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Near the end of his first term as Nelson County’s first Republican magistrate in memory, Jeff Lear is optimistic about the party’s prospects, as well as his own, going into the 2014 election.
2010, a landslide election for Republicans nationally, was a good year for Lear, who was elected in November and took office that month because 4th District magistrate Tim Hutchins, a Democrat, had resigned to run for county judge-executive as an independent. Lear has filed for re-election this year, and is so far unopposed.
Lear thinks he may the first Republican magistrate in county’s history.
“All the historians tell me I’m the first one ever, but I don’t know,” he said.
Greg Burkot, an aide to U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and former GOP county chairman, said that “according to the records we have, he was the first Republican magistrate elected.”
Lear is one of three Republican candidates who have filed for county offices. The other two are Jeffrey A. Cassell, who is running for magistrate in the 3rd District against incumbent Democrat Bernard Ice, and Dr. Peter Trzop, who is challenging longtime Democratic County Judge-Executive Dean Watts again after losing to him in 2010.
Republican Danielle Chladek has also said she is going to be a candidate for county coroner, but as of Thursday morning, she had not yet filed, according to the County Clerk’s Office.
In state races, the Republican legislators who represent Nelson, Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown, and Sen. Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon, don’t yet have Democratic challengers.
Guthrie’s has a Democratic opponent, Ron Leach, but he hasn’t run a high-profile campaign.
Jan. 28 is the last day for candidates to file in the primaries.
In a recent interview, Lear said he feels confident this year about his re-election, although he emphasized that he isn’t going to be running a partisan campaign.
He also won’t be supporting Republican candidates against his fellow county officials.
“It would make for an awkward situation going forward,” he explained.
Lear said his fellow Fiscal Court members, all Democrats, are “fairly conservative,” and he has a good working relationship with them.
“I’m looking out for what’s good for the community rather than for the party, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be a Republican,” he said.
Lear is also proud that the party is rapidly growing in Nelson County, and he thinks its prospects are improving.
Just 20 years ago, Nelson County was still heavily Democratic in party registration, but “that’s changing pretty quickly,” Lear said. Nearly seven in 10 recent registrations in the county were Republican.
Registration numbers showed that as of November 2013, 68 percent of those who registered did so as Republicans, a 21 percent increase over 2012, according to figures from the Secretary of State’s Office provided County Republican Chairman Robert Augustine.
When he started attending party meetings in the mid-1990s, Augustine said, registered Republicans in Nelson County were few. Registration was about nine to one Democrats.
“There weren’t enough people in the room to start a good argument,” he said.
Now the Nelson County Republican Party is much stronger, he said, not only in membership, but also in its activities, and except in local races, the county trends Republican.
Former Bardstown Mayor Dixie Hibbs, a Democrat and a local historian, said that throughout its history, the Republican Party has not been active in Nelson County, and prior to 1950, “there weren’t too many” Republicans here.
Augustine said Nelson County has always been conservative, and he thinks it is becoming more of a two-party county as younger people move in from Louisville and other cities.
“The trend has been heavily going in our favor,” he said.
Augustine agrees with Lear that most people in Nelson County tend to vote for the person, not the party. But in order to participate at the primary level, it was necessary to be a Democrat, and often the Republican Party didn’t even put forward a candidate in the general election in local races.
“The Democratic Party used to sort all the elections out locally,” he said.
Augustine said he thinks it’s good for the Republican Party to have its own primary races because in order to participate in the primary, voters would have to be registered Republican, and that can only strengthen the party.
It’s too late to do that for this election, though, because in Kentucky, the last day to change one’s party registration or register to vote is in December of the previous year. The deadline to switch for this year’s election was Tuesday, Dec. 31, but the Nelson County Clerk’s Office, where voters register, was closed that day.
While Augustine thinks the local Republican Party in Nelson County is getting stronger, he admitted, “We have lots of room to grow.”
Democrats outnumber Republican voters 2-1
Registered Republicans made big gains in Nelson County in 2013, but Democrats still outnumber them better than two to one, according to the latest registration figures available from the Kentucky Secretary of State’s Office website.
According to the numbers of Nov. 19, of the 30,926 registered voters in Nelson County, 19,212, or 62 percent, were Democrats. Republicans numbered 9,049, or 29 percent. The rest were classified as “other,” which includes people who are registered as independents (belonging to no political party) or members of smaller third parties. They numbered 2,665, or less than 9 percent.
Female voters outnumber males in Nelson, 16,298 to 14,628.
Of Kentucky’s 3 million registered voters in November, 54 percent were registered Democrats, 38 percent Republicans and 7 percent “other.”
Those who want to change their party registration won’t be able to do so for the 2014 election. The deadline for doing so was last Tuesday, Dec. 31. The Nelson County Clerk’s Office was closed that day for New Year’s Eve.
Kentucky has long had one of the earliest cut-off dates in the nation for switching party affiliation.
County Clerk Elaine Filiatreau said
Tuesday she doesn’t know why Ken-tucky’s deadline for changing parties occurs the year before the election.
“It’s KRS (Kentucky Revised Sta-tutes),” she said. “It’s been that way for a while. They’ve moved it once since I’ve been here, but I don’t recall when.”
The deadline for switching parties occurs before voters know who the candidates are going to be in the Republican and Democratic primaries. Candidates have until Jan. 28 to file for partisan races.
Candidates who file in non-primary, non-partisan races, such as city council and school board, have until Aug. 12 to run in the Nov. 4 general election.
April 21 is the last day to register to vote in the May 20 primary for new voters or those who change residence, but the deadline does not allow registered voters to change parties.
Filiatreau said that this year there will be extensive changes to precincts, and many will be voting in new places. Changes will be provided to the Stan-dard prior to the May 20 primaries.