Political party pressure?

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Remaining Republican state rep candidate says he was pressured to step aside

By Larry Rowell

Leo H. Johnson, the Republican candidate from Casey County running for the District 24 Kentucky House seat, has come under fire from Republican lawmakers for refusing to withdraw from the race.

Instead, his opponent in the May 18 primary election, M.J. "Bill" Pickerill, withdrew from the race March 12, according to the Secretary of State's office.

"I've had lots of pressure to drop out of the race," Johnson said, adding that "the Republican Party thinks it takes a candidate from Marion County to win this race."

Johnson e-mailed a copy of a Facebook message to The Casey County News that he said State Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, sent him on March 5.

In that correspondence, Johnson said that Floyd pressured him to step down as a candidate, leaving the door open for Pickerill, a Lebanon businessman who had also filed for the Republican nomination.

In the correspondence, Floyd stated that it was widely believed that Johnson could not win in the general election in November against Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon.

"'Every Republican' in KY except one knows that you cannot win, and you refuse to listen," Johnson said Floyd stated. "Call it a last-ditch effort for the greater good."

In addition, Floyd appealed to Johnson's sense of party loyalty, Johnson said.

"You are going to keep us out of the majority," Johnson said that Floyd wrote. "Search your heart, check your motivation. Who is being served by your refusal to withdraw?"

In his reply to Floyd, Johnson stated that "...before you make your bets on 'every Republican in Ky,' you could visit my district."

In addition to pressuring Johnson to step aside, Johnson said that Floyd implied that should Johnson withdraw, a place would be found for him in the future, possibly referring to a Republican-led redistricting next year.

"With a majority, we can carve something out for you. In the minority, the seat stays democrat," Floyd stated, adding that "I also offered you hope for a district you could win."

Responding to Floyd's offer, Johnson stated that "I'm not asking for anything to be handed to me. I am of the opinion that these 'offers' are what is wrong with politics today."

"I am a hard-working man who will win or lose based on the choice of the voters - not favors or partisan politics. I cannot and will not be bought - I represent the voters," Johnson stated.

When contacted March 10, Floyd refused to comment, saying that any correspondence he had with Johnson was a private matter.

Johnson said that he was disappointed that Floyd sent him the Facebook message.

"He really doesn't know me and yet how can he say, without knowing me or the people of this district, that I will lose (the general election) when I lost the special election by only 483 votes out of 5,500 cast," Johnson said.

"That was no landslide victory for Mills," Johnson said.

Higdon with Floyd

In addition to Floyd, Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon, of Lebanon, said that it would be difficult for Johnson to win in November.

And that's a message that Johnson said Higdon communicated to him on several occasions.

According to Johnson, Higdon asked him to withdraw before Johnson was nominated by the Republican Party in December to run in the special election.

Additionally, Johnson said Higdon and Steve Robertson, state chairman of the Republican party, asked him to withdraw in a telephone conversation Feb. 3, the day after he lost the special election to Mills.

Andi Johnson, Robertson's Communications Director, said that Robertson had no comment on the matter.

Higdon said his reasoning was based on the demographics of the district with Marion County having more Democratic voters - 10,127 versus 1,722 Republican voters, as of Feb. 21, according to the Marion County Clerk's Office.

"It would be extremely difficult for a Republican candidate from Casey County to defeat a Democratic candidate from Marion County," Higdon said, adding that Johnson would need every one of the Republican votes to unseat Mills in November.

Gentleman's agreement

The demand for Johnson to step down stems from a Dec. 23 meeting in which a "gentlemen's agreement" was struck between Johnson and Pickerill of Lebanon.

According to Johnson, and confirmed by Higdon, a meeting was held with Johnson, Pickerill, Higdon and Robertson.

Both Johnson and Pickerill agree that they reached an agreement - but that's all they agree on.

The two disagree about the details of their agreement.

According to Pickerill, the agreement was that if the Republican candidate lost the special election, then that candidate would withdraw from the primary. The filing deadline for the primary was Jan. 26 before the special election on Feb. 2.

Johnson had a different recollection. According to him, the candidate selected by the nominating committee would run unopposed in the primary if he won the special election. If he lost, then that person would have the choice to either run again or withdraw.

According to Higdon, his understanding was that Johnson would withdraw if he lost the special election, and Pickerill would withdraw if Johnson won the special election.

Johnson denies that he agreed to withdraw if he lost.

"What Pickerill is alleging is completely false," Johnson said.

Based on what he said was the breaking of that agreement in which Johnson would withdraw, Pickerill announced March 8 that he was withdrawing as a candidate in the Republican primary, according to a letter submitted to The Casey County News and The Lebanon Enterprise.

Johnson hopeful

Johnson said that despite what has happened, he's confident about continuing his campaign and meeting the voters in Casey, Marion and the part of Pulaski County that falls in the 24th District.

Attributing his loss in February to low voter turnout on a cold, wet day, Johnson said he believes there will be a larger turnout in November because it's a general election.

On Feb. 2, only 20.7 percent of the voters turned out in Casey County, 24.2 percent in Marion County, and 11.6 percent in Pulaski County.

But ultimately, Johnson said, he wants the race to be about issues and not about the party.

"I'm a registered Republican because their platform is closest to what I believe - but I'm not there to work for a party but for the people of this district," Johnson said.

Editor's note: Larry Rowell is a staff writer for The Casey County News in Liberty.