Sunday, June 8, 2003

Ky. Politics


Local GOP getting ready to sling some mud

FORT MITCHELL - Just three weeks ago, Northern Kentucky Republicans were one big happy political clan, gearing up to try to win the governor's mansion for the first time since the early 1970s.

Today, the party is in a tizzy. The Republicans have a 2004 primary many didn't want. State Rep. Charlie Walton, a Florence Democrat, has challenged President Pro Tem Dick Roeding of Lakeside Park. Party officials are frenzied. Loyal activists are choosing sides, or ducking. Contributors are getting ready to write checks to both. The mud is being readied to sling. The fur is set to fly.

"This race," said Kenton County GOP Chairman Greg Shumate, "seems to have all the hallmarks of a divisive race."

The fight is over the 11th Senate District, which includes all of Boone County, home to nearly 30,000 registered Republicans, and some Dixie Highway suburbs in Kenton County, home to the region's old-line GOP. Party leaders are trying to portray this as not a battle over geography.

Anybody who believes that would buy stock from Bruce Lunsford. This is a turf war if there ever were.

Walton hails from Boone County, the Mecca of the Northern Kentucky GOP and the largest Republican-controlled county in Kentucky. Walton and his backers say it's time for Boone County to have its own senator. They are already assailing Roeding for not doing a better job as senator, specifically for not landing more state dollars for Northern Kentucky schools.

Roeding lives in the Kenton County portion of the district, which has fewer than 3,000 registered Republicans. His backers are taking a "how-dare-he?" approach toward Walton, angry that he is going after the pol many in the party view as its senior statesman. Roeding is No. 2 in Senate GOP leadership. And he already has the support of some high-profile Boone County Republicans, including county GOP chairman Ed Moore.

Walton, according to the Roeding camp, has had plenty of chances to get something done for schools as a member of the House education committee. But he failed to deliver. He also was just one of two Northern Kentucky lawmakers to vote against funding the convention center that is now standing in downtown Covington. And they say should Walton win, he will be even less effective in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Senate President David Williams has already expressed displeasure with Walton's decision to run against his No. 2 guy.

This race also has the underpinning of a battle between the two major factions of the local GOP, the religious and social conservatives who have their greatest hold in Boone County, and the traditional white-collar business-friendly Republicans who populate the Kenton County burbs.

In many ways, this will be a fight between Florence Baptist Church, a politically influential and active congregation where Walton belongs, and the Fort Mitchell Country Club, an enclave of Roeding backers.

Caught in the middle are the various GOP leaders, activists and elected officials. When word leaked out that Walton was running, it was fun to watch the posturing, scrambling and behind-the-scenes jockeying.

Shumate and Moore openly took sides. State legislators and elected county officials are also aligning with the candidates, but not openly. Members of the Conservative Forum, a group of young Republicans who will one day run both county parties, threw back breakfast at Bob Evans and decided to keep their powder dry.

But here's an early indicator to consider.

In last year's Boone County GOP primary, Roeding and Walton were on opposite sides of two Boone County races.

In the county attorney race, Roeding went with J.R. Schrand - the two are related - and backed Terri Moore in the county commissioner race. Walton went for Bob Neace for county attorney and Rita Byrd, a member of Florence Baptist, for commissioner.

The candidates backed by Roeding won.

E-mail Patrick Crowley at pcrowley@enquirer.com. Crowley interviews Sara Sidebottom of the Kentucky Commission on Women this week on ICN6's On The Record, which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.




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