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The race for the Kentucky House of Representatives 54th District seat – A Q&A with Daniel Elliott and Lydia Coffey

Rep. Daniel Elliott (R) and Lydia Coffey (D) are running for the Kentucky House of Representatives in the 54th district, which consists of Boyle and Casey counties. The Advocate-Messenger asked Rep. Elliott, the incumbent since 2016, and opponent Coffey, a series of questions. Coffey gave her answers over the phone, and Rep. Elliott gave his answers in an email. Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity. The deadline to register to vote in Kentucky has passed. Visit govoteky.com to request an absentee ballot, check your absentee ballot status or review your registration. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Friday, Oct. 9 at no later than 11:59 p.m. EST. Early voting begins Oct. 13 and ends Nov. 2, with Election Day on Nov. 3.

 

Lydia Coffey

 

In Kentucky House District 54, what are some key issues at stake in this race, and what is your stance on these issues?

 

LC: I’m a retired teacher, so education is a priority, and we continue to see attacks on education. We’ve got to make sure we fund public schools first and foremost. And, as a teacher, we also know that funding is kind of a hardship sometimes, especially in rural counties where the tax base is not very high, it’s a struggle.

We’ve got roadways that need repair. Just recently in Casey County, we had floods that have done more than $1 million worth of damage to roads here, and we know that some of our bridges are in desperate need of repair or to be rebuilt. Water is an issue in Boyle County — the worry about what is being put into Lake Herrington from KU (Kentucky Utilities).

And of course broadband — Boyle and Casey have real issues with broadband, and with the pandemic, with students having to do online, and there’s always a chance that we have to go back to that, and it is a real concern.

We are incarcerating people at very high rates for minor drug offenses and not providing the services to make sure that when they get out of jail, they are not continuing that pathway of addiction. I think we need to start looking more to provide rehab for them instead of putting them in the jail where the possibility of being able to get contraband continues to be a problem. Addiction is a horrible disease, and I don’t know if our punishment is the right way. Now, those that are sellers, those that are out there promoting it, to me it’s a different standard because sometimes they’re putting people’s lives in jeopardy.

We right now can’t expect people to continue to survive on minimum wage. They’re having to work two and three jobs. The more people make, the more it goes back in the economy. This pandemic has shown us that so many people did not have money to survive to the next month.

Our state gives away tax incentives to companies to locate here, and I understand that we have to do some of that, but we pay out more than we take in that goes in the general fund. If we give these tax incentives to a company that doesn’t even pay a living wage and doesn’t provide benefits, I don’t think we’re really helping Kentucky.

Childcare is another issue. We’ve got to look for either companies that will provide childcare within the company or will give some sort of incentives.

Providing quality health care for everyone — we’ve got to make sure that health insurance is available to all Kentuckians.

 

In Boyle County specifically, what are some key issues at stake, and what is your stance? 

 

LC: I know there are some good programs going on in Boyle County for addiction programs, and I know some programs in the jail which are wonderful. I think many of the things that I just talked about affect both counties. Also, I worry about KSD (Kentucky School for the Deaf). I want to make sure that they have true representation and are getting their needs met in every way possible. That school is so vital to our Deaf community and to kids across the state, and we need a program that really educates from district to district within the state to let them know the benefits of students being on campus when they’re able to open back up. Deaf children need early interventions. And we’re talking about in the first six months of their life, they need to start having interventions done to help them learn to communicate, and so these are programs I want to see up for those for KSD, and KSD has always been such a vital part of Danville and Boyle County, and it was at one time one of the top Deaf schools in the nation, and we’ve got to bring it back to that again.

 

How will you work to bring new jobs to the district and how will you work to help the district better retain jobs? 

 

LC: Boyle County is doing very well as far as employment. It might just not be jobs that are a fit for some people. I was talking to someone the other day, and they said they’re having a hard time filling some of the jobs, and of course, a lot of people from Casey County drive to Danville to work. So we’ve got to make sure that we are welcoming each industry that comes in to make sure that any needs are being met, to do what we can to help them to fill those positions that are there, and it kind of goes back into the incentives the state gives — are they meeting those standards that I laid out? Are they doing everything they can to make sure they’re paying a living wage? What can we do to encourage them to do that so that we can get the employment there and keep them in Boyle County as an option for employment? There’s a lot of empty factory buildings still here that might look for other people to come in to fulfill those. In my mind, that’s one of the things we can start doing — looking for that recruiting. Casey County, if it wasn’t for our gate manufacturing, we’d have nothing. Those are vital for us. Boyle County is a big employer of people from Casey County because we don’t have the manufacturing that is there.

