For the first time since 1985, the 36th District race will not include Republican Lancaster businessman Lonnie Napier, who decided to retire from the legislature earlier this year during a heated redistricting battle in the House.
Vying for the seat that includes Garrard and part of Madison County are Republican Jonathan Shell, 24, a farmer from Garrard County, and Democrat Bradley "Bud" Montgomery, a business owner from Berea.
Republicans are hoping Shell can hold on to the district and help the party inch closer to the 10 net seats it needs to challenge Democratic control of the House that has lasted 91 years. For Democrats, getting back a district that has been in Republican control for 27 years would be especially sweet.
Napier, who supported Shell's primary opponent, Garrard Country Economic Development Director Nathan Mick, has largely stayed out of the general election race. However, he said it was not because he's withholding support the man who defeated his former aid.
"I'm still a Republican," Napier said.
Shell is a newcomer to state and local politics, having entered the race for Lancaster City Council during primary season before withdrawing and throwing his hat in the ring for an improbable victory in the Republican primary for the 36th District House seat.
He said he decided to run for the spot occupied by Napier for over a quarter of a century because the area and state need a fresh start.
"It doesn’t take much to look around and see we’re in a rut, our state isn’t growing economically, and young people are leaving in droves to go to other states to raise families," Shell wrote in an e-mail. "I do not want to raise a family in a country that I am not trying to change for the better. All of the political games and the petty hand wringing have gone too far and I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem."
Shell acknowledged that the state's massive pension liability, which has been estimated at over $30 billion, has to be addressed. He mentioned the concept of switching from a system of defined benefits to one of defined contributions, but said he was hesitant to do anything that may require bonding, which a transition to defined contribution may require.
In addition to changing the way new hires are enrolled in some version of a pension system, Shell said he supported the repeal of HB 299. Critics have dubbed the 2005 legislation the "Greed Bill," claiming it paved the way for legislators to amass larger retirements when they move to other government jobs in the future.
"I think the best way for us to lead as legislators would to be to get rid of full-time pensions for part-time legislators. If this is not possible, we should change this pension to a 401K-style plan."
Shell said antiquated tax codes and wasteful spending are plaguing his district and the state as a whole.
"What I propose is to change our tax system so that we can be competitive in our region again. We are allowing surrounding states like Tennessee and Indiana to pull jobs away from us," Shell wrote. "States like Tennessee and Indiana are continually leaving us behind because their tax structures are better equipped to deal with our economy."
Despite parties that remain at odds on major issues in Frankfort, Shell said the atmosphere in the state is changing and people are tired of partisanship. Regardless of whether the House swings to the Republican for the first time in generations, Shell said he is confident he would be able to break through gridlock.
"The people are looking for leaders not party hacks. Our state is in the shape it is in because there has not been leadership to cut through party lines and say 'it’s not going to be easy but this is how we need to do this.' I am that kind of leader."
Shell said voters should choose him because he will have an "open door" policy and remain accessible to constituents. He said he was led to serve the district in by his Christian faith and described himself as "a concerned citizen with the goal of becoming a statesmen."
"I am focused on the needs of the people in this district, not on running a negative campaign against my opponent. I am not focused on elaborating on my own resume but on expanding ways to improve the livelihood of my constituents when I get to Frankfort. "
Bud Montgomery of Berea has never held elected office, but he believes it is time for someone to serve both Madison and Garrard counties who is comfortable interacting with a wide range of constituents and fellow legislators. It's a task he said his experience as a business owner and civic leader have prepared him for.