that his opponent has a large deficit in experience.
In addition to being wet behind the ears, Montgomery said Shell been coddled through the campaign process. He believes Shell's message and his campaign materials, including a website that bears striking resemblance to that of other Republican candidates, have been engineered by the party.
"My point is, if you don't know his true voice about the issues at hand then who is he going to represent? Us or the Republican Party?" Montgomery wondered.
Montgomery said his own decision to get into the race was a tough one. However, after he was approached by local business people and farmers about making a run he decided it was time.
"The greatest honor in a democratic society is the opportunity to impact the direction of you government by being directly involved," Montgomery said. "I feel that Garrard and Madison counties need an effective voice in Frankfort and I believe I'm uniquely qualified to be that voice."
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