Kentucky: Sixth District|
Rep. Ben Chandler (D)
Last Updated October 18, 2004
With its white picket fences, horse farms and Georgian brick house-filled small towns, the rolling plateau of the Bluegrass country almost plumb in the middle of Kentucky is the part of interior America longest settled by English speakers: Lexington was founded in 1775; the town of Hopewell was renamed Paris in 1789 out of gratitude for French help during our Revolution and in a salute to theirs (though the county name remained Bourbon even after Louis XVI was guillotined). Tobacco farming started here in the 1770s, horse racing in 1787, and the first whiskey distillery, in Bourbon County, was built in 1790. Tobacco, whiskey and racehorses remained the staples of the Bluegrass economy for six generations until 1956, when IBM built its typewriter plant and headquarters in Lexington. IBM's arrival "really was the beginning of Lexington's industrial revolution," as University of Kentucky historian Carl Cone put it. But capitalism, as Joseph Schumpeter wrote, is a process of creative destruction. The PC eventually outclassed the typewriter, and the IBM plant put on the block. Now the big employer here is Lexmark International, an independent IBM spinoff that makes inkjet and laser printers. Another mainstay of the local economy is the Toyota plant, built for $2 billion in the 1980s, in Georgetown, a town with early 19th century houses and lush countryside, just one county north of Lexington and west of Paris; auto parts and suppliers have naturally moved in nearby. Lexington, which includes all of Fayette County, grew by a sprightly 16% in the 1990s, and the 2000 Census showed it the largest city in Kentucky, just ahead of Louisville. But Louisville voters decided to merge the city and Jefferson County, and in January 2003 Louisville became number one again.
The 6th Congressional District includes Lexington and the surrounding counties--a natural unit, unlike some other Kentucky districts. Lexington casts about one-third of the votes. It was the home base of the Whig Party's great leader Henry Clay, but in the 150 years after his death, the Bluegrass country was mostly Democratic. In 2000 Al Gore wrote off Kentucky early on, and the 6th District gave George W. Bush 55% of the vote.
The congressman from the 6th District is Ernie Fletcher, a Republican elected in 1998. Fletcher grew up in Mount Sterling, got an engineering degree from the University of Kentucky, was an Air Force pilot for five years, intercepting Soviet aircraft; then he went to medical school, practiced medicine, and was CEO of a company that managed medical practices. He did volunteer medical work in India and was a lay minister. In 1994 he was elected to the Kentucky House. In 1996 he won the Republican primary--by exactly 4 votes--and ran against Democratic Congressman Scotty Baesler, a tobacco farmer and onetime University of Kentucky basketball star. With help from national Republicans, Fletcher raised and spent nearly as much as the incumbent and ran a spirited campaign. He lost 56%-44%, but kept his taste for campaigning. When Baesler ran for the Senate in 1998, Fletcher decided to run for the House again, and this time had no serious primary competition. The Democratic nominee was state Senator Ernesto Scorsone, a criminal defense lawyer who had defended drug dealers. Scorsone claimed credit for managing Governor Paul Patton's tough anti-crime bill and he supported the partial-birth abortion ban; but overall his record was liberal. Scorsone said that Fletcher was carrying water for insurance companies; Fletcher said Scorsone played a key role in Kentucky's health care law that increased insurance premiums and favored trial lawyers, and said that as a physician he could better handle the issue. Fletcher ran one ad showing a woman whose breast cancer he had treated and another featuring a rape victim who said Scorsone represented her assailant and helped him avoid prison time. Fletcher won 53%-46%.
In the House, Fletcher established a conservative record and became an activist legislator. Unlike other recent Republican doctors elected to the House who have taken on HMOs, he worked with Education Committee chairman John Boehner and Democrat Collin Peterson to craft the less sweeping Republican alternative on HMO regulation. They prevailed in the House when Republican Charlie Norwood emerged from an August 2001 meeting with George W. Bush to join them and abandon his co-sponsorship with John Dingell of the Democratic alternative. On the Education Committee, Fletcher advocated the successful ed-flex bill to give the states greater flexibility in education spending. He voted for PNTR with China after presidential candidate George W. Bush called him and assured him of his commitment to human rights in China. On local issues, Fletcher won an amendment to destroy chemical munitions such as those stored in the local Bluegrass Army Depot.
In 2000 Baesler ran for the House again, and Democrats were optimistic they could recapture the seat. The contest became ground zero for interest groups of many persuasions. Pharmaceutical firms spent more than $500,000 on ads against Baesler, and the managed care industry supported Fletcher as well. The American Medical Association, which supported the Democrats' version of HMO regulation, was disappointed with this doctor-congressman and refused to endorse him. But HMO regulation, which national Democrats expected to be a big vote-winner, failed to work for Baesler here. Polls showed Baesler falling behind, and in the final days of the campaign he took the curious step of emphasizing gun control in a district that had never shown much enthusiasm for it. Fletcher won by the impressive margin of 53%-35%, winning all 19 counties, including 48%-37% in Lexington. Perennial third party candidate Gatewood Galbraith took 12%. In 2002, no Democrat filed to run.
In May 2003, Fletcher won the Republican nomination for governor with 57% of the vote. He is seeking to become the first Republican to win the office since 1967. If Fletcher is elected governor in November 2003, he would be sworn in on December 9; Governor Paul Patton would call a special election to fill the seat. The special is likely to be seriously contested.
Update: October 18, 2004
On November 4, 2003, Fletcher became the first Republican to win the Kentucky governorship since 1967. He won 593,058 votes, or 55 percent, while Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler won 484,804 votes, or 45 percent.
Fletcher was sworn in as governor on December 9, 2003, and declared his 6th District congressional seat vacant the same day. In a February 17, 2004, special election to fill the seat, Democrat Ben Chandler defeated Republican state Senator Alice Forgy Kerr by 55 percent to 43 percent. Chandler will serve the last 10 months of the term and will seek reelection in the November 2 general election.
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|2004 spec. gen.
||Ben Chandler (D)
|Alice Forgy Kerr (R)
||Ernie Fletcher (R)
|Gatewood Galbraith (I)
||Ernie Fletcher (R)
||Ernie Fletcher (R)
|Scotty Baesler (D)
|Gatewood Galbraith (Ref)
For 1992 and 1996 presidential results in the Sixth District, please see the Almanac 2000 online. Please note that these older returns reflect district lines as they existed prior to 2002 redistricting.
- Cook Partisan Voting Index: R + 7
- District Size: 3,775 square miles
- Population in 2000: 673,626; 71.3% urban; 28.7% rural
- Median Household Income: $37,544; 13.2% are below the poverty line
- Occupation: 25.8% blue collar; 58.8% white collar; 15.4% gray collar; 11.7% military veterans
- Race/Ethnic Origin:
0.2% Amer. Indian,
1.1% Two+ races,
2.1% Hispanic origin
- Click here for statewide demographic data.
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