Monday, September 1, 2003

Preoccupied voters ignore governor's race

There's too much else to worry about in Northern Kentucky

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

As he rolls his 31,000 pound tractor trailer loaded with steel up Interstate 65, trucker Alan Trutschel has a lot on his mind - Labor Day weekend plans, high school sports, the war in Iraq, gas prices, working on the hot rod in the garage of his Fort Thomas home.

But he hasn't been thinking about Ernie Fletcher and Ben Chandler, or their race for Kentucky governor. At least not yet.

"I'm just not focusing on the governor's race right now," Trutschel, 43, says over a cell phone as he speeds toward Gary, Ind., Wednesday afternoon. "There's too much going on in my life and in the world. I'll definitely get around to it eventually. But not right now."

Interviews last week with voters across Northern Kentucky indicate Trutschel is the norm when it comes to this year's governor race. Although Labor Day is viewed as the kickoff of the November election season, many voters aren't yet paying attention to a campaign that, including the May primary, has been going on for nearly a year.

Jewell Gibbons is sweeping the blacktop at the Boone County Farmers' Market in Burlington, waiting for customers. The lull in business is on her mind.

"The economy is bad, we've been slow out here lately," says Gibbons, 53, a Burlington resident who works for Fryar's Farm Market. "That's what I've been thinking about, when are things going to get better? And are they going to get better?"

Gibbons, who says she always votes, is slightly embarrassed when asked about the governor's race.

"Who's running again?" she sheepishly asks, then adds, "I do care. I'm a voter. Politics and government are important to me. I just haven't started paying attention to it yet."

Asked if her customers have mentioned the governor's race, Gibbons responds "not a one."


It is not a complete surprise that voters haven't latched on to following the race. Though some direct mail has begun flowing to homes, few yard signs have been erected, and television advertising - the method the reaches the most voters - has not yet started.

"Something needs to set a fire under people," says Campbell County Circuit Clerk Tom Calme. "People just don't seem to have any enthusiasm right now for this race."

This is the time of year when people have more on their minds than politics. Kids are back in school. Vacations are over. Football, soccer, fall TV shows and new fashions consume water cooler talk.

"People will get more tuned in as we get closer to Election Day," says Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass. "But I'm not sure how much interest we truly will see."

Snodgrass says primary turnout in Campbell County was just 10.1 percent, "and we had the highest turnout of any of the counties up here" in Northern Kentucky. He is hoping for turnout of 25 percent in the fall, and calls Secretary of State John Y. Brown III's prediction of 37 to 45 percent turnout statewide "a pipe dream."

There are voters like Bill Schmiade, the owner of The Grocery Bag in Taylor Mill. He tries daily to engage his customers in political discussions, but most don't care. "People don't think politics affects their lives when decisions government makes affects them every day," he said, his voice rising. "Health care. Education. Law enforcement. Are they fixing my road? Are they lowering my taxes? How can people say government doesn't affect their lives?"



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