Sunday, September 05, 1999

Democrats eye state Senate seat

Henson may oppose GOP's Westwood

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As we recover from last Thursday's Reform Party party thrown in Lexington by gubernatorial candidate Gatewood Galbraith and his good friend Willie Nelson, we refocus our bleary eyes on the more staid mainstream political scene.

Stalking Jack Westwood
        The Kentucky Democratic Party is putting the big push on Jaimie Henson, trying hard to convince the former Independence council member to take on Republican state Sen. Jack Westwood in 2000.

        Northern Kentucky political strategist Mark Guilfoyle, a Walton attorney, saw to it that Ms. Henson was invited to a fund-raiser for Senate Democrats held last week at the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort and hosted by Gov. Paul Patton.

        “She's not ready yet,” said a Democrat who was at the event, “but she's close to getting in the race.”

        Dems are already touting Ms. Henson's professional and community involvement, pointing out she is an international flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, a Sunday school teacher at Independence Christian Church, a volunteer band leader at St. Cecilia School and a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She joined MADD after her first husband, a Florida police officer, was killed by a drunk driver.

        “Jaimie Henson has a lot of attributes,” said Crestview Hills lawyer Dave Kramer, a member of the Kenton County Democratic Executive Committee and part of the team recruiting Ms. Henson for the race.

        “She's a working mom who under stands the challenges facing families and working people,” he said. “She's active with her kids and in their schools, is intelligent, opposes abortion on demand and has local government experience.

        “A lot of us are hoping she gets in the race.”

        Mr. Westwood, a one-term legislator from Erlanger elected in 1996, also has a good record of community involvement.

        He, too, is a Sunday school teacher, an elder at Lakeside Christian Church and a retired school teacher who now teaches at a private Christian school in Kenton County.

        And, Mr. Westwood is an active and supported member of the anti-abortion group Northern Kentucky Right to Life.

        Democrats are hoping to cut into Mr. Westwood's support by casting him as ineffective and lacking the clout to deliver legislation and money to Northern Kentucky.

        That didn't work when Mr. Westwood pulled off the stunning upset of long-time Democratic state Sen. Joe Meyer in the '96 race. It could be an even harder sell now that Mr. Westwood has almost four years of Statehouse experience under his belt.

        And he'll be able to run on the platform that the Republicans will be able to get more done and push their agenda since they now control the Senate.

        Mr. Westwood could be damaged by the Northern Kentucky medical community, which turned out big for him in 1996 by providing him campaign funds, workers, and lots of support and votes.

        But Mr. Westwood took a pass in last year's General Assembly session when it came time to vote on a bill that gradually eliminated the state's provider tax on doctors. That angered many of the docs who previously backed him, and members of the medical profession have been noticeably absent from Mr. Westwood's early fund-raising efforts.

        Republicans and members of the Westwood camp say they'll take any challenge seriously, but they aren't exactly spooked by the prospect of Ms. Henson's campaign.

        “She's an unknown Democrat in a Republican county,” said one GOP leader. “Bring it on.”

        Republicans point out that Mr. Westwood has already been campaigning and raising money most of this year, socking away $30,000 for next year's race.

        They contend the big money is still on the sidelines because Mr. Westwood has yet to officially draw a challenge. And if Ms. Henson does run, she may have a primary opponent if former Kenton County Commissioner Bernie Moorman, a Covington Democrat, gets in the race. However, many in and around Covington politics believe Mr. Moorman will try to win back the other political office he once held: mayor of Covington.

        Still, Republicans are wrong if they believe Mr. Westwood is unbeatable. Don't forget, late last year there were Republicans getting ready to line-up against him until party leaders stepped in to head off any interparty skirmishes.

Looking toward 2003
        The Frankfort rumor mill — stoked by reporters, pols, state workers and party officials — feeds on speculation that a politician might run for an office the way a dung beetle chows on, well, dung.

        So word is already going through the city that Republican Senate leader David Williams, a ringleader in the GOP's recent takeover of the Senate, would be a swell candidate for governor in 2003.

Did you itemize?
        So more leftovers, or should that be hangovers, remain from the Gatewood/Willie Nelson political rally, concert and excellent party last week in Lexington.

        Mr. Nelson has had some well-known tax problems.

        In 1990, the IRS seized the country music star's house and assets. Mr. Nelson said that on the advice of accountants, he borrowed $12 million to invest in tax shelters instead of paying the $2 million he owed — and found himself owing the IRS almost $17 million in back taxes, penalties and interest after the tax shelters were disallowed.

        He paid the back taxes, along with penalties and interest, in 1995.

        At a pre-concert press conference Mr. Nelson, who under Kentucky election law was allowed to donate his services to Mr. Galbraith's campaign, was asked who paid his expenses. “Maybe I'll write it off,” he joked.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or 502-875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at