 

What going forward do you want to do to help the district through the pandemic? 

 

LC: I think we’ve got to continue to educate people about the importance of wearing your mask and sanitizing and staying socially distant. My campaign has all been from a social distance. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’ve been jeopardized by any means by coming in contact with me. I’m available to talk to anyone at any time, but we’ve also got to make sure that those restaurants and different facilities that have lost a lot of income because of COVID — that we find ways that they can continue to remain at least partially open. We’ve got to continue to hope that those that are still unemployed get the unemployment that is needed for them. I don’t think this pandemic is going to be over for a while, so we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to do to make sure that people remain safe and we can keep our numbers down in our area by educating people. The sooner that we can follow the standards set out by Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, I think we can get the numbers down low enough that we might be able to get back to some sense of normalcy, but I think it’ll be a while before we’re able to do that.

 

What do you think can be done to improve policing in District 54, especially in the Black community and especially as it applies to excessive or deadly force? 

 

LC: Opening the lines of communication, for one, is vital, and I think there is a group in Danville that’s trying very hard to do that. I think we need to look at trying to hire social workers to work in police departments. I think we also have to keep in mind we have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to totally understand what they go through, and I’ve tried to listen. You know, targeting of minorities is something that we’ve seen across the nation. I have Black nephews and nieces, and I know the talk that has to be given to them when they go out in a car. And that should not be. We shouldn’t be looking at somebody because of the color of their skin and making the decision that they’ve done something wrong. We’ve got to do some sensitivity training in our police departments. I don’t want anyone to think I don’t fully support the police — I do — but I think this is something that we need across the board, not only in police departments but in other organizations that serve the community.

 

What are your plans should you be elected when it comes to legislation and other efforts?

 

LC: For me, the points that I’ve made — those are things that I hope to write some legislation on, making sure that we have health care that is available to everyone and that we are not doing surprise billing. We’ve got to protect teacher pensions — to me, education is the foundation of a strong Kentucky. We also have to look at student loans and think about how can we help young people not be burdened by student loan debt. I want to be able to see what is priority number one when I get to Frankfort, what people want to see happening. We’re living in an antiquated tax system where the burden of most of the taxes are falling on the middle class and the working poor, and those that are the wealthiest in our Commonwealth are not paying their fair share. So, to me, that’s a priority, is to overhaul that tax system and the tax code and make it where the middle class and the working poor are not carrying the burden, as it is now.

 

Facing the incumbent in this race since 2016, what are your advantages and disadvantages? 

 

LC: Daniel’s a nice young man, as far as I know. I just know that Daniel has not been real receptive to and available to people. And he tends to vote party line, and as a teacher, I know how important it is that we work across party lines. For me, it’s putting the people over politics. If we feel like we have to follow a party, then we’re not representing our people. I will be open to be able to talk to them and try to get answers for whatever their concerns are. But I’m realistic. I live in a heavily Republican county that looks at me because I’m a Democrat and thinks that I’m this liberal, but I’m probably more of a center-of-the-road type person. I just think that the party you belong to shouldn’t dictate — you need to look at the person. What have they done to help you? How have they been involved? And I mean, I’ve lived my entire life in Casey County except for the few years I was in college, and I’ve been involved in the community. I’ve served on boards. I’ve been responsive to the needs of people.

 

Why do you think you can do a better job than Daniel Elliott? 

 

LC: I’m a leader. I’m not a follower. I have a lot more life experiences than Daniel because I happen to be older, and sometimes older is better in some situations because of those life experiences. As a teacher, I know how to work with other people. You have to work together. You have to collaborate. You have to come up with solutions, and sometimes you may not win on everything, but if you can come up to what you think is the best solution by working together, then everybody wins. I’m out in the community trying to reach out to people the best I can during COVID, and like I say, we were not going to jeopardize anyone, so it’s been a different kind of campaign, but I’m trying to spend as much time between the two counties as I can to get the message out about who I am.

