By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
BURLINGTON - With his family at his side and an American flag tie around his neck, state Rep. Charlie Walton stood in front of the Boone County Courthouse and jumped into a political race Tuesday that Republican Party leaders fear will tear into the foundation of the Northern Kentucky GOP.
During a press conference attended by about 20 of his supporters, Walton, 56, an elementary school principal and 11-year statehouse veteran from Florence, formally announced that he will challenge Senate President Pro Tem Richard "Dick" Roeding, R-Lakeside Park, in the May 2004 Republican primary.
"It wasn't a bad thing when Thomas Jefferson ran against John Adams for president," Walton said. "You've got two good people out there running, two people who have similar ideologies but also some different ideas about how to accomplish what this Senatorial district needs."
Kentucky's 11th State Senate District covers all of Boone County and eight precincts in Kenton County. Here is the breakdown of Republican voters in the two counties.
Boone County - 28,032 Republicans countywide.
Kenton County - 2,984 in the following precincts: Lakeside Park 1,2 and 3; Crescent Springs 3; Crestview Hills 1 and 2; Fort Mitchell 7; and Erlanger 8.
Walton said he will not "go negative" and attack Roeding, but instead will campaign "on road issues, education issues, economic development issues."
Union resident Bernie Kunkel, a leading Boone County Republican, introduced Walton, saying he "always stands for what is right no matter who opposes him."
"(Walton) has always worked to limit the size, cost and reach of big state government even when a new program just sounds so very good to many people because Charlie understands that our freedom and liberties are of paramount importance," Kunkel said. "This statesman sees the proper role of government as the watchdog that protects our lives."
While Walton has proven to be a popular among voters, key local and state Republicans are concerned about his campaign against Roeding, viewed by many GOP loyalists as a party standard bearer.
And as much as party leaders are trying to downplay geography, the race is certain to be viewed as Boone County against Kenton County. In that case Boone County has a huge advantage, with nearly 29,000 registered Republicans in the 11th Senate District compared to just 2,894 Republicans in the eight Kenton County precincts in the district.
The district also includes rural Gallatin County, which has just 951 registered Republicans.
"I don't think it is going to be Boone County versus Kenton County," said Kenton County GOP Chairman Greg Shumate. "A number of Boone County Republicans have already talked to me about their support for Dick Roeding."
Shumate said Roeding would have the full or near unanimous backing of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee and the county's many Republican elected officials.
"Normally I'm all in favor of competition," Shumate said. "However, this race seems to have all the earmarks of a divisive race. It's one thing to target someone who is not going a good job, but it's another thing to target someone who has done a darn good job representing Northern Kentucky."
Yet Walton said Roeding has been unable to effectively address several issues, including increasing education aid for local schools and returning more state tax dollars to Boone County.
Boone County, one of Kentucky's fastest growing counties, receives only about 35 cents back from every tax dollar it sends to Frankfort, Walton said.
"That needs to change," he said.
Walton also said he would work to improve funding and opportunities for post-secondary education, including working to fund an arena at Northern Kentucky University.
GOP leaders reportedly huddled with Walton Monday night to try and talk him out of the race, making that case that Roeding, 72, the No. 2 Republican in the GOP-controlled Kentucky Senate, plans to run once more and then retire.
Walton would then likely be the frontrunner for the 2008 nomination, he was told.
But Walton balked, saying Tuesday he will stay in the race because Boone County needs a more effective voice in Frankfort.
"It's not my intent to rip anybody or rip the party apart," he said. "My intent is to have two good people running for office. That's what the political process is all about."
Walton said he believes he can win the race by raising about $150,000. Roeding supporters said they would raise twice that.
"It's not always about money," Walton said. "It's also about getting your people out to work for you, and I'll do that."
Though he claims he has not decided whom he will support, Boone County Republican Party Chairman Ed Moore sounded Tuesday as if he will back Roeding.
"You just don't treat a senior statesman this way," Moore said. "This has the potential to split the party wide open."
Roeding can also expect help from his fellow Senate Republicans, said Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.
"I don't see how (Walton) can make an argument that there needs to be change," Williams said. "Roeding has held down taxes, has done a great job for Northern Kentucky, has policy expertise on issues dealing with insurance and health issues.
"(Walton) has never come to me to ask for anything for Boone County," Williams said. "I think he is making a bad political move."
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