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Some in GOP warn against election challenge in Kentucky

Some Kentucky Republicans are warning Gov. Matt Bevin against challenging the election results in his reelection bid unless he finds evidence of massive fraud.

U.S. Rep. James Comer, who lost to Bevin by 83 votes in the 2015 GOP gubernatorial primary, is among Republicans suggesting Bevin might need to accept those results rather than initiate a bloody fight that could end up in the GOP-controlled legislature. Bevin trails by more than 5,000 votes to Democrat Andy Beshear, out of more than 1.4 million cast.

The comments could signal that leaders of Bevin’s own party don’t have the appetite to sustain a lengthy challenge.

Comer said Bevin’s request for a recanvass of Tuesday’s vote count is understandable. But without proof of massive fraud or irregularities, Comer warned about the signal Bevin would send by formally contesting the election, putting the outcome in the hands of lawmakers.

“If the Republicans in the (state) General Assembly tried to undo an election, that’s kind of what we’ve been criticizing the Democrats in Washington of trying to do with this baseless impeachment inquiry,” Comer said.

GOP state Rep. Jason Nemes agreed the recanvass is appropriate but said an election contest isn’t appropriate without proof of enough fraud to reverse the outcome. “You have to show, in order to overturn an election, that you have the goods,” he said on WHAS-AM. “And it doesn’t look like we have them.”

Kentucky’s Republican establishment is watching Bevin’s post-election strategy closely. The businessman ran as a political outsider, losing to now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Senate primary and winning the governorship a year later. Bevin is an ally of President Donald Trump, who made an election-eve appearance in Kentucky. But the governor’s relationships with members of his own party in Kentucky have been contentious at times.

A leading GOP strategist in Kentucky said several prominent Kentucky Republicans don’t want Bevin to drag out the election outcome. Instead, they want to celebrate the party’s down-ballot wins and move on to 2020. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has scheduled a recanvass for Nov. 14 to verify the count.

Grimes, a Democrat, has overseen 20-plus recanvasses as secretary of state, her office said. The results never flipped a race’s outcome.

Bevin has 30 days to formally contest the outcome once it’s certified by the State Board of Elections. The board is scheduled to meet Nov. 21. Kentucky’s last contested governor’s race was in 1899.

The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Tuesday’s race, in keeping with its policy not to call races close enough to go to a recount. Although Kentucky’s recount law doesn’t apply to a governor’s election, the AP is applying that same standard here. Bevin’s recourse following the recanvass would be to formally contest the election.

Bevin lagged well behind vote totals for other GOP statewide candidates. Republican candidates swept races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner.

The governor’s race turned into a “personality contest,” Comer said.

“In Kentucky, it’s always been my experience that people won’t vote for you if they don’t like you,” he said.

The other outcomes showed Kentucky remains ruby red, he said.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders of both legislative chambers acknowledged lawmakers could be asked to decide the race.

“If he (Bevin) chooses to file a formal election contest, the House Majority Caucus will handle the matter in a legal, ethical and appropriate manner” in accordance with the Kentucky Constitution, statutes and rules of the House, House Speaker David Osborne said.

Senate President Robert Stivers said both the recanvass and an application to contest the election would “have a very high bar to succeed.” If an election challenge were to reach the legislature, the Senate would “fulfill its requirements with the upmost objectivity and impartiality,” he said.

Bevin said Wednesday that his team is gathering evidence of “irregularities” in the voting. He claimed thousands of absentee ballots may have been illegally counted. Bevin also suggested that people may have been improperly turned away from polls. He offered no specifics.

He said his team is gathering affidavits, but any information turned up won’t be “followed through on” until after the recanvass – an indication he could seek further review of the election results.

Beshear, the state’s attorney general, said he’s confident in the election outcome and has started forming his transition team in preparing to become governor in December.

Austin Anthony 

Beth Blakeman sings as Jeff Reed conducts the Orchestra Kentucky Big Band on Thursday, November 7, 2019, at First Baptist Church. (Austin Anthony/photo@bgdailynews.com)

Austin Anthony 

Reese Land plays the trumpet with the Orchestra Kentucky Big Band on Thursday, November 7, 2019, at First Baptist Church. (Austin Anthony/photo@bgdailynews.com)

Apartments approved for Plano Road, downtown
 Don Sergent  / 

Developers Ben Hansbrough and Mitch Wright are betting that Bowling Green’s appetite for apartment living hasn’t yet been satisfied.