 

 

Rep. Daniel Elliott

 

In Kentucky House District 54, what are some key issues at stake in this race, and what is your stance on these issues?

 

DE: There are several issues, but in the interest of being as brief as possible, I’ll identify the most significant areas. The coronavirus pandemic has become one of the main issues because of the significantly negative effect it has had. We must address the economic shutdown/downturn in our state budget with adequate funding and resources for unemployment, to local governments, small businesses and public schools and universities. Additionally, it is critical that we have adequate P(ersonal) P(rotective) E(quipment) for health care providers, access to affordable health care for our citizens and a plan to keep the state moving forward despite the challenges from the pandemic. Second, state infrastructure must continue to be a priority.  If we don’t have adequate and safe roadways and bridges, our citizens can’t engage in commerce and our state cannot thrive economically.  We have to continue our efforts to improve infrastructure, and we must have and utilize all federal assistance whenever and wherever possible.

 

In Boyle County specifically, what are some key issues at stake, and what is your stance?

 

DE: In Boyle County, there are a few issues that seem to be significant. Economic development and job creation must continue to be a focus locally. I’ll continue to work in state government to give local governments and economic development agencies the tools to better attract and retain dynamic industries with attractive levels of pay.  The drug epidemic must continue to be fought locally through the efforts of government and nonprofit groups. There is a component to this issue that in my mind must also involve our religious communities as well. The Boyle (County) Jail has been a model in rehabilitation of those charged and convicted of drug crimes, and this program should be reviewed and implemented on a statewide basis.

 

How will you work to bring new jobs to the district, and how will you work to help the district better retain jobs?

 

DE: In my position as vice chairman of the House Economic Development and Workforce Development, I am in a superb position to assist not only our district but the state in our efforts to strengthen the state economy and promote policies that assist in job creation. We must continue to give our local governments and economic development agencies the tools to attract strong and dynamic industry with attractive pay levels through tax incentives and a competitive corporate tax rate with surrounding states.

 

What going forward do you want to do to help the district through the pandemic?

 

DE: I will touch on legislation that I intend to file that would incentivize private industry in the state to manufacture PPE and critical and essential medications and then distribute those critical PPE and medications through our local state health departments via a program administered by the University of Louisville.

 

What do you think can be done to improve policing in District 54, especially in the Black community and especially as it applies to excessive or deadly force?

 

DE: I don’t see a problem with policing in the 54th District. We must all work to ensure that our laws are equally applied to all citizens without bias, and we have excellent law enforcement officers in the 54th District. I owe a lot of gratitude to our law enforcement officers for their efforts to keep all of us safe and for their willingness to go into harm’s way to do their duty.

 

What are your plans should you be re-elected when it comes to legislation and other efforts?

 

DE: My top priority will be to continue delivering for the people of the district; to listen to my constituents and assist them with the constituent services that I have available through my office; and to take their values to the state Capitol.

 

Being the incumbent in this race since 2016, what are your advantages and disadvantages?

 

DE: The advantages are that I have made so many great friendships with so many folks in the district. I am in the majority party of the House, so I have an influence and say in what legislation is heard and passed and in what appropriations come into the 54th District.  The disadvantage is that I have a legislative voting record, of which I’m very proud — however, some may disagree with the votes I’ve cast.

 

Why do you think you can do a better job than Lydia Coffey?

 

DE: I will be in the state House majority if I am re-elected, which allows me to influence the legislation that is drafted, debated and passed, and to direct the state appropriations that come into the district. If my opponent were to win, she would be a junior member of the minority party without any say in the decisions and everyday workings of the House in both legislation and appropriations which are led by the majority party.  Additionally, I believe we are a right of center state. I have voted to keep us in a right of center position ideologically in the legislature, and the people of the 54th district genuinely support conservative values and views. My opponent has many far left, liberal positions that are not consistent with the values and views of the people of the district. She would move the state drastically left of center if she had her way in both social and economic policy.

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