Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)


May 21, 2014

Primary election sends messages

ASHLAND — The voters — or at least the minority who took the time to go to the polls Tuesday — have spoken, with Boyd County voters sending mixed messages in the county-wide races that gathered the most attention.

In the race for Boyd County judge-executive, Boyd Democrats nominated a well-known native son seeking his first political office in Steve Towler, who just completed a 10-year stint as executive director of the United Way of Northeast Kentucky, during which time the local United Way campaign expanded from two counties to five counties and the annual campaign that benefits more than 70 non-profit agencies in the five counties always reached its goal.

In the early 1980s, Towler served as superintendent of the Ashland Independent School District, during which time voters approved a 3 percent utilities tax which enabled the district to replace aging elementary school buildings for Hagar, Oakview, Hatcher and Charles Russell with new buildings and allowed for the consolidation of the old Putnam and Coles junior high schools into George M. Verity Middle School. Hatcher has since closed and now houses the district’s central offices and Head Start program.

Towler returned to Boyd County after his retirement and soon became a leader of the United Way and active in his church, First Baptist of Ashland. He also was leader of the efforts to convert the old Johnson’s Dairy on Carter Avenue into The Neighborhood, a one-stop help center for the poor that now includes the Community Kitchen, the Dressing Room, CAReS, River Cities Harvest and Clean Start.

A case could be made that Towler’s defeat of David Salisbury, a two-term member of the Boyd County Fiscal Court, was a rejection by voters of the current leaders of this county. While that may have been a factor as there certainly are reasons to vote against the incumbents on the fiscal court, we think Towler won because he simply outworked Salisbury. In recent months, we have frequently bumped into him at events that have little or nothing to do with politics. Meanwhile, we can’t recall meeting Salisbury out campaigning.

In November, Towler will face Republican Kenny Parker, who narrowly defeated George L. Brown Jr. in Tuesday’s GOP primary. Because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, Parker says he recognizes he faces an uphill battle this November, but during the long political careers of George Hall, Paul Purvis and Bill Scott, a Republican held Boyd County’s top elected office for more than 30 years except for the four years the late Billy Joe Ross was judge-executive. The Republican hold in the office changed when Democrat William “Bud” Stevens was elected eight years ago and four years ago Stevens won a second term by the narrowest of margins.

 At this point, Towler is much better known than Kenny Parker, but it is much too early to assume the Democrat nominee is a shoo-in for election in November.

Stevens is not the only Republican not seeking re-election this year. Sheriff Terry Keelin is retiring at the end of his term in late December, and Keelin endorsed Deputy Rob Donta to succeed him. Instead, Boyd Democrats chose Bobby Jack Woods, who like Keelin is a retired Kentucky State Police officer.

The choices in this race were all good ones. In fact, Donta is such a good law enforcement officer that we think Woods should make an effort to keep him as a deputy if he is elected in November. A police office like Donta would be difficult to replace.

However, we think this race had little to do with the abilities of Woods and Donta. As someone who has unsuccessfully run for other offices, Woods is better known than Donta. That gave him the edge in this tight race.

Jailer Joe Burchett is not the most popular person in the Boyd County Courthouse and leading politicians have been trying to defeat him since Burchett was accidentally elected because of the death of an inmate.

 They tried again this year and once again they failed. Burchett won the Democratic nomination for jailer Tuesday, and with no Republicans seeking the office, he will run unopposed in November. Opposition to Burchett was the major reason members of the Boyd County Fiscal Court joined with neighboring Carter County in an attempt to form a regional jail, but that decision Tuesday hurt members of the fiscal court more than Burchett.

Finally, Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond won a second term by defeating funeral director Marshall Steen. The race was about what type of coroner Boyd residents want.

Hammond sees the coroner primarily as someone who assists police and prosecutors in investigating unattended deaths. On the other hand, Steen, who was seeking to join a long line of funeral directors who have served as coroners in Kentucky, saw the coroner’s primary task as offering comfort to the family during times of sudden deaths. He criticized Hammond’s office with often coming off as cold and uncaring during such times. Although the vote was close, Tuesday’s primary was an endorsement of Hammond

Finally, we must admit to being disappointed but not surprised by how few people voted Tuesday. As has happened so many times, apathy again ruled the day. However, instead of criticizing the many who did not vote, we commend the few who did. It is good to have some people who still care enough about county offices to bother to do their civic duty by voting. We just wish there were a whole lot more of them.

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