HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Candidates seeking office in Harlan County squared off during a political forum Tuesday night.
The event was sponsored by WYMT, WTUK Radio, Harlan Community TV and the Harlan Center.
Much of the focus of the sheriff's debate was on how to curb drug abuse and other crime in Harlan County.
"Children are the victims in everything that we deal, whether it's drug problems, whether it's domestic violence things like that. We need to focus more on the children. We need to start investigating more," said Harlan County Sheriff Marvin Lipfird, a Democrat.
"I will be coming out to you. I will be coming out to your communities. That is what is needed in this county," said Democratic candidate Lupe Blas.
Candidates leaned heavily on their prior experience when explaining why they should be the next Harlan County Sheriff.
"I've worked undercover with many different officers, many different agencies, which includes the DEA and the FBI and the ATF," said John Teagle, the forum's sole Republican candidate for sheriff.
"I've had thousands of hours of training, including computer crimes investigation, which is a vital thing in crimes against children," said Democrat Mike Lunsford.
WYMT's Neil Middleton moderated the event. Questions were submitted by people who live in Harlan County.
One question asked how the candidates would spend the $500,000 earmarked through a criminal court case for drug prevention and youth facilities.
"I want to see a center, an addiction center, where anyone that wants to get off drugs will not have a fear of retaliation," said Democrat Clair Stines.
"I'd like to see the money spent in a way that we could take somebody, if that means hiring somebody through the school system, and you could do that for some time for that money, somebody that specializes and has the ability to talk to children about drug addiction," said Democrat Leslie "Smitty" Smith.
The field of candidates for judge executive largely agreed improved transportation would help crate opportunities for growth in Harlan County.
"We don't have decent roads here. We can't even get a two-lane road completed, much less people is talking about a four lane," said Democrat Kernie Fee.
"We need to widen 119. I think that will help our county, and our economy, and we really need to push for jobs other than coal," said Republican Paul Caldwell.
Faced with numerous layoffs in the coal industry, candidates were asked what they would do to diversify the economy and create new jobs.
"We don't have any industry. Coal is what we're about, so Washington determines what coal does, so we need to change Washington before you can change Harlan County," said Republican David Blanton.
"We have to do a better job in Harlan County of getting our people back to work. The best business in this town right now is the U-Haul business because they're loading them up and they're getting them out of here," said Dan Mosley, a Democrat.
On the issues of funds earmarked for drug prevention and youth facilities, judge executive candidates offered several ideas, including a YMCA or an indoor water park, but at least one offered a word of caution.
"Everybody talks about the big place over in Knott County. That costs somewhere between 20 and 50 thousand dollars a month to staff that thing. We have to be very careful how we spend the money," said Democrat Ed Harris.
When asked about "good old boy" politics and territorial rivalries of the past, all candidates agreed now is the time to move forward, and promised to work with other county officials.
Time is short before partisan voters decide which candidates will receive their party's nomination. The Kentucky primary is May 20th, and voters must be registered by April 21st.