The Kentucky Equine Education Program met Sept. 6 at Midway University, in Midway, Ky., ahead of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale to update attendees on current legislative matters and introduce the new candidates for Senate and House districts from each party ahead of the November election.
Elisabeth Jensen, executive vice president of KEEP, moderated the event, kicking off with senate majority floor leader Damon Thayer giving opening remarks and praise to contingents for helping push through HB 607, the pari-mutuel taxation modernization legislation.
Sen. Thayer discussed the challenges he is facing in Frankfort, and the recent vote gained to facilitate the massive upgrades Churchill Downs has made to Turfway Park. This includes the nearly $250 million spent to acquire the property near Florence, Ky., knock down the original facility built in 1959, add five barns and approximately 180 more stalls, build a new two-story dormitory for backside workers, and make many other upgrades.
The old grandstand at Turfway Park
“We needed every vote to get this (HHR Senate Bill 120) passed. You can’t just rely on the votes from the golden triangle (Northern and Central Kentucky and Louisville); we need votes throughout the state to support us,” Senator Thayer said. “For that to happen, we need a consistent presence in Frankfort from everybody in this room.”
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Knowing who your state legislators are, not just in a time of crisis or need, but ahead of the elections, is imperative to making an informed decision at the ballot box. There are two, a house member, a position up for re-election every two years, and the senate member, who is elected every four years.
Representative Matt Koch was in attendance and spoke about the importance of fighting for Kentucky’s signature Thoroughbred industry. Reasons he listed to be involved in legislative issues in Kentucky included labor shortages due to the opioid pandemic and taxation issues, including the pari-mutuel taxation task force—it’s not if this comes up again, but when.
“Nothing makes the crops grow like the shadow of the owner, but how about nothing makes good legislation like boots on the ground in Frankfort,” Koch said.
Republican candidates in attendance Tuesday evening included Kyle Whalen from the 93rd House seat; Jay Williams, State Senate District 20; Steve Bratcher, 25th State House seat; and Steve Rollins, State Representative for District 66.
Chauncey Morris, executive director of the KTA-KTOB, moderated questions for each candidate, giving more background on each individual and highlighting the matters most important to them if elected while circling back to how the horse industry impacts their futures.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reggie Thomas spoke about his initial introduction to the racing industry as a young boy visiting the racetrack on the weekends with his grandparents, where he began learning to read the Daily Racing Form.
“By the time I got to first grade, I was a fairly good reader because I was reading the Racing Form every weekend,” Thomas said. “I fell in love with horse racing at a young age, and it has stayed with me my entire life.”
An owner with Living the Dream Stables, Thomas has continued his fascination and involvement in the racing industry. He said he hopes to see the Thoroughbred industry incorporate two things moving forward to help secure the best for the industry over the next decade. First, he said racing needs to be attractive and appealing to the younger audience to help foster the excitement and thrill of racing. Second, in this day and age of 24/7 news, he wants to see racing develop a stronger presence on major television networks, possibly with a lead-up to the Kentucky Derby (G1) beginning in March to help build the excitement to the first Saturday in May.
“I believe we (Democrats) will win three or four senate seats this year. I see all the things coming together, fundraising, people on the ground, people in politics want to make a difference,” Thomas said. “As Americans, I can say democracy is certainly on the ballot for 2022.”
Thomas introduced the Democratic nominees, who took to the stage to answer similar questions put forth by Morris. Candidates included Teresa Barton, District 20 State Senate, Kelly Jones for State House District 68, and Brian Easley, a write-in candidate for Senate District 6.