Campbellsville professor and fmr. FBI analyst Wise to challenge Sen. Gregory in GOP primary

08/30/2013 01:51 PM

One of the first major GOP state Senate primaries is evolving as a result of redistricting with Campbellsville University professor Max Wise filing paperwork to start his challenge of first-term state Sen. Sara Beth Gregory in southern Kentucky.

Wise told Pure Politics on Friday that he sent in his papers to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance to allow him to raise money to run in next year’s Republican primary in the newly-drawn 16th District. That district, approved in the map in last week’s special legislative session, covers seven counties and stretches into Wise’s home county of Taylor.

“I know I face a big uphill challenge against an established politician,” said Wise, who said he has long been interested in getting into politics. He said he wouldn’t have challenged Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon, whose district currently includes Taylor County.

Gregory currently represents four of the seven counties that will make up the new 16th District: Wayne, McCreary, Clinton and Cumberland counties.

But Gregory will be new to about half of the registered Republicans in the district. Taylor, Russell and Adair — three of the four most populous counties in the district — are currently represented by other senators. Those three counties account for 25,503 of the 51,342 registered Republicans.

“I think it’s a good district for me to run in,” Gregory said. “I have a proven record — a conservative voting record … I already have a lot of contacts in Russell County and am reaching out to officials in Adair and Taylor counties.”

Wise and Gregory hail from opposite ends of the district, so both candidates expect that much of the race will fought over geographic issues rather than philosophy.

Indeed, Wise said his pitch to voters, especially those in the northwestern end of the district, will be that he relates to them. His wife, Dr. Heather Wise, runs a pediatric dental office and often sees patients who come from many of the counties in that district, he said.

Wise, 38, teaches political science, homeland security and international studies at Campbellsville University and serves as adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky, where he teaches graduate courses in intelligence and national security.

He worked for the FBI from 2003-2007, first in the Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism unit, then in Kentucky. A father of four, Wise said he considered running for office in 2008 when the state House seat in Taylor and Adair counties opened up, but his third child was diagnosed with cancer at that time. His son, Carter, 6, has recovered.

“Politics is all about timing,” Wise said. Wise said he doesn’t have any major issue disagreements with Gregory. The change in the district and her brief time in the Senate simply offer an opportunity, he said.

But he did allude to Gregory’s meteoric rise in Kentucky politics since first being elected to the Kentucky state House in 2010. And Gregory has only been in the Senate since winning a December 2012 special election to replace former state Senate President David Williams, who resigned to become a circuit judge.

“I want people to know I want to do this because I don’t plan on going anywhere … I’m not already looking at the attorney general’s race,” Wise said, referencing Gregory. “My intentions at this time are only to represent the 16th District.”

Gregory, a lawyer who turns 31 on Sept. 5, said she doesn’t plan on running for attorney general but left the door open.

“It’s always flattering when your name is tossed around for a higher office. I have no plans to run for any office other than state Senate in the immediate future,” she said.

She said she doesn’t want to “rule anything out” but plans to tell voters in the 16th District she will serve a full four-year term in the Senate.

“That is absolutely my intention at this point in time. You don’t like to rule things out. I don’t see myself running for another office before then,” she said.

As for high-profile supporters, Gregory said she does expect support from Senate President Robert Stivers and other Republican senators. Wise said he expects to have the backing of Republican officials in Taylor County.

Wise said he doesn’t plan to pick a side in the Republican U.S. Senate primary between U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and tea party favorite Matt Bevin. But he said he hopes McConnell, who campaigned for Gregory in December’s special election, will stay out of the 16th District primary.

“I am hoping everyone involved in the state and federal level will be neutral and let this primary be decided by the voters,” he said.

Gregory said she is publicly backing McConnell but “it’s up to McConnell about whether he wants to get involved” in her race.

Wise and Gregory both confirmed they spoke earlier this week as Wise prepared to send his paperwork in. Each said the conversation was cordial and that details about debates or pledges not to go negative against each other weren’t discussed yet.

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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