Campbell Co. Judge/Executive Race is 3-Way Fight
The race for Campbell County Judge/Executive is similar to the one in 2014, with incumbent Judge/Executive Steve Pendery facing off against a current member of the fiscal court.
But this time, Republican Pendery's top opponent isn't a Democrat.
It's independent Commissioner Charlie Coleman, who changed his party affiliation earlier this year from GOP.
The underfunded Democrat in the race is Calvin Sidle, the 2016 Democratic nominee for Congress, who is hoping to play spoiler, or reap the awards from an internal squabble on the county's political right.
Pendery was first elected in 1998 and has survived challenges from the left and right nearly every election cycle since.
This year's campaign materialized long before the filing deadline.
Pendery and Coleman frequently butt heads at fiscal court meetings each month at meetings in Newport and Alexandria.
Only one will return to the court in January.
"I'm a conservative. The Republican Party of Campbell County, they are not conservative," Coleman told The River City News. "Look at the four of us on the fiscal court. We are all Republicans, but if you look at the voting records of the court, it doesn't express those conservative viewpoints."
Coleman said the fiscal court has raised taxes for fourteen consecutive years. During his time on the court, he has also battled with fellow commissioners Brian Painter and Tom Lampe, who each survived primary challenges in May.
"Each year the county ends the fiscal year with a surplus and then we raise taxes and I don't agree with that, among some other things," Coleman said. "I haven't changed. The party left me."
Coleman was elected four years ago after first knocking off an incumbent, Pete Garrett, in the Republican primary.
"I said I would keep my promise, I said I would be a voice of the taxpayers and I base my votes based on principles and not on the party line," Coleman said.
Coleman said that he believes Pendery suffers from a disconnect with county residents. He points out an increase in the 911 fee as one piece of evidence. County residents now pay $70 per year to fund 911 and to help pay for an upgrade to digital radios.
The cost to the county for the radios, Coleman said, is $4.8 million. The county borrowed funds on a 10-year term. Coleman believes the fee could have been lower, at around $60, and that the term of the loan could have been five years.
"A $25 increase is too much. The present judge said, it's only twenty-five. To him it's only twenty-five but to some people it's their prescriptions, to some people it would be their gas money for the week, or maybe lunch money," Coleman said.
Coleman also took exception with Pendery's appointments to the board of Sanitation District 1 and the Board of Health, in which he chose residents from Kenton County to represent Campbell County, including former longtime county administrator Robert Horine, who lives in Covington, to the SD1 board.
"We've got 92,000 people and Judge Pendery and Commissioners Lampe and Painter picked somebody from another county to represent our interests," Coleman said. "We were elected by Campbell Countians and we've got plenty of good people to represent us."
If elected, Coleman said that the county agenda would change. He would not raise taxes, and he would work to lower the 911 fee, he said.
"I was raised in Newport. I've been fortunate being raised in Newport because I got to see how people sometimes have to struggle to make it anywhere from paycheck to paycheck," Coleman said. "I see how it happens. I just think there's a disconnect with knowing how most people live."
Coleman was also upset by the county's support for a drug treatment facility in Cold Spring, which was opposed by neighbors there.
He also pointed to his work with labor activist Jim Cole to preserve Northern Kentucky University's Chase College of Law in Highland Heights after the university briefly flirted with relocating that operation to downtown Covington. "I formed that committee of five Republicans and five Democrats and look what we were able to achieve," Coleman said.
Calvin Sidle knows his chances of being elected judge/executive in Campbell County are slim. "I'd be happy with 20 percent," he told The River City News.
He's no stranger to unsuccessful political campaigns, though. He ran for city commission in Pikeville twice, in 2008 and 2012, and lost his bid for Congress here in Northern Kentucky in 2016.
He and his wife relocated to the area while his wife was attending Northern Kentucky University. They live in Highland Heights and have a new baby.
