With midterm elections on the ballot and numerous local offices up for the taking, Johnson County voters will head to the polls Tuesday to cast their vote in several races that will have a meaningful impact on the community and might act as an early predictor for 2019’s gubernatorial race, according to Big Sandy Community and Technical College history professor Dr. Thomas Matijasic.
With offices such as judge-executive, county commission, sheriff, Paintsville mayor and city council, county clerk, county attorney, constables, both boards of education and others, the midterm elections serve as an opportunity to effect change and a good indication of local sentiments toward the recent shift towards more conservative politicians in Kentucky, Matijasic said.
Johnson County primary elections saw several incumbents removed from ballots in races such as city council and county commissioners, but several office-holders are unopposed in the general election. Included in those unopposed are Anthony Skeans, who will be the sole candidate on the ballot for commonwealth’s attorney, Penny Adams, the sole candidate for circuit court clerk and Ann Conley Holbrook, who faces no challenge for county clerk.
Other unopposed races include county attorney, where Michael Endicott remains unopposed, and coroner, where incumbent Democrat J.R. Frisby remains in the race with no competition. The position of Johnson County surveyor is also unopposed, with Republican Clarence Scarberry remaining as the only candidate and voters will have only one choice — Republican Herbert E. Castle — in the magistrate’s race in Dist. 1.
Some of the more contended local races include the election for Johnson County sheriff, where Republican Doug Saylor, current Johnson County jailer, faces Democrat incumbent Dwayne Price and Johnson County judge-executive, in which Republican Mark McKenzie is facing off against incumbent Democrat Roger T. “Tucker” Daniel. The position of mayor of the City of Paintsville is also contended, between Bill Mike “Coach” Runyon and Inez Baldridge.
With Saylor running for sheriff, he has left the race for jailer to be contested between Republican Steve Rose and Democrat Jeffery Randall Hicks.
The race for Property Valuation Administrator will be between incumbent Democrat Michael “Dip” Stafford and Republican challenger James David Castle.
Only one incumbent county commissioner will remain on the ballots Tuesday, with Republican Kathy Adams surviving the primary for Dist. 1 and opposed by Democrat Calvin Music. In Dist. 2, a three-party race is taking place between three new candidates in Republican Mike “Mikey” Jarrell, Democrat Richard A. Rohr Jr. and Independent Danny K. Blevins. District 3 has a two-person race with Republican Tim “Barber Tim” Salyer facing off against Democrat Delbert Conley.
The midterm elections also include positions in the Paintsville City Council, where the race is to be decided between incumbent Patricia E. Nelson, Christopher Pierce, Roger “Bo” Belcher, David “Coach” Vanhoose, Tim Hall, Rick Preston, Sara Hopson Blair and Sarah Kimbler.
Half of each of Johnson County’s school boards are also up for re-election, with Johnson County Schools Board of Education seeing an unopposed race in Dist. 1 with Paul “P.R.” Greer and a race in District 4 between Bradley N. Frisby and Jesse B. Salyer.
In the Paintsville Independent School District, only incumbents are seeking re-election in Marvin B. “Butch” Walker, Joseph “Joe” Porter and H. Kenneth Fuller.
Johnson County constables will be selected in the upcoming election, with Dist. 1 Constable James “Redeye” Castle, a Republican, running unopposed, a race in Dist. 2 between Republican James Ryan Caudill and Democrat Bryan Keith Castle and a race in District 3 between Republican David Pridemore and Democrat Toby McKenzie.
Up for grabs at the national level is the race for 5th Congressional District U.S. Representative in Congress between Republican incumbent Harold “Hal” Rogers and Democrat Kenneth Stepp.
At the state level, Johnson County voters will choose between Republican Brandon Smith and Democrat Paula Clemons-Combs for state senator for the 30th District.
These elections can provide hints as to how the populace feels about Republican leadership such as has been demonstrated by Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration since his election in 2016, according to Matijasic, and may help shed light on how that election might turn out ahead of the beginning of even campaigning for 2020.
“In this particular year, I think the midterms are very, very important because, you know, in 2016, for the first time since 1920, the republicans took control of the Kentucky House. And so, there’s a large question as to whether voters approve of how they’ve handled the state in the last two years, or if they’re rejecting the way inwhich, the direction in which the state is going. And, if the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives here in Kentucky, that will show a certain amount of disapproval towards Gov. Bevin. So, I think a lot of people are looking at this election as a preview for next year, when Gov. Bevin runs for re-election.”
He said some Republican candidates appear to be “distancing themselves” from Bevin.
“Larry Brown is, of course, touting his independence, particularly with regard to the reform of the teacher pension fund, and you can also see state Senator (Brandon) Smith, who’s running for re-election. He is actually touting the fact that he’s been endorsed by the Kentucky Education Association and that he voted against changes in the pension formula. So, you have kind of an interesting dynamic that’s going on there, and I’m not sure it will work for those folks.”
On election night, Matijasic said, he will be keeping a close eye on the Dist. 97 state representative race, in which newcomers Craig Lindon, a Democrat, and Bobby McCool, a Republican, are seeking election to a seat held by a Republican who did not seek re-election.
“A lot of people are looking at that races as sort of a bellwether for what’s going to happen next year,” Matijasic said. “I’m really keeping an eye on that. I think that’s a very, very important race. What people who are supporting Craig Lindon are trying to do is they’re trying to associate, or I should say, give Bobby guilt by association because he is a Republican, then he must defend Gov. Bevin’s plans for pension reform and other things, whereas Bobby has kind of been value-neutral with regard to that, hasn’t spoken a lot to it, and Criag Lindon, of course, is pledging that he will support the teachers in the next session to make sure that their benefits are going to be secure, so I think that’s going to be very, very important.
Turnout could also be a strong factor in these midterms, according to a report from Kentucky Today, which reported that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes is predicting less than 46 percent of Kentucky voters will turn out on Tuesday.
According to Kentucky Today, Grimes said this percentage would fall in line with prior midterms, but that she hoped for higher turnout.
“My projection Is that the 2018 General Election will be consistent with prior mid-terms, at 46 percent or above,” Grimes said. “That being said, my hope is the voters of Kentucky prove me wrong and that we don’t have nearly 60 percent of Kentuckians sitting on the sidelines.”
Absentee voting totals slightly ahead of Kentucky’s last midterm election in 2014, according to Kentucky Today.
Johnson County Clerk Sallee Ann Conley Holbrook said Johnson County voters generally have a turnout of more than 50 percent, apart from this year’s primary, in which only 5,040 of the 18,027 registered voters in Johnson County participated, representing 28 percent of the voter base in the county.
“Johnson County generally has a turnout of over 50 percent, such as in the last presidential election, I believe we had 58 percent turnout, but I still wish more people would vote,” Holbrook said. “Every vote does count and it’s our right. There have been a lot of people who have fought and died for that privilege and everyone should exercise that right.”
Polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday and remain open until 6 p.m., and anyone who is still in line when polls close will still be able to cast their vote. In-person absentee voting is available until close of business on Nov. 5. For more information on where to vote, contact the Johnson County Clerk’s office by phone at, (606) 789-2557, or visit, vote.org, where you can input your address and find your nearest polling place.