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Election Preview: Draud vs. Heeger for Kenton Commissioner District 2

As the race for Kenton County Judge-Executive steals a great deal of attention leading up to the May 20 Republican primary, so should the campaigns to fill the three Kenton County Commission seats that also make up the Fiscal Court.

With Commissioner Kris Knochelmann challenging incumbent Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus, at least one new member will be elected. The other two incumbent commissioners are also facing competitive challenges.

With no Democrats in any of the races, the Kenton County Fiscal Court will again be made up entirely of Republicans, elected on May 20 and taking office in January.

Two mayors are vying for spots on the Fiscal Court. Taylor Mill Mayor Dan Bell is challenging incumbent Beth Sewell in District One, which covers northern Kenton County and Covington, while Ft. Wright Mayor Joe Nienaber faces local businessman Joe Koester for the District 3 open seat being vacated by Knochelmann which includes central Kenton County and suburban cities. Incumbent Jon Draud, the former state legislator and state education commissioner, is being challenged by farmer Amy Heeger in District 2 which covers southern Kenton County and some suburban cities.

All Republican voters on May 20 will pick one candidate in each of the three races.

All six candidates talked to The River City News in recent days about where they stand on the future of the county, why the current Fiscal Court is often mired in dysfunction, and why they believe they are best suited to lead Kentucky's third largest county for the next four years.

The second of three previews focuses on the Nienaber-Koester campaign. A preview of Draud vs. Heeger will follow. See the preview of Sewell vs. Bell by clicking here and a preview of Nienaber vs. Koester by clicking here.

District Two - Draud vs. Heeger

The race for the seat in District 2 pits political veteran Jon Draud against newcomer Amy Heeger.

Draud, of Edgewood, served as a state representative and Secretary of Education under Governor Ernie Fletcher. He was previously a superintendent in Ludlow. Heeger operates a farm in southern Kenton County.

The incumbent Draud, 79, wants to be reelected to a second term at the fiscal court to help Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus, he said. 

"He relied on my vote for our achievements and we really have accomplished a lot and I just don't want anything to happen to that progress we've made," Draud said. "I think he's going to win and I think I'm going to win so we'll have the same status. I'm running to continue the progress we've made."

Heeger, 39, of Piner, is making her first run for public office because she said she wants to give "the average Joe" a voice at the fiscal court.

"I'm trying to go out there and represent everyone and not just certain groups," she said. She became involved in county issues following the devastating tornadoes that ransacked parts of southern Kenton County. She spent many days volunteering in the aftermath and clean-up efforts. "There are still good, kind, caring people and they need a voice so we're going to give it a whirl and give them one." She is still a member of the effort's long-term recovery team.

As for the current make-up of the court, both candidates are aware of the perceived dysfunction. "I don't play games," Draud said. He chalked up the intra-party squabbles at the county building to the remnants of political feuds left over from the 2010 judge-executive race when Arlinghaus defeated then-deputy Judge-Executive Scott Kimmich who was supported by then-Judge-Executive Ralph Drees. 

Draud said his relationship with Drees and Kimmich has since become strained because he has been supportive of Arlinghaus. He said during a lunch before the new fiscal court took office, other commissioners urged Draud to stick with them to prevent Arlinghaus's agenda. "I said, that's not how I operate. For almost three years I tried to get people to work together." He chalks it up to a lack of trust between all parties.

Draud said Knochelmann once referred to him as Arlinghaus's puppet. "I think anybody who knows me, that won't get him any votes because people know me as a person who does what's right regardless of the consequences," Draud said.

"What I anticipated being a rather pleasant experience became a rather hostile one."

"It's kind of two against two. I think it's bad," Heeger said. "I think we should be able to sit down as a group of individuals and bring to the table ideas and conversations. You should be able to sit down in a roundtable and ask what's best for our county."

"There's not enough 'we' or teams involved. There's a lot of 'I's'," she said. "I don't know that either side is right or wrong."
 
