Trailing in the polls, Will T. Scott uses descent from the skies to promote veteran-friendly platform

03/16/2015 06:04 PM

ELIZABETHTOWN — Republican gubernatorial candidate Will T. Scott, clad in a bright blue jumpsuit, was still catching his breath on Monday as he explained his six-point plan for Kentucky’s veterans after gliding to the earth from 3,500 feet.

Parachuting is nothing new for the 67-year-old Vietnam veteran who served as a paratrooper in the war.

Campaigning, too, is old hat for the former Kentucky Supreme Court justice who previously mounted unsuccessful bids for Congress and attorney general, and he hopes stunts like skydiving garner enough attention to overcome three well-funded opponents and poor early polling numbers two months before the May 19 primary.

“As often as it takes to get you here so I can talk to your people and they know who the justice and the sheriff are,” said Scott, referencing himself and running mate Scott Coffey, when asked how often he would put himself at risk in the campaign.

Such is life trailing early in a contentious four-way race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Scott received 8 percent support among respondents in the latest Bluegrass Poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for The Courier-Journal, WHAS-TV, The Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV. The survey, released Tuesday, showed former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner leading the candidates with 28 percent support and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin tied in second with 20 percent apiece, with 25 percent of respondents undecided.

Much of Scott’s remarks after landing Monday centered on his ticket’s vision for those in the military, such as helping veterans find work through preferential hiring, supporting the Kentucky Supreme Court’s treatment courts for veterans who break the law, building veterans’ cemeteries in western and far eastern Kentucky, and staging a “coming home” rally for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars on Dec. 8, the next governor’s inauguration day.

Scott said a “respected, national figure” will address the gathered veterans, but he declined to identify the individual. “We have discussions ongoing and that’s as far as I will go, but believe me, they’re coming,” he said.

Such a ceremony would be personal for Scott, who said people spat on him and called him “baby killer” when he returned from Vietnam.

Monday’s skydiving exhibition was more media event than campaign rally as about a dozen supporters gathered at Elizabethtown Regional Airport.

“Let me put it this way: I’ve got a story to tell for the men and women that’ve kept us safe 25 years. Would you be here asking me a question if I didn’t jump out of an airplane?” Scott asked. “I think that answers it. … I want to tell their story. To get you all here sometimes I have to do this.”

Supporters like former state representative Mike Nemes say Scott will close the gaps between himself and the other three candidates as the primary nears.

Nemes, who lost to Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, last year, called Scott “the most respectable candidate” in the gubernatorial field.

“The only thing the polls are showing is name recognition,” Nemes said. “They’re not showing how the voters will react. Right now the people are really not paying a lot of attention, and I think that if the attention comes with all four, they’ll see he’s the best man and he’ll win.”

Funding shouldn’t concern Scott, he added.

Heiner has loaned his campaign $4.2 million as of the most recent campaign finance report, and Bevin tapped into his bank account in last year’s challenge against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Comer has raised nearly $1.1 million since entering the race in September.

“There’s been a lot of people win with little or no money,” Nemes said.

Although attendees were spares, a well-recognized face joined Scott’s supporters in watching him parachute back to earth.

Neal James, sidekick of Ernie “Turtleman” Brown in Animal Planet’s “Call of the Wildman,” said he met Scott in recent years while helping tornado-ravaged areas of eastern Kentucky.

James, who clipped a campaign button to his overalls and plucked the banjo while waiting for Scott’s skydiving trek, recounted a moment he says represents the former Supreme Court justice’s character.

The two were in a Pikeville parking lot when a large man approached them.

“He says, ‘I want to get me a picture with the banjo man,’ so he grabbed me around the neck,” said James, of Stanford. “He said, ‘Naw come here judge, I’ll get a picture with you too,’ so he grabbed Will T. Next thing I know the big guy says, ‘Judge sent me to the pen for 10 years.’

“Well I about passed out. I’m thinking this is going to be bad, and the judge looked him right in the eye and he said, ‘Yes I did.’ … The guy teared up and said, ‘But I had it coming.’”

Watch clips of Scott’s skydiving excursion here:

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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