This week’s LEO has just a slice of our conversation with all four candidates in the Democratic primary of the state Senate 19th race, but throughout the next few days, we’ll be posting snippets from the full interview, which covers an wide range of issues, including bridge tolls, payday loans, coal, and much more.
Below, the candidates discuss why they are most qualified candidate, and which colleague in the Senate next year they would most like to emulate.
This is your first time running for office. What in your educational background or professional experience makes you the most qualified person to be the next state senator from the 19th District?
Amy Shoemaker: I have a degree in government from William & Mary, graduating in 1997. And then I graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 2000. I worked in private practice for six and a half years before joining the University of Louisville in 2006, where I’ve been for the last five years. The University of Louisville is like a small city really, in terms of what kind of activities we have going on. It’s a general practice, though part of what I do is two human resources areas on the university’s staff side, immigration issues for foreign faculty and staff, and also student issues and other issues that come up. We have a university police force, we have mental health services, we have students who live on campus, all of those sort of create an environment where you have to be knowledgeable about a number of different things. My entry into this race was not a means to “make a name” for myself or propel me into the spotlight. Rather, I felt like women truly need a reasonable voice in their legislature able to articulate the struggles we face and the desire for our government not to patronize us. I am certainly not a single-issue candidate. I am also a parent, which makes me very familiar with what women generally go through as mothers and working women. So I feel like my general background gives me a large view of how a number of different issues correlate within our district and our state. And I definitely believe that with my experience in the field of higher education and also my own educational background, that I’m the best qualified.
Sarah Lynn Cunningham: I am a trained engineer and I am a trained teacher. I have 30-plus years of practicing engineering focused on two big areas: infrastructure/utilities and energy efficiency. And as far as teaching I have both formal and non-formal experience. And I’m also a foster mother, and I’ve actually had social workers assigned to me and the kids. And I’ve had to wrestle with Medicaid cards and the way every month the medicines that are covered change, and the doctor might make a mistake and write the prescription for your kid and the pharmacist might say, “I’m sorry ma’am, but we can’t fill this prescription,” and then you might have to go back to the doctor. But if you look at where state government spends public dollars, it’s overwhelmingly in transportation, education and social services. And I have 30 years of real world experience in those areas. So I think that makes me the most qualified. And then if I’m being a smart aleck, I would simply say that Frankfort doesn’t need more people trained to argue. Engineers love to fix problems, and I think Frankfort could use an engineer down there.
Morgan McGarvey: I think I have both the personal and professional experience to make a difference on my first day in Frankfort. In my professional and educational background, I actually started out as a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Missouri, covering the state legislature in Jefferson City. That’s really where I got an interest in government and the political system, and you can learn a lot by covering the policymakers and people who are running for office. I have worked locally in campaigns, but also worked on Capitol Hill writing legislation and appropriations before going to law school. After law school I started in private practice before going with Attorney General Jack Conway to help lead the civil division of the attorney general’s office. Of course it was there that we really tackled the problems of prescription drug abuse, that we advocated for consumers and went after companies that price gouged at the pump or were overcharging Medicaid for prescription drugs. We also stood up and made sure that working families were protected by saying that school construction needed to have a prevailing wage, and for the first time really made a push to go after Internet crimes, including scams on seniors, scams on everyone, and of course cyber bullying, which had never really been a big issue before we got into the attorney general’s office. I’m back in private practice now, but I think my training as a lawyer gives me a critical way of thinking and also the skills to advocate and articulate a certain point of view. So I think when you take my personal and professional experience, it really shows that I am ready for this challenge. And the state Senate is a big challenge. Another thing that has made me ready for this is when my wife and I became parents. I think that any parent knows when you have kids it flips a switch for you. Now that I see it, we have to make sure that we have quality education in Kentucky, we have to make sure that certain programs are funded, we have to preserve what we have for the next generation. We need people who are willing to go to Frankfort and lead and articulate the kind of change we deserve.
