A Republican polling memo obtained by the Herald-Leader shows Agriculture Commissioner James Comer with a commanding early lead over former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner in the 2015 gubernatorial primary.
While neither man has announced a run for governor, both have indicated they’re likely to do so.
The poll, conducted by Robert Blizzard at Public Opinion Strategies, found Comer leading Heiner 42 percent to 14 percent among 400 Republican primary voters between Feb. 26-27. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Blizzard and Public Opinion Strategies have done polling for a number of Kentucky Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and state Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer.
Comer and other would-be candidates are prohibited from polling before officially launching a campaign, but Blizzard said in an email that “the poll was not paid for by any candidate, prospective candidate or political action committee.”
By Sam Youngman
Likely Republican gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner is working to make some allies in the Kentucky legislature.
Heiner, a former Louisville councilman and mayoral candidate, announced Wednesday he is launching a Super PAC, New Direction Kentucky, that will focus on helping Republicans in their effort to take back the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921.
“The Kentucky House of Representatives has been controlled by a single party for almost a century,” Heiner said in a statement. “And in that time, Kentucky has fallen far behind our competitor states. Our unemployment remains high, our per-capita income ranks near the bottom of the country, and our budget is a complete disaster.”
He continued: “We have almost one hundred years of evidence to demonstrate that House Democrats are more interested in taking care of themselves and protecting the status quo, at the expense of Kentucky’s well-being. As we look to other states like Tennessee and Indiana that have experienced explosive economic growth, the common factor is that those states elected a Republican legislature that went on to pass pro-growth economic legislation with a focus on job attraction.”
Heiner is expected to announce a run for governor soon. He told the Herald-Leader in early December that he was looking to enter the 2015 race early in the new year.
“I’m a firm believer in marathon campaigns where people get to know the actual candidates and don’t have to rely on a 30-second TV spot produced by some group out of Washington, DC to decide who to vote for,” Heiner told the Herald-Leader.
Heiner joins other state Republicans in believing 2014 is the year the GOP can finally win control of the House.
Tuesday’s filing deadline brought the picture into focus somewhat, revealing that 45 of the House’s 100 seats will be contested in the General Election.
The steering committee for Heiner’s group involves several well-known Republicans, including Madisonville attorney Todd P’Pool, banker Terry Forcht and Larry Cox, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, another Republican considering a bid for governor in 2015, said he is “110 percent” in favor of Heiner’s group as long as it “has the primary objective to support Republican House members”
“But if it becomes a vehicle by which to promote Hal Heiner for governor, then obviously there will be some legal issues there,” Comer said. “We’ll have to see how it spend its money. The roll-out today was all about him. I think the focus should be on House Republican candidates.”
Comer said two members of the PAC’s board contacted him Wednesday to tell him “their focus is to flip the House and that if I decided to run for governor, they are 110 percent in support of me.”
Comer declined to identify the board members.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Louisville businessman Hal Heiner might be eyeing each other and the governor’s mansion as if next month starts 2015 instead of 2014, but the Republican field doesn’t appear to be set.
Cathy Bailey of Louisville, who was former President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Latvia, told the Herald-Leader Monday in a text message that she is “seriously considering” a run for governor in 2015.
“First, we have to stay focused on 2014,” Bailey said, noting efforts to put Republicans in control of the state House for the first time since 1921 and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign.
Bailey agreed with the estimate that she is “95 percent” sure she will run, adding that her husband is completely on-board with the idea.
Speculation that Bailey might jump in the race is nothing new. She acknowledged considering a run in 2011, and a number of state Republicans were disappointed when she didn’t.
By Sam Youngman
LOUISVILLE — Hal Heiner and his wife Sheila call their stately home and the 170 acres surrounding it Dovelyn, a reference to its large dove population and the peace he says those birds bring them.
Heiner’s peaceful days are probably about to end.
With about a year and half to go until the primary elections for Kentucky governor in May 2015, Heiner is nearing an announcement that he will run, looking to make it official early in the new year.
“I’m a firm believer in marathon campaigns where people get to know the actual candidates and don’t have to rely on a 30-second TV spot produced by some group out of Washington, DC to decide who to vote for,” said Heiner, a Republican.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader on a wooded bluff just a short ATV trek from his house, Heiner said it will take “most of 2014 and 2015″ for Kentuckians to get to know him.
A multimillionaire and former Louisville metro councilman, Heiner said he plans to spend some of his own money at the beginning of his campaign to offset his lack of name identification outside of Louisville and Kentucky’s “strict” campaign finance laws.
Heiner, a soft-spoken man clad in jeans, a flannel shirt and barn coat, said he thinks early jockeying for the Republican nomination will die down over the next year. That behind-the-scenes maneuvering exploded into public view after likely gubernatorial candidate James Comer, the state’s agriculture commissioner, declared his independence from GOP “party bosses” during an October speech.
By Sam Youngman
Herald-Leader Political Writer
It was one of those full-body laughs where the person rears their head back.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul had just stood next to Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in Louisville and praised Comer for returning $1.65 million to taxpayers when the Lexington Herald-Leader asked the senator what lessons he had learned from weeks of media scrutiny and criticism over multiple accounts of plagiarism.
