LEXINGTON, KY -- A sharp divide among Eastern Kentucky Democrats over selecting their party's nominee for an open state Senate seat has sparked allegations that the governor's office has intervened to "fix" the process, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Saturday edition.
Party officials in Bell, Harlan, Leslie and Perry counties have split over backing two former state representatives for the Democratic nomination to seek the seat vacated by newly elected Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo.
And now the party's nominee selection process is under fire, as some -- including one of the potential candidates -- are complaining that it allows just four people to make the decision, reports the Herald-Leader.
"I'm hoping we can move away from the backroom, king-making process that could be going on today," said Roger Noe, a former state representative from Harlan County who is seeking the nomination. "It concerns me greatly."
Noe and Scott Alexander, another former Democratic state representative from Hazard, have emerged as the top two contenders for the chance to represent the party in the Feb. 5 special election, reports the newspaper.
But Noe and Harlan County Democratic Party Chairman Nancy Brock claim the selection process puts Noe at a disadvantage. And Brock said Beshear and Mongiardo are exerting influence to affect the process in Alexander's favor.
"It's coming from Frankfort," Brock said last night. "Dr. Mongiardo has called people in our area asking them to vote for Scott Alexander. And some people are calling folks in the district using the name of the governor and asking them to support Scott Alexander."
She said the county chairmen have received "pressure" from the governor's office to settle on a candidate for several weeks, the newspaper reports.
Beshear and his aides called the four county chairmen to the governor's office Dec. 20, Brock said.
"They wanted us to give them a candidate," she said.
Brock and the Leslie County chairman, Edmond Collett, spoke up for Noe, while Perry County Chairman Chester Jones voiced support for Alexander. Bell County Chairman Leo Haggerty said he was undecided at the time, the Herald-Leader reports.
"So we decided to go back and let the nomination process take its course with the executive committees" from all four counties voting in a nomination convention, Brock said. That would have involved 60 to 80 local party activists.
"Sometime between now and then there was a lot of phone calls," Brock said. "We're supposed to decide this thing, but we're getting all this pressure on us. If we don't pick the candidate they want, they try to decide it for us."
Vicki Glass, spokeswoman for Beshear's office, said last night that the party chairmen from those areas have decided how to choose the nominee in the way they see fit and that conforms with party bylaws.
Glass declined to directly address any accusations that Beshear has intervened in the process, saying only: "I'm sure that all potential candidates and supporters are contacting people on the committee. That's how the process works."
A spokesman for Mongiardo denied that the administration has tried to fix the outcome of the nomination, reports the Herald-Leader.
"No one is making any effort to rig this election," said Jeff Derouen, Mongiardo's chief of staff.
Copyright: Lexington Herald-Leader