Democrat James Kay wins special election in 56th House district to replace Rollins

06/25/2013 07:47 PM

UPDATED— Democratic candidate James Kay won what will likely end up being the most expensive state House race in Kentucky in Tuesday’s special election to represent the 56th District in Woodford County, western Lexington and eastern Frankfort.

Kay defeated Republican candidate Lyen Crews and independent candidate John-Mark Hack in a race that was occasionally hijacked on the airwaves by outside groups of both major parties. Kay won the election with 3,925 votes to Crews’ 3,065 and 1,925 votes for Hack.

Kay will replace former Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins, who resigned in April after being promoted to be director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

Democrat James Kay is a 30-year-old former aide to Congressman Ben Chandler and to state House leaders, which has enabled him to unify Democratic factions in Woodford County.

Republican candidate Lyen Crews is a certified public accountant and has served as Chief Financial Officer at Midway College and formerly at the now-defunct Woodford Memorial Hospital.

Crews lost the 56th House District to Rollins in 2010. Crews lost to Rollins by 744 votes but won the nine Fayette County precincts in the district by 162 votes.

In the special election, Crews again won Fayette county, but ultimately came up 860 votes short of beating Kay in the election.

“I can definitely tell you that we left nothing on the field, and my volunteers and I worked our hardest to communicate our message to voters in the district. Unfortunately, we came up short tonight,” Crews said in a statement about the loss. “That said, I am humbled by this experience and am so grateful for the outpouring of support from my community. I am also incredibly thankful for the support of my family. I could not have done this without them.”

Hack, the Independent candidate, is arguably better known than the other two among followers of politics as former Director of Agriculture Policy for Democratic Governor Paul Patton and the spokesman for the Say No to Casinos group that was very active in 2007 and 2008.

The race to replace Rollins attracted the attention of national groups and Super PACs. All told, the groups and three candidates in the race have spent around $420,000 on the race.

The Republican State Leadership Committee spent six figures in the race, reportedly shelling out $140,000 in favor of Crews. The Kentucky Family Values Super PAC also got involved in the race on behalf of Kay.

The average House race usually costs about $75,000 total.

The race was contentious and controversial down to the end. On Tuesday afternoon, Hack requested a formal inquiry with the Kentucky Board of Elections after some of his potential votes were turned away from the polls.

Hack says his son’s classmates at Woodford County High School were denied a vote. Hack contacted the Board of Elections to make his complaint after receiving phone calls from his son’s classmates who insisting they registered to vote.

The students say they registered to vote during a voter registration drive at Woodford County High School on May 21 – seven days before the May 28 deadline to be eligible to vote in the special election.

The Secretary of State’s office told Pure Politics Woodford County Judie Clerk Woolums told the State Board that these individuals’ voter registration cards were not received prior to the close of the registration books. Under KRS 117.035(4), questions regarding voter registration are ruled on by the County Board of Elections, and its decision can be appealed to a Circuit Judge.

Jacqueline Pitts

Jacqueline Pitts joined the cn|2 political team in June 2012. A graduate of WKU, Jacqueline grew up in Nashville, TN and is looking forward to having a front row seat to Kentucky politics. Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqueline_cn2. She can be reached at 502-792-1114 or jacqueline.pitts@twcnews.com.

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