Heeger and Draud assured each other early that they would run respectful campaigns. "I don't know much about her. I've met her a few times and she seems like a very pleasant person," Draud said of Heeger. He points to his experience as reason to send him back to the County Building: nine years as a state legislator, Secretary of Education with six hundred employees and a more than $4 million budget. "I've had a lot of great accomplishments in my lifetime. I've had lots of experience," he said. 
 
After recovering from a stroke that forced his resignation from the Secretary of Education position, Draud reentered politics. "This county role is probably the least significant role I've played in my life," he said. "The only reason I did this, it took over a year to recover and I have recovered, and I had always been very active all my life. I don't have any hobbies. One thing I was good at was making decisions and solving problems so I decided to run for county commissioner." He considered a run for judge-executive but said he didn't want a full-time job. "I'm enjoying it."

Heeger is also running her campaign on the cheap. "I'm running a very inexpensive race and I'm proud of that," she said. "I think I'm maybe sitting on around a total of almost $10,000 and I'm OK with that. I've used it wisely and we'll do what we can do. The large amounts of money being spent is kind of crazy. I'm just a grassroots girl trying to stand up and make a voice."

The winner of the race may be forced to revisit one of the court's most contentious issues: how to keep the 911 emergency dispatch center funded. The court was divided over whether fees should be assessed on every household with an electric meter, collected by Duke Energy or Owen Electric, or by parcel of property. The parcel issue won out over Arlinghaus's and Draud's objections.

"The electric meter is the simplest way to do it," Draud said. "In the long run, it's not going to hurt the energy companies to collect that."

Kenton County absorbed the City of Covington's dispatch operations when the city ended its center in 2012. The county also hoped to add Erlanger, too. The energy companies would have likely sued if fees were placed on monthly bills, prompting Knochelmann and Sewell to oppose the idea for fear of a costly and prolonged lawsuit.

"That dispatch center is a great accomplishment," Draud said. "That was one of my goals when I got elected, along with merging the sheriff's office with Kenton County Police. It helped bail Covington out of a very difficult situation and makes it safer for everybody."

Heeger also opposes the parcel fee and the electric meter ideas. "I hate the parcel fee because we pay for parcels that our cows roam on and I don't think that's smart," she said. "I don't like it on Duke bills, either. I think there's an answer. I don't know what it is. I like how Campbell County did it with the dwelling units. That makes a little more sense to me."

"We have to have the fee to pay for 911 and I respect that but at the same time it makes me laugh when our current court says it didn't raise taxes and we have this huge surplus. It is a tax."
 
Moving forward, each candidate is interested in exploring a new location and/or facility for the County Building which is in bad shape in Covington. Draud favors a shared government campus with the City of Covington which will also need a new home as it is currently renting a space on Pike Street. Heeger would like to see a new facility in Indepedence. "My opinion is, Independence is the county seat. I'd like to see it come back to Independence and make it more accessible for everybody in Kenton County," she said. "We're twenty-five miles south of the river. (Covington)'s a pretty good haul. It should be in Independence."
 
Draud wants to continue to explore a possible merger of the county police and sheriff's office. "Boone County has saved a lot of money with that," he said. "Maybe we can save some money but we have to do an extensive study. I don't believe in doing things just to be doing them." He also wants to continue the pursuit of Erlanger to join the county dispatch center, and also "continue our good fiscal practices". Heeger favors Kenton County taking the lead on combating heroin abuse and also would like to see appointments to the CVG Airport Board come before the full fiscal court rather than being solely decided by the judge-executive.
 
Though all three county commissioner seats are decided by each Republican voter in the county, District 2 is the largest geographically. On Tuesday, one of these two will assume the seat representing it next year.
 
"It's hard when you're from the city in knowing what your rural people may want or need," Heeger said. "We're growing, too, and I think it's time to have someone from our end be a voice."
 
"We made a lot of changes early on there without any increases in taxes," Draud said. "We didn't take the 4% (property tax increase) one time in four years."
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
 
Photo: Draud (left) and Heeger