HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (11/8/12) – On Tuesday, the incumbent 10th District State Representative Ben Waide defeated his challenger Earlington Mayor Mike Seiber, holding his seat for a second term.
The contest was fought bitterly at times with charges from Waide that Seiber’s campaign was largely negative, while Seiber loudly called out Waide for his “Pill Mill Bill” voting record and for his stance on issues such as pensions for state legislators.
Both candidates spoke with SurfKY News to offer their post-election remarks and to discuss the future.“I’d like to thank Representative Waide and wish him the best,” said Seiber. “I’d like to especially thank all my supporters. They worked hard. A lot of volunteers helped with the campaign.”
Seiber lost by a 21 point margin, receiving 6,179 votes to Waide’s 9,441. He said that support from his family was invaluable during the campaign.
“I’d like to thank my wife and my child, Millie Dee and Michael Zachary Seiber, who is a student at Western [Kentucky University]. They were right here through a campaign that was very long … family really means a lot in an election like this, being away and all the hours you have to put in and knocking on doors and walking through neighborhoods and putting out yards signs and making phone calls. Without the support of family and all the volunteers this would have been impossible.”
“I’m especially proud of all we accomplished in the election. We got about sixty two hundred votes the first time around in the county-wide campaign, and I’m really proud of the staff and all the volunteers. You really get to know the kind of people you put around you when you start doing something like this. They really got the word out and the message out, and I wish them the best, and I really look forward to working with everybody again in the future. We ran the best race we could possibly run, and I have no regrets. We ran a very clean race. We made the issues about my opponent’s record. It was all about the record—period.”
Seiber said he was unsure what the future holds but made clear that he would not fade to black on the political scene. “You can’t ever tell, but I look at this as the beginning and not the end. I’m excited to see what the next two years brings, and we’ll see what my political goals will be here shortly.”
SurfKY News caught up Ben Waide at Liberty Rehabilitation, his physical therapy practice, and he took a break from work to address the campaign during yesterday’s phone interview.
“It’s very humbling, and I’m very honored,” said a reflective Waide. “Those are the emotions that I’m feeling. The people of Hopkins County overwhelmingly affirmed the work that we’ve done together and overwhelmingly supported me. I just learned this morning that there were only five precincts in the whole district that I lost. It was just amazing.”
Waide said that, as the election approached, indications that things were going well were apparent, and he was hopeful of a win, but he didn’t have a clue that the margin of victory would be as decisive as it was.
When asked what was foremost on his mind as he heads back to Frankfort for a second term, he said that he plans to stay the course, picking up where he left off.
“I think we’ve been on the right track. We’ve focused on supporting the coal industry, on jobs, on the economy—just yesterday, we saw that the folks at [Integrated Metal Solutions] did an amazing thing—the management buyout that saved 60 jobs. I think the focus is just as sharp on jobs and the economy now as it was before. People need security, and they need to know that they’re going to have a paycheck and that their kids are going to grow up in a community that’s stable.” (click here to read SurfKY News’ coverage of the recent IMS buyout announcement)
He went on to commend the leadership of Madisonville Mayor David Jackson and the city, citing their part in the collaborative effort to bring Berry Plastics back to Madisonville, a project that will represent $96 million in local investment and the addition of at least 420 jobs (click here to read SurfKY News’ coverage of the return of Berry Plastics). Waide was a part of the team that worked to attract Berry back to the Madisonville plant after they announced the facility’s closing just over a year ago.
“We’re going to continue to work to bring jobs here and improve the economy … of course, we’re going to continue to do the things that we’ve always done: Continue to support the schools, support the community college—I’m on the Education Committee, I’m on Health and Welfare, I’m on the Veterans’ Committee.” He said that following yesterday’s Veterans’ Memorial Dedication, he would be right back to work on the business of the district.
When asked about his confidence that he and other Republicans would be able to work with Governor Steve Beshear and the Democratic Caucus to meet in the middle, getting the state’s work done in a bipartisan manner, he said that Frankfort is not as divided as Washington.
“The truth is that we come to the middle all the time. The vast majority of bills that are considered in Frankfort receive votes from both Republicans and Democrats. There’s a handful of bills that become an issue, where you really stand on two sides of the issue. Most of them we really work together on.”
