Voters delivered some fresh air in Ky. primary, but hardly a political hurricane

·3 min read
Ryan C. Hermens/

Lexington voters delivered some shockers on Tuesday in primary races like County Attorney, where Angela Evans decisively beat Larry Roberts, the long-time incumbent, with 70 percent of the vote. Frankly, given Roberts’ long service, his name recognition and his law and order persona at a time of rising crime, it didn’t seem clear that Evans could prevail, much less dominate. But it seems that voters thought one of our main criminal justice offices needed a breath of fresh air, particularly given Roberts’ determination to prosecute Black Lives Matter protesters.

Another surprise was the second place victory of Dan Wu in the at-large race for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council. Wu, who looks likely to become the first immigrant council member, came in second in the at-large race after long-time incumbent Chuck Ellinger. Wu has a young and energetic base of followers but few expected him to do as well as that.

At the same time, the old guard did just fine. Mayor Linda Gorton crushed her opposition almost as handily as long-time Sheriff Kathy Witt did hers. Long-time Lexington council members Richard Moloney and Bill Farmer survived the primary well enough to make a run back to their long-time jobs. A breath of fresh air came through Lexington, but it was hardly a hurricane.

The same appeared true on the statewide front. “Liberty” caucus hopeful Andrew Cooperrider — who vowed to turn the Kentucky Senate further right by winning the 22nd District — went to court Tuesday over some over-caffeinated supporters, who apparently shouted at voters from exactly 100 feet and one inch away from the precinct doors. In an agreed court order, they were allowed to stay; say what you will about Cooperrider, but after suing everybody and their governor over COVID restrictions, the man now knows his way around the Kentucky Revised Statutes.

But while he won the court battle, Cooperrider lost the political war to incumbent state Sen. Donald Douglas. The same was true for other incumbent Republicans facing challengers like House Speaker David Osborne, Rep. Kim King, Rep. Brandon Reed and Rep. Samara Heavrin, who appeared to have hung on to their seats. But it was a mixed bag. Everyone was so busy looking at the Cooperrider race, it wasn’t until late last night attention turned to the fact that three GOP committee chairs, Rep. Adam Koenig, Rep. Ed Massey and Rep. Sal Santoro lost to Liberty challengers. (Kentucky’s paper ballots apparently took some getting used to with Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky being very slow on results.)

Still, this primary seemed to echo the idea that people don’t always need to make a dramatic political statement. For example, the GOP General Assembly delivered lots of toys to the party faithful this session, things like less income tax, no abortion rights, bullying transgender kids and charter schools. How much further right can it go? (Don’t answer that, but we’re not going to find out this year at least.) This time around, voters seemed, well, pretty okay with the status quo.

Then again, it’s hard to make definitive statements about voters’ intent when so very few of them came out to vote. In politically active Fayette County, only 19 percent of registered voters showed up, which may have been the lowest turnout in decades. Secretary of State Michael Adams said statewide turnout was also 19 percent. This is not how revolutions happen, no matter which side of the political spectrum you are on.

Yes, we’re apathetic; it’s hard to feel like any one vote matters in the age of climate catastrophe, white supremacist shooters, political nihilism, contested elections, insurrections. But one in five people choosing to vote, even in a primary, is still really, really bad in a country where democracy seems to be teetering on the edge.

No, voting is not as much fun as Tik Tok or writing scathing comments on the twitter machine, but whether you’re worried about reproductive rights or charter schools, it’s really all we’ve got left.

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