Two of the three candidates for Kentucky Senate District 2 squared off Thursday morning at the Carson Center before the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Bob Leeper, the incumbent, and Rex Smith, the Democratic challenger, fielded questions from reporters, submitted questions from Chamber members and from each other. The GOP candidate, Mike Easton, did not appear.
Leeper was in good humor for the early morning debate. When asked what he’s done in his twenty years as a legislator, he joked that he had worked for road projects “which I’m sure my opponent will appreciate” in a jab at construction company owner Rex Smith.
As expected, the men disagreed more than they agreed. Even when they agreed, they found something to disagree over. Smith, who opposes casino gambling, is willing to put the issue on the ballot and let the voters decide. Leeper, who also opposes casino gambling, said that the Kentucky constitution does not sanction referendums and putting the question on the ballot would be a referendum.
Mike Mallory of Channel 6 News asked Leeper about the consolidated high school project in Paducah still on the drawing board because bids for construction came in too high. Leeper refused to speculate on the reason behind the stalled project and cryptically said that “he would not criticize other elected officials and he hoped they would not criticize him.”
Smith said that he wasn’t personally familiar with the issue, but in his experience, projects are bid high when they are overengineered or overdesigned. He recommended going back to the plan.
In his closing remarks, Rex Smith brought up the rescue of Chilean miners from the day before. He said wonderful things could happen and that voters had the choice between the status quo and someone new. Smith reminded the crowd that he is a businessman who has created many jobs, a theme that he has repeated often on the campaign trail. Smith said that the government in Frankfort is broken and new people need to be sent to the General Assembly who are not career politicians.
In his closing remarks, Leeper characterized himself as an outsider in Frankfort, a reminder to the audience of his official status as an independent. Leeper went to Frankfort first as a Democrat, then switched to Republican, then made the move to Independent. Despite the changes, voters in the 2nd District keep sending him back to the Legislature. In the same two minutes, Leeper also reminded the audience that he holds a powerful influential position as Senate budget chair. He told the crowd that the position would be lost if he is defeated.