Sidle has a degree in political science but since graduating college, he has worked some low-paying jobs that drew his attention to "too many people who just slip through the cracks."
"I'm a college-educated white guy who comes from college-educated parents. I have every privilege that any person could expect to have, and I was barely eating every day," he said. "I don't know how anybody else makes it. If you're a minority, non-English speaking, I don't know how anybody makes it.
"Too many people are saying government needs to get out of the way, and that is just not the case."
Currently, Sidle drives full-time for Uber. During his drives, he communicates with passengers about issues that are important to them. In fact, that has been his main way of campaigning since he has raised no money for a proper race.
"The things I want to focus on are low-income housing, making it more available, and not just in Newport, not just in Bellevue and Dayton. We need affordable housing in Alexandria, we need it everywhere," Sidle said.
Public education and job opportunities are also important, Sidle said.
With many new jobs growing in Boone and Kenton counties, Campbell County needs to work to be able to provide proper transportation to its residents so that they can gain access to those opportunities, Sidle said.
"Amazon is a 24-hour company and we need 24-hour transportation," he said.
"I think we all recognize that in Campbell County, we have things OK, things are nice - but is nice good enough?," Sidle said. "Should we stop at nice?"
A lofty goal for Sidle is to have Campbell County be a zero-carbon county, defined as causing or resulting in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in ten years.
"I want to find out, how do we make that happen?"
(Editor's note: The River City News attempted to organize a debate between the candidates for judge/executive and while all were willing, we were not able to find a date that worked for everyone, including RCN. Judge Pendery was in regular contact with RCN as we tried to work out those details. When the idea was scrapped and it was decided instead to write an article about the candidates, RCN was unable to connect with Pendery for a new interview. Previously, he had submitted an op-ed for publication, and that is published below.)
Things have never been better in Northern Kentucky and in Campbell County. In the last generation, we have created more new jobs than any other area of the state. Our area is widely recognized for its dynamism and “can do” attitude. We have the lowest unemployment rates, high median incomes, high investment and low costs. Out of 120 Kentucky counties, all three Northern Kentucky Counties are in the top ten in virtually all the economic and educational categories the state tracks. Just a casual look around the region and our own county will tell you things are going very well, with new companies, new jobs and new investment. In Campbell County, you will also see growth balanced by the preservation of agriculture and green space.
Both the present and the future are truly bright. And it did not get that way by accident.
We compete best by cooperating. Everyone who wants to help look after the best interest of the community should be able to find a seat at the table and a way to contribute. That has been the secret of our success – we work together. For example, in one of the largest regional co-operations in Kentucky history, Campbell, Kenton and Boone will complete the construction of a new 800 mhz radio system this year. The new digital system will replace obsolete World War II era technology and will be used to dispatch safety department personnel and for communication generally. This project was designed after seeking input from hundreds of city officials, police and firemen. By acting together, each county will save millions of dollars.
But the consensus building that has led to our success is constantly in danger of unraveling in the face of short-sighted complaints. Meanwhile, the federal government and the states are strapped, putting ever more financial pressure on local government. Can we continue collaboratively to decide what investments we need to make as a community and then figure out a way to make it happen? How are we going to pay our share of the state’s pension liability and still provide great service? An older generation of leaders and philanthropists is about to ride off into the sunset. Who will step up to lead in their place?
We have arrived at a critical juncture in our community’s history.
Is anyone surprised when political opponents say taxes are high, that experience and dedication just mean a person has been around too long, or that fraud, waste and abuse is rampant? Those things are absolutely false, but they are said every election cycle by folks who have nothing else meaningful to say. This is not a time to fall for that. Instead, with the challenges we face, we need to support people who tell us what we need to know, rather than what we want to hear, who have relevant background, leadership skills and vision for the future, ideally with a record that proves it.
Here is my promise: what I have helped to build over the years and our shared vision are things I will defend with my political life and work for every day. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish as a team and excited about our future. We have succeeded because we work together. I would like to continue that partnership.