At Thursday night’s City-County Planning Commission of Warren County meeting, Hansbrough and partner Rishi Agarwal were approved for a rezoning that could lead to a 32-unit apartment development with a commercial component along Plano Road. Meanwhile, Wright won approval for a rezoning that could bring eight apartments to Chestnut Street in downtown Bowling Green.

Both rezonings will go to the Bowling Green City Commission for final approval.

Hansbrough, Agarwal and property owner Stan Darr won unanimous approval from the planning commission to rezone three acres adjacent to the Magnolia Hills subdivision from agriculture to highway business and multi-family residential.

The plan calls for two 16-unit apartment buildings at the part of the property farthest from Plano Road, two commercial buildings nearest Plano Road and three office and professional buildings in the middle section.

Hansbrough and Agarwal said they believe the area near the Plano Road-Interstate 165 interchange is ripe for commercial development now that a number of homes and apartments have been built.

“There are a lot of residents along that road now,” said Agarwal, a local physician. “There’s not enough commercial business to serve them.”

Agarwal said a pharmacy, other medical professionals and possibly a restaurant would be good fits in the area.

“We feel like this is a great opportunity in a growing area,” said Hansbrough, a former men’s basketball assistant coach at Western Kentucky University. “We will look at what the needs are and what the demands are for the commercial part.”

Wright believes the Chestnut Street property presents an opportunity to cash in on the growing multi-family residential presence in downtown Bowling Green. The 0.54-acre tract currently used as a parking lot is owned by Dean Warren, whose Northwestern Mutual financial services office is nearby on East Main Avenue.

Warren, a member of the planning commission, didn’t vote on the application to rezone the property from central business and office & professional/residential to general business, and it passed 10-0.

Wright said the rezoning, if approved by the city commission, will allow him to take advantage of a need for apartments that he has experienced firsthand.

He developed the St. James apartments at 1133 Chestnut St. and said that seven-unit development is full, as are downtown apartment developments The Vue and Lenox Place.

“St. James is full, and we get calls all the time from people looking for an apartment,” Wright said. “There’s still a market for folks who want downtown living. This is a great location with all that Bowling Green has done with the downtown area.”

Wright said this new development at Chestnut Street and Spring Alley will be similar to the St. James apartments. It will include two- and three-bedroom units, storage space in the basement level, and covered parking.

In other action, the planning commission approved rezoning 5.04 acres at 394 Cleveland Drive from agriculture to residential estate in order for Michael and Sara Cowles to develop the property with two single-family residential lots. The rezoning will go to Warren Fiscal Court for final approval.

The commissioners also approved a rezoning in the Alvaton area that could clear the way for a convenience store development.

Bipin Patel, who developed the AM Express store on Three Springs Road, is looking to put a BP gas station and a store he’s calling Alvaton Market on a 0.7-acre tract at Alvaton Road and Mount Lebanon Road.

The rezoning application for the property that is visible from Scottsville Road and near Alvaton Elementary School was originally on the planning commission agenda Oct. 3. It was postponed a month to give Patel time to come up with more detailed architectural plans. The rezoning passed 8-1 Thursday and will go to fiscal court for final approval.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

Health department plans to expand syringe exchange to Logan County
 Caroline Eggers  / 

In an effort to combat drug use, sexually transmitted diseases and the stigma that goes along with them, the Barren River District Health Department plans to expand its syringe-exchange program to Logan County.

The health department recently received a $17,346 grant from United Way of Southern Kentucky to boost public education, purchase basic supplies and obtain approval for a new Harm Reduction and Syringe Exchange Program in Logan County.

These programs help connect clients to substance use disorder treatment programs; social and mental health services; screening care and treatment for viral hepatitis, HIV and other STDs; vaccinations, abscess and wound care and naloxone distribution and education, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s much more of a holistic approach than simply exchanging needles,” said Matt Hunt, executive director of the Barren River District Health Department, which currently operates syringe-exchange programs in Bowling Green and Glasgow.