He said that, in an election year, the few divisions that do exist become highlighted, giving the appearance that the state government is more fractured than it actually is. “The folks in Frankfort work together more than this last election would lead you to believe.” He expanded on the subject, saying that, on a national level, legislators and the president have real work to do in the realm of bipartisan cooperation.
Waide spoke next about some of the challenges he expects to face this term, starting the conversation with the issue of the Public Employee Pension Fund. He said that the government’s diverse investments with pension funds have not performed well and that this is no surprise.
“[The State Legislature] made assumptions about these investments and how they would perform, and the assumptions were that these investments would perform better than any reasonable person would have assumed.” He said that this mismanagement combined with a failure by the legislature to adapt to evolving economic conditions left Kentucky taxpayers on the hook. “They saw the train coming, and they didn’t make any changes.” In addition, he said that the state pension managers stopped contributing as much money into the fund during prosperous economic times, leaving the fund in a hole when the recession hit. “The state has to keep their promise to retirees, and for future retirees, we’re going to have to fix the system so that it’s still there for them.”
Waide also expressed frustration with House leadership, lamenting that Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) would not allow debate on a new pension bill. When posed the question of why he thinks a pension overhaul is meeting with such resistance, he accused leadership of simply wanting to “kick the can down the road,” leaving the problem for future lawmakers. “I think it’s important to go ahead and deal with this and fix the problem.”
The pension issue, however, is not the biggest challenge he expects. “Our biggest challenge is our debt and spending. The Federal Reserve met [a couple months ago] in St. Louis, and their economists pointed to Kentucky and said that we, from a debt and spending standpoint, are the closest thing to the nation of Greece that the nation has. We are in terrible shape as far as our spending and our debt.”
He said that the state’s debt has increased from $14 billion when he took office to over $16 billion due to the recently passed budget, which he voted against. “We can’t keep spending money that we don’t have,” he said.
The Tax Commission’s proposed changes in the state’s tax structure will not remedy the situation, according to Waide, who said, “That’s ridiculous,” characterizing the tax increases as “tricky.”
“I’m telling you, from working up there with those folks, that’s exactly how they think: ‘The world will just keep turning as long as we can slide another tax increase in, and we will just have more money to spend.’ It really doesn’t make sense to raise taxes. That’s a short term way of looking at things. We are taxed to death. Our companies are taxed to death. It is so expensive to hire people. It just costs so much. It’s not just their salaries; it’s everything else you have to pay for that employee. That’s why our economy is stagnant right now. It’s not the answer. The only time we’ve seen incredible growth is when the government gets off the backs of businesses.”
Waide believes that creating a larger tax base by improving Kentucky’s fiscal position thereby attracting more businesses is the responsible plan as opposed to increasing taxes. “It’s something we know happens. It’s always happened that way. President Kennedy counted on it. Heck, it’s how he counseled the Japanese after World War II, and it worked for them. They are outperforming us massively right now. He said that from the state standpoint, significant taxes are already being levied, creating an unfriendly landscape for attracting new businesses.
He does see hope, however, evidenced by the work done locally to attract companies such as Berry Plastics and continuing efforts for projects in Dawson Springs and Hanson. He called Berry Plastics a “godsend” and a “blessing” and hopes that it will inspire other firms to take another look at locating in Hopkins County. These additions, he said, will be especially important moving forward, as he believes that additional coal jobs will be lost. He said that Kentucky is under attack by the federal government and the EPA and that new, more stringent greenhouse gas emissions regulations will decrease Big Coal’s competitive advantage in the marketplace. Waide expects the harsher regulations eastern Kentucky has seen in years past to make their way west and eventually into Hopkins County. “As this stuff catches up to us, it’s going to make it really difficult for our coal mines to function. It’s not wise, but that’s what’s coming. I fear for our coal industry.”
He said that his answer will be to continue working with the Economic Development Corporation to attract new industry. “There are new inquiries from businesses all the time looking for places to locate. When it gets to a certain stage, people like me and Jerry Rhoades and Donnie Carroll—we get really involved to bring those folks in here.”
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