Democrats hold house majority in special elections


Kentucky governor Matt Bevin addresses the Commonwealth with his budget for the next two years on Tuesday at the Capitol building in Frankfort. The budget included a $110 million cut from UK’s state general funding over the next two years.

Matt Smith

Democrats on Tuesday pulled out a crucial victory by winning three out of four special elections for the state House of Representatives. Democrats Lew Nicholls, Jeffrey Taylor and Chuck Tackett emerged victorious, while Daniel Elliot of Boyle County was the lone Republican winner. The victories gave the Democrats, who had previously been strategizing to hold control of the lower chamber, a 53-47 majority.

Two of the seats were won in a landslide by Democrats, as Nicholls and Taylor easily defeated Republicans Tony Quillen and Walker Wood Thomas. Nicholls, the former district judge from Greenup County, defeated Greenup County Commissioner Tony Quillen 57 to 43 percent. Meanwhile, Taylor, Democratic city councilman of Hopkinsville, won his race by an even larger amount, defeating Wood 59to 41 percent.

The seat won by Nicholls was previously held by Rep. Tanya Pullin, who was recently appointed to an administrative law judge position by Gov. Matt Bevin. A similar situation resulted in Taylor’s election, wherein Bevin appointed Rep. John Tilley to a position in his cabinet.

Elections for the two other seats, both in Central Kentucky, were being held due to their prior representatives winning statewide races. Republican Mike Harmon of Danville narrowly defeated State Auditor Adam Edelen to take over the position, while Ryan Quarles of Georgetown was elected as commissioner of agriculture.

In an interesting twist to the race in Hopkinsville, CNHI News Service reported on Election Day that President Barack Obama had made robo-calls into heavily African-American precincts in the district on election eve.

In what was probably the roughest race of the night for the Republicans, lawn care business owner Phil Pratt was narrowly defeated by Democratic Magistrate Chuck Tackett 52 to 48 percent. Tackett, who campaigned hard against Bevin’s cuts to higher education, had previously ran for the seat in 2014, when he was defeated by Quarles. Quarles campaigned heavily for Pratt in the recent special election.

Running against the budget cuts proposed by Bevin seemed to be a pattern for the Democratic candidates, who were eager to lay out their differences. It remains undetermined if the same type of campaign will work in future races.

In a night of sheer disappointment for the Republicans, there was one bright spot in the election of Elliot, a lawyer out of Danville. Elliot, a young attorney and former member of Sen. Jim Bunning’s staff, defeated William Noelker, a former Navy fighter pilot and also an attorney in Danville. This faceoff between the two Danville attorneys was not nearly as close as expected, with Elliot walking away with a 16-point win.

Prior to the polls closing, political circles were abuzz with the possibility of Republicans finally taking control of the State House, which the Democrats have been in charge of for most of the last century. Heading into the night with a 50-46 majority, most assumed that the Republicans would narrow this, and perhaps even win each race and pull into a tie in the lower chamber.

However, the poor showing from the Republican candidates allowed the Democrats to retain their grip on the party’s only legislative chamber in the South, and kept Greg Stumbo in place as Speaker of the House.