Higdon preparing for senate

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By Stephen Lega

Jimmy Higdon's phones rang almost constantly for days after his victory in the Dec. 8 special election to fill the 14th District state senate seat. His win over Democrat Jodie Haydon was even mentioned in The Wall Street Journal and by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. Higdon, a Republican, was amused by the attention his victory received, but he said he wasn't going to try to analyze what his win might mean. "I'll let the experts pick it apart and digest it," he said. "I've got enough to do getting ready to be a senator." Instead, Higdon praised the efforts of his campaign team and expressed his gratitude for the support he received across the district and especially in his home community. "I love Marion County. I believe in Marion County," he said. "I truly love the people of Marion County." Higdon won the election with 11,327 votes, or 56.1 percent of the total. Higdon won four of the five counties in the district - Marion, Mercer, Taylor and Washington counties. In Marion County, Higdon won 67.1 percent of the vote, beating Haydon by a more than two-to-one margin, 2,860 to 1,405. Higdon also won 16 of the 17 precincts in Marion County. "It's humbling to know they came out and voted for me," he said. In the district, Haydon, a Bardstown native, won Nelson County. In Marion County, he won the Holy Cross precinct. Higdon credited the Republican Party of Kentucky with putting together a winning strategy in the campaign. Accusatory ads were common during the race almost from the time both parties announced their candidates. Higdon's supporters ran ads comparing Haydon with Nancy Pelosi, and urging voters to avoid one-party control in Frankfort. On Haydon's behalf, outside organizations ran ads criticizing Higdon for votes he missed and accusing him of supporting spending cuts for education, prisons and health care. In Higdon's opinion, the negative ads did not appear to hurt him, and they may have even created a backlash against Haydon. "I heard from a lot of people who were upset about the negative tone of this race," Higdon said. In the end, Higdon said he believed the race came down to the issues that his polling found was important throughout the district - jobs and the economy, health care, open and honest governments, cutting wasteful spending and family values, particularly being pro-life, a position both Haydon and Higdon played up in their campaigns. On election night, Haydon awaited the election results at American Legion Post 121. He thanked his supporters for their efforts, according to The Kentucky Standard. "I guess people liked my opponent more than me," he said. Haydon said his children, grandchildren and concern for the future were the primary motivation behind his decision to run for the senate seat, the Standard reported. Since Higdon will be filling the remainder of Dan Kelly's unexpired term, which would have ended Dec. 31, 2010, he'll be running again in the May 18 primary election. Haydon told the Standard that he hasn't decided if he will run again.   Voter turnout and election financing Across the district, 24.2 percent of registered voters went to the polls Dec. 8. In Marion County, 34 percent of voters cast ballots. Marion County Clerk Karen Spalding said everybody was shocked by the turnout.  The last time a special election was held in Marion County was January of 1994, Spalding said. In that election, 14.5 percent of Marion County voters went to the polls. The election also attracted considerable amounts of money. More than $2.6 million was raised and more then $2.3 million was spent as of Dec. 8 for the 14th District state senate campaigns, based on the information available through the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. The Haydon campaign received $333,455 as of Dec. 8 and reported spending $255,623.43. The Democratic Party reported more than $1.3 million in receipts and nearly $1.2 million in spending. Comparatively, the Higdon campaign reported $116,249.08 and spending of $57,870.57. The Republican Party has reported $909,122 in contributions and $848,394 in spending on the race. But those figures are only a portion of the actual money spent on the campaign. Outside organizations, known as 527 groups (based on the federal tax code that creates them), purchased advertising as well.  These groups are tax-exempt under the federal tax code. Unlike a political action committee, which advocates the election of a candidate, 527 groups encourage voter mobilization efforts or advocate for issues. Also unlike PACs, 527 groups are not required to disclose how much money they spend.   Priorities Higdon said the state is looking at a $1 billion budget shortfall, which means significant cuts will be needed in state programs. "That's what people expect of us," he said. He said he expected the legislature to put together a lean, bare bones budget for the next fiscal year. Given the state of the economy, the government needs to curb spending, just like his customers at Higdon's Foodtown have already done. "I know from owning a grocery store, people are buying what they need, not what they want," he said. Higdon has been the state representative for the 24th district, which includes Marion and Casey counties and part of Pulaski County, since 2003. As the state-senator elect, he will vacate his House seat to accept his new office. Higdon said he would be sworn in during a private ceremony Tuesday night in Louisville, where his mother is in a nursing home. Wednesday, Higdon has planned a public swearing in at Marion County High School. State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Fayette County, will be swearing Higdon into office. Lee was the first Marion County High School alumni to win a seat in the state house of representatives. Higdon is the first MCHS grad elected to the state senate.   Bills in waiting Since Higdon was a sitting state representative prior to winning the special election, he had pre-filed four bills in the House for the 2010 regular session of the General Assembly. "We will typically withdraw those bills and he'll have to re-file," said Elaine Dasgupta of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission. Higdon said he would re-file those bills after he is sworn in as a state senator. His pre-filed bills dealt with robo-calls, retirement funding for legislators, the length of legislative sessions and primary elections. The first bill (BR174) would amend KRS 367.46951 to add a definition for "prerecorded political message." The bill defines this as a message delivered by telephone; recorded prior to the phone call; concerning a political party, candidate or ballot measure; and delivered on behalf of a candidate or committee or if the message advocates for the success or defeat of any party, candidate or ballot measure." The bill would prohibit unsolicited prerecorded political messages to numbers included on the "Do Not Call Registry," which is maintained by the United States Federal Trade Commission. Higdon acknowledged that his campaign made robo-calls leading up to the special election, but he said the campaign voluntarily did not place robo-calls to anyone on the Do Not Call Registry. The campaign did make person-to-person calls for support and urging voters to go to the polls, he said. The second bill (BR176) seeks to reduce the amount of retirement compensation legislators are eligible to receive. Under current law, legislators' retirement benefits are based on their salary during the three years they are paid the most as state employees. If a legislator leaves office to accept a higher-paying position with the state at the end of a career, for example, his or her retirement benefits would be based on that higher salary. Higdon said the bill he plans to introduce into the Senate would end that policy for legislators. The third bill (BR178) is a proposal to amend the Kentucky State Constitution regarding the length of legislative sessions. Under current law, the General Assembly meets for 30 days during its regular sessions in odd-numbered years and for 60 days during its regular sessions in even-numbered years. Higdon's proposal was to change the Constitution to limit the regular sessions to 30 days every year. Most bills require the support of a majority of both houses of the legislature and the governor's signature. However, a constitutional amendment would further require a vote of the general public. The final bill (BR222) pre-filed by Higdon dealt with primary elections. Under current state law, only registered members of a political party may vote in that party's primary election. Higdon's proposed bill would allow voters registered as independents to vote in one party's primary election.     Election statistics

  Marion County precincts Precinct    Hidgon Haydon Gravel Switch 105 41 Bradfordsville 186 50 Veatch's Shop 200 60 Fire Department         91 47 Library        133 59 Junior High        269        107 Rolling Hills        126 59 Courthouse        293        142 Calvary        181 92 Hamilton Heights        101 42 Jessetown        142 61 Depot        198 91 Raywick        195       106 Loretto        163       146 St. Francis         87         45 Holy Cross         52 81 St. Charles        225      111 Absentee        113        65 County TOTAL          2,860     1,405   Mercer County 1,542 1,186 Nelson County 2,982 3,840 Taylor County 2,612 1,396 Washington County 1,331 1,054 TOTAL        11,327 8,881