The April 20 political forum drew a light crowd at the LaRue County Courthouse.
The forum, sponsored by LaRue County Farm Bureau and LaRue County Chamber of Commerce, attracted about 90 people – mostly family members and supporters of the candidates.
All four seats of LaRue Fiscal Court are up for grabs this year and three races will be settled in the May 18 primary.
District 1 – Hodgenville and Hodgenville West
Democratic incumbent Peggy Hawkins faces a challenge from Gary “Tony” Stewart in District 1.
Hawkins, 67, is running for her fifth term as magistrate. The self-described “people person” is active in her church and community and one of a handful of female magistrates in the state.
Stewart, 55, is a member of Land of Lincoln Planning and Zoning, an employee of Hardin County Road Department and a licensed referee.
He said his experience with the road department and dealing with the controversy as referee gives him the experience needed to be magistrate.
The audience-generated questions included “Would you ever consider raising taxes” and “What needs to be improved in your district?”
Neither would rule out the possibility of raising taxes “to sustain luxuries” the county has come to expect.
Stewart said he’d “rather pay a little bit more” and be able to keep services such as ambulance, 911 service and law enforcement.
Hawkins doesn’t think anyone would want to raise taxes but she “can’t say she never would.”
Stewart said he had talked to several people who had concerns about the distance between hydrants in case of a fire and other safety issues. He said he would work with the mayor and law enforcement about some of those issues.
Hawkins said she couldn’t do much about roads since the district is mostly in the city limits, but she has heard some complaints about ditch lines. She would like also to see improvements in Parks and Recreation.
In closing, Stewart said he would like to see the county provide more opportunities for young people.
Hawkins noted that fiscal court has balanced the budget every year she had been magistrate even though insurance, fuel costs and asphalt have increased in cost.
District 2 – Hodgenville East, White City, Lyons
In District 2, incumbent Scotty Lee faces challenge from three other Democrats – Thomas S. “Tom” Smith, Ricky Whitlock and Ronnie Chelf.
Lee, 47, the owner of Lee’s Garden Center, is in his 19th year as magistrate. He said he is proud of his track record and how the county has advanced emergency services and roads and kept a balanced budget.
“We’re one of the few counties that don’t have an insurance premium tax, occupational tax or ambulance tax,” he said.
He pointed out expanded industry such as Konsei, the acquisition and development of the LaRue County Environmental Education and Research Center and increased tourism.
Chelf, 56, is in his 14th year of serving on the LaRue County School Board. His term expires in two years. If elected as magistrate, he said he will step down as school board member.
Chelf, a small business owner, said it is time for him to move forward and he’d like to see “everyone working together.”
Chelf said he would look at the overall picture in terms of needed improvement. Potential new residents look at schools, jobs and recreation before moving. He’d like to see more business and development in all districts.
He noted that several churches have built recreational areas for children. He’d like to see the county do something for youth also.
Smith, 63, the owner of a horse and buggy business in Lyons Station, said he has been interested in politics for many years and has taken law enforcement classes.
Serving on fiscal court requires more than “two days a month,” he said.
He’d like to see improvements on several county roads, especially those that need widening and draw more industry to the county.
Whitlock, 51, a car sales manager for 13 years and former construction worker, said his background enabled him to be flexible as businesses “change all the time.”
He said he would talk to people in his district and ask their opinion before a vote is taken in fiscal court.
“… when it comes time to vote, I’ll vote the way they want,” he said.
Whitlock noted that people who live farther out in the county need as much help with services as those who live closer to town.
District 3 – Buffalo, Lincoln Farm, Otter
Republican incumbent Bryan “Stumpy” Durham is giving up his seat in District 3 to run for jailer.
Four Democrats are running for the seat – Ronald Dale Nunn, Tommy DeSpain, Larry Elliot and Willard Lee Price. The winner of the May primary will face Republican challenger Debbie Atherton in the fall.
Nunn, 68, served on the LaRue County School Board two years, as constable four years and deputy sheriff for 25 years. He was a factory worker 30 years.
He read off a long list of “needs” he compiled as he talked to people in district 3. For instance, several roads in the Otter area have been damaged by logging trucks and need repairs.
He learned several things as he campaigned: “There are more dogs in the third district than there are people” (he was dog bit as he campaigned) and “A lot of people don’t know what a magistrate does.”
DeSpain, 55, retired from Kentucky Department of Transportation after 27 years and served as supervisor for City of Hodgenville for one year.
His experience would be helpful, he said, in knowing how to fix some roadway issues, especially road drainage.
“A lot of concerns I’ve been told (about) are very cheap fixes,” he said.
They were asked questions ranging from raising taxes to constructing a sewer plant in Buffalo.
Both men said they would agree to raise taxes, if needed, with reluctance. They agreed that considerable research would need to be done before considering a sewer plant for the small community.
Elliott, Price and Atherton did not attend the forum.
Elliott said he was unable to attend due to job obligations. He recently started a job with evening hours and is in his probationary period.
District 4 – Magnolia, Upton, Mount Sherman, Barren Run
Incumbent W.L. Miller is seeking a second term as magistrate. He is being challenged by fellow Democrats Eddie Thompson and Pat Eastridge.
Miller, 47, works in the maintenance department for the LaRue County Board of Education. He said he enjoys being able to help his neighbors as magistrate.
He wants to continue his work, seeing that fire departments, ambulance service and the soil conservation district are properly funded.
Eastridge, 53, was magistrate of the district for eight years, losing by six votes in the last election. He’s a retired dairy farmer and maintenance supervisor for Winterwood Inc. in Elizabethtown.
Eastridge said one of his goals as magistrate was to see that “everyone who came to the courthouse was treated the same.”
Both said they’d prefer making cuts to raising taxes if needed.
Thompson did not attend the forum.
Requirements for magistrate: At the time of election, must be at least 24 years of age, a citizen of Kentucky, has resided in the State two years, and one year next preceding his election in the county and district in which he is a candidate.
By state law, Fiscal Court works with the judge/executive to oversee county spending and the road system. Each magistrate (also called justice of the peace) is elected to a four-year term. (Salaries are about $578.69 monthly and are adjusted annually by the consumer price index.)