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Who Will Lead Campbell County?

Election Day is upon us and the key battleground in Northern Kentucky in this cycle is Campbell County. 

Judge-Executive Steve Pendery, a Republican, faces an aggressive challenge from County Commissioner Ken Rechtin, a Democrat. The two have served together at the Fiscal Court for a dozen years and on Tuesday find themselves on the ballot against each other for the first time.

Only one incumbent county commissioner is on the ballot. Republican Brian Painter looks to keep his seat by fending off a challenge from Rene Heinrich, a member of the Highland Heights City Council. Republican incumbent Pete Garrett was ousted in the primary by Charlie "Coach" Coleman who faces Democrat Melanie Steidel Pelle, a longtime member of the Silver Grove Board of Education. The race to fill the seat being vacated by Rechtin features Ft. Thomas City Councilman Tom Lampe on the Republican side and first time candidate Mark Ramler, of Newport, on the Democratic side.

Campbell County is also home to a competitive State Senate campaign as longtime Senator Katie Stine, a Southgate Republican is retiring. Democratic school principal Jason Steffen is running against Republican prosecutor Wil Schroder for the right to represent Campbell (and Bracken & Pendleton Counties) in Frankfort.

At recent forums, the candidates were asked to tackle issues that affect the entire region, including how to proceed with funding for the estimated $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.

"I absolutely oppose tolls," Steffen said. "The tolls are going to be a burden on the people of Northern Kentucky. This is a federal project and it's going to have to be paid for by the federal government."

Schroder said he favors Senator Mitch McConnell's plan, which would eliminate prevailing wage for projects like the Brent Spence. "I think it comes down to this," Schroder said. "The Mountain Parkway, the Bert Combs Highway, that expansion is going to come from state funds and then the governor turns around and expects the people of Northern Kentucky to bear the brunt of the Brent Spence Bridge? ... I'm going to fight to bring appropriate and fair funding back to this area."

(On repealing prevailing wage in Kentucky and adopting so-called "Right to Work" legislation, Schroder is in favor while Steffen opposes the move.)
 
Rechtin also opposes tolls. "I don't believe we should toll the Brent Spence Bridge," he said, the entirety of his remarks on the topic at the last candidates forum hosted by the Independent Business Association of Northern Kentucky at Devanna's on the Lake in Cold Spring.
 
"This is one of those areas where you actually need someone to tell you what you need to know rather than what you want to hear," Pendery said. "The fact is, in sixteen years of trying, we haven't figured out a way to get the feds to own up to what earlier speakers were talking about. ... The problem is, Frankfort hasn't seen fit to fund the bridge."
 
 
All of the county commission candidates oppose tolls. Though the bridge connects Covington in Kenton County to Cincinnati, the concern is that anticipated traffic diversion would impact Campbell County cities and interstate access.
 
"It would be terrible. 471 would be shut down by everybody trying to avoid tolls on the 75 bridge," Heinrich said.
 
"Absolutely not, on tolls," Painter said.
 
"Our bridge is structurally sound," Coleman said. "We pay eighteen cents a gallon every time we buy gas for new bridges. It's the federal government's responsibility. The traffic on 471 is going to be tremendous. No on tolls."
 
"No on tolls for me also," Steidel Pelle said. "All it's going to do is redirect traffic to other roadways in Campbell County and we're going to have traffic in places we've never had before. The federal government needs to step up and address this problem."
 
"No on tolls," said Ramler. "This is an interstate, a federal project. The federal government should pay for it. It would have a devastating effect on Campbell County. Additional traffic on 275, 471, and in cities. We're not going to have the additional money to pay for those street repairs."
 
"I am also against tolls as a consumer," Lampe said. "If we're going to get it done, unfortunately it may happen. We need to figure out if we need a bridge and how the federal government can fund it."
 
(The county commission candidates all oppose a county-wide smoking ban, too.)
 
Up and down the ballot in Campbell, there are competitive races. Republican Mike Jansen and Democrat Scott Hildebrand are running for the open Sheriff's seat (Jansen beat incumbent Jeff Kidwell in the May primary). Republican Jim Luersen is running against Democrat Marc Muench for the open County Clerk's job. Republican Daniel Braun is seeking another term as Property Valuation Administrator but is being challenged by Democrat Andrea Janovic. Republican James Daley hopes to remain Jailer and is fighting off Democrat Ed Hehman.
 
The River City News will have the fastest results on Tuesday right here at RCNky.com, at our Facebook page, and on Twitter. Our Election Show begins streaming live right here starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, and features RCN editor Michael Monks, Fort Thomas Matters editor & publisher Mark Collier, and author & political writer Rick Robinson.
 
-Staff report