WHITLEY CITY —
Barring the entry of an independent candidate or write-in, both state legislative races will be decided by Republican voters in the May Primary.
State Senate District 16 is comprised of Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor and Wayne counties. Incumbent Sen. Sara Beth Gregory will square off with George Maxwell “Max” Wise in the GOP Primary.
Wise was spurred by the 9/11 terrorist attacks to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he served as an Intelligence Analyst. He now is the lead professor for Campbellsville University’s Political Science program as well as an adjunct professor at UK’s Patterson School of Diplomacy.
Sen. Gregory of Monticello was elected in December 2012 after serving one term as State Representative. She is an associate with the Carroll & Turner law firm, having earned her degrees from the University of Kentucky. Upon graduating from law school, Gregory clerked for a year with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
In the race for State Representative of the 52nd District (McCreary, Wayne and part of Pulaski), incumbent Ken Upchurch of Monticello faces a primary challenge from Whitley City attorney Jessica A. Burke.
Burke grew up in Stearns and earned her law degree from Notre Dame Law School. Prior to opening her own office, she served as attorney to the Kentucky Senate President, worked for both Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and interned for President Bush in the White House.
Rep. Upchurch served as a field representative for Sen. McConnell before helping to establish a family-owned manufactured home dealership in 1997. The following year he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives where he served through 2010. Rep. Upchurch won a seventh term in a February 2013 special election and also is a sales manager for Cumberland Lake, Inc.
The following answers are presented by office in the order of receipt.
What are your priorities for Kentucky? For our district?
GREGORY: In my capacity as State Senator, I will continue working to promote job creation, eliminate unnecessary regulation, improve education, fight against illegal drugs, and protect our conservative values. I am 100% pro-life and pro-traditional family, opposed to expanding gambling, strongly support the right to bear arms, and have cast numerous votes opposing the implementation of Obamacare.
As a member of the Senate majority, I will work to ensure McCreary County and the 16th District get our fair share from Frankfort. I also consider it a priority to be responsive to issues close to home. For example, after hearing concerns from McCreary County ATV riders, I filed legislation to ease the helmet requirements for ATV riders to make clear that riders may cross a public road without wearing a helmet.
WISE: I am committed to being a trusted conservative in the State Senate. I will fight the overreach of Obama and his liberal allies on a daily basis. I oppose allowing Kentucky to implement Obamacare and would have vigorously fought its implementation in our Commonwealth.
In addition, I will work to support small businesses so good-paying jobs are created right here in the 16th District. This means opposing needless tax and spend policies and making sure our workforce is the best educated in the country.
Education is one of my top priorities as a candidate. As an educator, I am able to see the strengths and weaknesses of our Kentucky public schools. I am willing to listen to school administrators, teachers, parents and students on what we need to do to help our Commonwealth rise in student success.
BURKE: (1) Jobs and economic development: My plans are detailed in the next question.
(2) Getting rid of the drug problem: I have spent the past two years working with leaders throughout Kentucky and around the nation to write and pass laws that have reduced prescription drug abuse, reduced meth labs, and saved lives. We're making progress, but there is still a lot to be done. I will continue to fight to get rid of the dealers of this poison and to get treatment facilities here so that those who are struggling with addiction can get the help they need to once again be productive members of their families and our communities.
(3) Supporting our kids: We must work to give our children top quality educational opportunities. I have been very involved with high school and college students from this area, and I know how great our kids are and what they can achieve with our support.
(4) Promotion of our values: I will work to bring the values of McCreary County to Frankfort: the willingness to work hard and to work together, and the courage to fight for our values such as protecting the right to life.
UPCHURCH: I remain committed to several key priorities for Kentucky and my district. To sum up those priorities:
• I believe a smaller government that is more accountable to the people would best serve our Commonwealth.
• I want a more competitive tax structure that fosters job creation, not only for McCreary, Pulaski, and Wayne counties, but also for the entire state. Our antiquated tax structure makes it nearly impossible to attract job-growing businesses.
• We live in one of the most scenic areas of Kentucky, with the Daniel Boone National Forest in our back yard, the breathtaking Cumberland Falls, and the beautiful Lake Cumberland stretching all around us. Enhancing tourism to this area is vital, and I am committed to helping make sure our area gets its share of those tourism dollars.
• We must make education a priority, not only in words but also in the actions we take to support the education systems in our area. An educated workforce is an important tool as we seek to recruit industry. We must also fund appropriately secondary and post-secondary education while taking care of our teachers and ensuring the integrity of their retirement.
KY 92, McCreary County's link to I-75, is nearing completion. What other projects would you champion to spur local economic growth?
GREGORY: The immediate top priority is to assure that the KY-92 project in McCreary and Whitley Counties is completed. Right-of-way purchasing is funded and has been authorized to move forward for the final section of the road, but we must still work to include funding to complete construction of the project in the upcoming road plan.
After the completion of KY-92, McCreary County will have good access to I-75 and a good north-south connecter in US-27. We should then work on improving roads and infrastructure within the county, including access to tourism destinations, broadband technology, and improvements to water/ wastewater capacity and availability. All of these things are necessary to attract and grow jobs in the modern economy.
WISE: The KY 92 project is critical for McCreary County and its completion will help lead to job growth and a better way of life - not just for McCreary County but for our entire region. As State Senator, I will work with each community so their priorities are represented in Frankfort. Having a background in tourism is also a benefit to the entire 16th District. Looking at the tourism opportunities that are abound throughout McCreary County, I will work to maintain that tourism is not forgotten as it is a strong catalyst for economic growth and stability in this region.