“Not everybody likes me,” Paul said, cracking up.
He was in a great mood, back on friendly soil with one of his top allies in the state.
Looking ahead to 2015, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Paul and Comer will unite to make a powerful duo as one man runs for the White House and the other vies to move into the governor’s mansion in Frankfort.
The two men, both underestimated by their opponents at almost every turn, have each others’ backs. While both are at least a year away from making any formal announcements, they are making moves behind the scenes that will make them more powerful when they do.
Plans are underway to base Paul’s presidential run in Louisville, where on Friday night Republicans from all over the state gathered for a Paul fundraiser. Comer introduced the senator, and Jesse Benton, a longtime Paul operative and campaign manager to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced to the crowd that both McConnell and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, were maxing out donations to Paul, including a check from McConnell’s PAC.
LOUISVILLE — One by one, Republicans and Democrats stood in front of veterans and farmers Monday and lauded the work of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.
Perhaps nobody had more nice things to say about Comer than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who put to rest for the time being any lingering suspicions about whether he was covertly backing Louisville businessman Hal Heiner over Comer in the 2015 GOP primary for governor.
Comer, a likely Republican candidate in the race, told a Somerset audience last week that he “cannot be controlled,” warning unnamed party leaders about interfering in the race more than two years out.
“I just appreciate the opportunity to come by and pat you on the back for another good idea,” McConnell told Comer and the assembled crowd, which included U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
Comer was lauded at the Frazier History Museum for his stewardship of the Homegrown by Heroes program, a marketing tool that allows farmers who are also veterans to display the program logo on their goods or services.
The event Monday was to announce that the program will become a national model and to accept a check for $250,000 from Farm Credit Mid-America for the expanded program.
Comer was ebullient at the event, emceeing as officials spoke, and delighting in the early success of the program his office created in January.
“When you see the Homegrown by Heroes label, that means that Kentucky Proud product was produced in Kentucky by a Kentucky military veteran or by a Kentucky military veteran-owned small business,” Comer said.
McConnell, who noted the “mess over in Frankfort” that Comer inherited from convicted former commissioner Richie Farmer, said he had “never seen anybody clean up a mess faster.”
“I’m here today… to salute you, commissioner, for the great job that you’re doing, and to thank all our veterans, particularly those that are going into agriculture, for all you do,” McConnell said.
McConnell and his two Senate race opponents — veteran and Republican businessman Matt Bevin and Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes — participated in Monday’s Veteran’s Day parade in Louisville.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson will not be attending next month’s Fancy Farm political picnic, state Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon said Wednesday.
Logsdon said in an email that Beshear has a prior commitment related to job creation efforts, but “looks forward to attending next year in support of local, legislative and U.S.Senate Democratic candidates, including Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.”
Logsdon said in a phone interview that Abramson, who is expected to say by mid-August whether he will run for governor in 2015, will miss the picnic because of a family commitment.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Three former state agriculture employees agreed Monday to pay a total of $15,500 in fines to settle ethics charges that stemmed from their employment under former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.
In March, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission issued 42 ethics charges against Farmer, who was commissioner from 2004 to 2011. In addition, the commission charged six other former agriculture department employees and Farmer’s sister, Rhonda Monroe, an assistant director for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
On Monday, the commission announced settlements with three of the former agriculture employees: Bruce Harper, George “Doug” Begley and Chris Parsons.
The ethics charges against Farmer, Monroe and former agriculture employees William E. Mobley, Steven Mobley and Stephanie L. Sandmann are still pending, said John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer misused state resources to further his personal and political agendas prior to 2008, federal prosecutors allege in court documents filed late Friday.
Prosecutors said Farmer, who was agriculture commissioner from 2004 to 2011, was only charged with alleged improprieties from 2008 to 2011 because a five-year statute of limitations prohibits them from pursuing alleged wrongdoing before that time.
Still, prosecutors said they plan to introduce evidence about Farmer’s conduct prior to 2008 during trial to bolster their argument that Farmer had an “unwarranted sense of entitlement.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor said prosecutors plan to show that Farmer improperly influenced the hiring, promoting and rewarding of more employees than the three who are mentioned in an April indictment of Farmer.
Testimony and evidence also will show that Farmer, a former beloved University of Kentucky basketball player and once rising star in the Republican Party, tried to influence private vendors to provide goods and services to him or the department.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — A Franklin Circuit Court judge has given the state 30 days to tell the state’s two largest newspapers why it redacted and took out information from more than 140 case files of children who have been killed or nearly killed from abuse or neglect.
Franklin Circuit Court Judge Philip Shepherd also ordered Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes to appoint a high-level staffer to oversee the cabinet’s compliance with his order.
Shepherd’s decision on Thursday came after a nearly two-hour hearing in Franklin Circuit Court on the status of the case that has taken almost three years to litigate.
Shepherd said that he would like Haynes to appoint someone by June 10 to oversee the cabinet’s compliance with the Open Records Act. Shepherd also said that he hopes the cabinet will provide detailed explanations of why information was removed by June 10 but gave the cabinet some leeway in case it takes longer given the number of case files involved. The newspapers are asking for the case files of children who have been killed or nearly killed from abuse and neglect in 2009 and 2010.