Sterile syringes reduce the risk of spreading blood-borne diseases during drug use. Syringe-exchange programs are associated with an estimated 50 percent reduction in HIV and hepatitis C incidence, according to the CDC, which identified nearby Allen, Monroe and Edmonson counties among the nation’s 220 counties most vulnerable to outbreaks of HIV or hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

Harm reduction programs also help reduce opioid overdoses. With the new program, the health department will distribute naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, to the Logan County community.

And these programs help protect children, adults and first responders from accidental needle sticks, according to Frankie Haynes, a health educator at the Barren River District Health Department.

“It gets dirty needles off the street,” Haynes said.

Since 2016, the health department has collected more than 66,000 needles. “Some people” have sought treatment after participating in the program, according to Haynes, and others were connected to partners in the community.

In Bowling Green, about 57 percent of clients self-reported using drugs three to five times per day, 24 percent reported using drugs one or two times per day, 9 percent reported using drugs six to eight times a day and about 8 percent reported using drugs nine or more times a day, according to Hunt.

Nearly a fifth of Bowling Green’s syringe-exchange program clients come from outside Warren County. Eventually, the health department wants to establish programs in the district’s eight counties, starting with communities along the Interstate 65 corridor.

“If we can overcome the stigma and help individuals seek care and ... recovery, that’s the ultimate goal,” Hunt said.

To implement a program in Logan County, the health department will need approval from the Russellville City Council and Logan Fiscal Court.

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggers dailynews or visit bgdaily news.com.

Paul talks election results, whistleblower, infrastructure bill
 Wes Swietek  / 

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, said Thursday it should be left up to Gov. Matt Bevin on whether to concede the gubernatorial election.

In a call to Kentucky reporters, Paul also explained why he thinks the Ukraine whistleblower case is different than other whistleblower situations and touted a $12 billion infrastructure bill.

Bevin has asked for a recanvass of votes cast in Tuesday’s election, which showed him losing to his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear, by a little more than 5,000 votes.

The recanvass is slated for Nov. 14. Even as Beshear has started planning to take the governor’s seat, Bevin has shown no signs he will concede the election even after a recanvass. Without offering any evidence, Bevin said Wednesday that there were irregularities in the election.

Paul campaigned on Bevin’s behalf, including at a Monday rally in Lexington featuring President Donald Trump.

Paul acknowledged being disappointed in Bevin’s loss but said it was “a one-off,” noting that all the other down-ticket state races were won by Republicans.

The election overall was “good from a Republican perspective” and shows the Republican Party continues to gain strength in the state, Paul said.

As for a concession, “I think (Bevin) only can make that decision.”

Paul has also been making national headlines for his calls for a whistleblower, who disclosed Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and led to the current U.S. House impeachment inquiry, to be publicly identified.

The whistleblower’s account has been supported by others who have raised questions regarding Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter.

Federal law provides broad protections to whistleblowers.

“I have been in favor of whistleblower protections,” Paul said, adding that he does believe whistleblowers should be protected from prosecution and retaliation.

The difference in this case, Paul said, is that since the impeachment inquiry could lead to criminal proceedings at some point, the president has a constitutional right to publicly face his accuser.

“I don’t think the president should get less rights,” Paul said.

He also said the whistleblower was part of the government’s Ukraine policy desk and worked with Joe and Hunter Biden and thus could be “a material witness” to possible “corruption.”

Paul also questioned whether the whistleblower’s account fell into the category of simply stating an opinion.

He said others on the Trump-Zelenskiy call stated they did not see a problem with it, so “Is he really blowing the whistle or (just) voicing his opinion,” Paul said.

Paul also touted his bill that would boost U.S. infrastructure spending.

“I think people do want infrastructure” spending, but that legislators have failed to come upon with ways to fund it, he said.

His plan calls for requiring federal agencies to cut 1 percent of their budgets with the resulting roughly $12 billion in savings going into a fund that would be passed down to states to be used for infrastructure.

The “other agencies would not know it’s gone,” he said of the 1 percent, adding that he routinely sees federal funds being spent on “outrageous stuff.” The cuts wouldn’t include entitlement programs like Social Security.

Paul admits the $12 billion would be just a small part of what is needed to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, but that “it’s nothing to sneeze at.” He said the funds would equate to “thousands of miles of interstate,” being built.

Paul said he hopes to get bipartisan support for the bill. “We will be trying to get Democrats on board,” he said.

– Follow News Director Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Austin Anthony 

Rand Paul