BURKE: My plan for job growth focuses on:
(1) High Speed internet: With high speed internet, we will be able to access thousands of technology based jobs. New funding is available to get us that access, and I have met with representatives of a company that is anxious to get to work laying the cable necessary to bring us up to speed.
(2) Reliable cell phone service: Improving cell phone service will make this area more attractive to new businesses and make it easier for current businesses to operate.
(3) Partnerships between businesses and our local schools: By determining what types of skills will be needed in the near future, our local schools and colleges can get our people trained and ready to do those jobs.
(4) Developing tourism related businesses: By developing businesses built around tourism, we can increase tourism, grow jobs, generate money for the local economy, and continue to develop our communities.
(5) Being an advocate for the district: We need a State Representative who will put in the hard work needed to recruit new businesses and help existing businesses grow. I will be the Representative that the people of this District deserve.
UPCHURCH: KY 92 has been a major priority of mine since I first started serving in the Kentucky General Assembly. I am proud to have been able to help provide funding for this project in previous budget sessions. It is true that it is nearing completion, however much is left to be done to make the final connection between McCreary and Whitley counties. This is something that I will remain committed to not only during the 2014 budget session but also in future sessions the make sure that KY 92 keeps on track in the state road plan.
In addition to KY 92, I am committed to funding for the turning lanes on HWY 27 in front of the McCreary Center of Somerset Community College. It is important that there be a safe entrance to this center because of the students who are continuing their education, but also for the staff who serve the community.
With the poor economic conditions nationally and in Kentucky, projects that require substantial taxpayer funding are going the be scarce. Over the course of the past few years we have been able to fund several projects in McCreary County, such as water and sewer line extensions, an industrial park, and the Senior Citizens Building and McCreary County Park. Now I believe we must turn our focus on recruiting industry to our area such as the call centers that we hear Congressman Rogers speak of in nearby counties. With KY 92 to I-75 near completion the door is now open for industry to take another look at what McCreary County has to offer and I am ready to work with anyone to help make that happen.
What are your views on hemp production? tax reform? school choice?
GREGORY: During the 2013 session, I voted in support of legislation to allow the growth of industrial hemp in our Commonwealth. I am excited to see that the recently-passed federal Farm Bill will allow for establishment of a pilot project on hemp in our state. This crop is an opportunity to help agriculture and bring new jobs to Kentucky.
I will always fight for lower taxes, especially on working families, but I firmly believe we need to modernize our tax system in a way that makes us more competitive with other states and will encourage investment and job creation. Our current, out-dated tax system was designed when our state's economy was centered on agriculture and manufacturing. We need comprehensive tax reform that will generate revenue by growing the economy, not just minor adjustments that create new winners and losers.
I am supportive of school choice and believe a strong education system is the key to long-term prosperity for future generations. Parents should have a right to pursue the best educational path for their children. As we look at options to make school choice a reality, I will always be cautious to ensure we don't jeopardize needed funding for our existing public schools.
WISE: Many of the communities in our district are largely agricultural based and I will do everything I can to support our local family farms. I will work to open new markets and make sure government gets out of the way so farmers are not hindered by bureaucracy and government red-tape.
Kentucky needs tax reform but under no circumstances will I vote to raise taxes on Kentucky families or small businesses. We need to encourage job creation and the best way to do that is by keeping taxes low and getting government out of the way.
As an educator I support our public schools and believe we need to be sending more money to the classroom. If we are to have the best workforce, it starts with the best educated students in all grade levels. I think all options should be on the table when it comes to reforming our schools.
BURKE: (1) Hemp grown in other countries is currently imported and used in products that are already on store shelves. Growing that hemp in Kentucky instead could create much needed jobs. I support hemp production IF safeguards are in place to ensure hemp is not used as a cover for growing marijuana.
(2) Our current tax system is complicated and discourages job creation. We keep losing jobs to states like Tennessee with more modern tax systems. I do not support the Governor's recent proposal for tax reform because several of the “reforms” are actually increases in the taxes we pay for things like gasoline. What I do support is updating our tax system to keep jobs in Kentucky without increasing taxes on our hardworking citizens and businesses.
(3) We must make sure that our public schools have the tools and support they need to provide excellent educations to our children. However, not all kids are alike, and for some the public schools do not and cannot provide the best education for that child. As such, I support both strong public schools and alternatives such as charter schools because both are needed to make sure that all children get the education they need and deserve.
UPCHURCH: I have been skeptical of how successful hemp as an industry would fair in Kentucky. I still have concerns over how law enforcement will be able to tell the difference in legalized hemp production and marijuana. However since it is now going to be produced in Kentucky I will take a wait and see approach.
I am a strong advocate of real comprehensive tax reform in Kentucky. Until we move forward with tax reform that will spur economic growth Kentucky will lag behind in education and job growth. Kentucky must be more competitive in order to attract jobs to our area instead of them going to Tennessee which has a much more business friendly tax structure.
I am for good schools and parents being able to send their children to the school of their choice. I am the parent of a four year old boy and his education is a top priority of mine. However I am not in favor of charter schools in our area. We have enough trouble funding the schools we have already. By adding another layer of schools that the taxpayer would have to pick up the tab for is something I do not think we are quite ready for.