Gary Demling: Well on my educational background, I was born and raised here in Louisville. St. Barnabas Parish Elementary, very involved in a lot of the Catholic Archdiocese programs and youth programs growing up. Business wise, I grew up in the public sector through our Metro Parks golf courses, here first at Shawnee, and then on to Seneca and now at Long Run. In my over two decades of public service in giving back to the community, I’ve basically always believed in making a difference in some fashion. Now I always thought that you had to have a certain power position, and in 2007 I decided to form a nonprofit organization, which I filed the paperwork myself instead of hiring an attorney. I thought it was very important that I learn the ins and outs of it, as well as using that money to give back to someone in need. After filing it, we had a big event at Derby week, and we became a 501(c)(3) in July, and since then we’ve been able to distribute over $100,000 within the community, just by the simple effort of trying to make a difference. And I’ve always been involved in different facets of the community. If it’s been charitable organizations where I resided on the board, the Coalition for the Homeless, Fight Crimes Against Children Initiative, the Boys and Girls equine program, as well as the Portland Museum. And there are other charities and community organizations that I’ve either volunteered for or chaired, multiple ones. And my impact within the community, of knowing so many people and impacting their lives, they know I have their best interests at heart. Because I believe our government at this point needs more transparency, and we need to restore transparency and accountability to Frankfort. And the people who know me and the impact I’ve had in the community really believe in me and believe in my message.
Of all the current senators in Frankfort that you’ll be serving with next year in Frankfort if you win, who would you most like to model yourself after, and why?
Shoemaker: I have to say that I admire Kathy Stein’s amazing energy and backbone. I find Sen. Parrett very lovely in his quiet and thoughtful demeanor. I know those are two very separate and paradoxical individuals. I like Sen. Thayer for his young, bipartisan effort to try to push Kentucky forward. I know he’s a Republican, but I really feel like he’s a moderate Republican who’s willing to work with both parties in order to push initiatives that he believes are truly beneficial to Kentucky. I’m going to be a senator who works with others, both in my party, and like Rep. Wayne said last night, strategically works with both parties to generate legislation to move us forward. I think that will be most important, being a minority senator within the Kentucky state Senate.
Cunningham: If I could pick a member of the House, it would be Rep. Jim Wayne, because he has a laser beam focus on the public interest. And I think Jim Wayne is not beholden to special interests, and he’s willing to step outside of the establishment to stand up for what he thinks is best for the people. And that’s what I intend to do. Also Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, because she’s not an attorney, she’s got a relatively unique background as a nurse. I feel like I’ll be modeling her in the sense that she’s providing a non-standard perspective. I’ve been told that I’m going to align well with Kathy Stein in the Senate, but I’ve never met her, so I don’t really know.
McGarvey: I think there are various people that I’d certainly want to emulate, then of course I want to have my own voice. I really respect Sen. Robin Webb from the eastern part of the state. I think she does a very good job of being a tough and informed legislator who is also willing to work with her own party and members of the other party to try and get things done. I think she has a pretty good grasp of what’s going on, how to compromise and deal within the framework she’s got there. I certainly want to be able to work with people in the other party. You have to recognize that we’re going in, whatever Democrat wins this race, is going to be in the minority party, baring some major change that happens in the fall elections. So you are going to have to work across the aisle. I think Sen. Tom Jensen is a very thoughtful legislator. And what you just saw him do on the prescription pill efforts and on the pseudoephedrine bill was admirable, because he recognized a problem that existed in his area, and worked outside of his party to try and get a solution to protect the citizens of Kentucky.
Demling: Actually, I’d like to model myself my own way. There are plenty of them that I admire in different facets, but I want to be my own person, uniquely representing the people. I do respect Sen. R.J. Palmer quite a bit. I got to know R.J., and his involvement in the horse industry. I’d say R.J. is the one that’s been really honest with me and opened up with me. But I don’t think I should have to model myself after anyone. I think I should model myself after my own beliefs and merits to represent, basically, the constituents of the 19th, as well as Jefferson County.