Independent files for Rollins’ vacant seat

Patton staffer John-Mark Hack now chairs anti-gambling group

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

John-Mark Hack, an anti-gambling advocate and former member of Gov. Paul Patton’s staff, has filed to run as an independent in the 56th House District special election June 25.

Hack, 46, of Versailles, submitted his nominating petition with 174 certified signatures Tuesday, the filing deadline.

He will face James Kay II, a 30-year-old Versailles attorney, and Lyen Crews, vice president of business affairs at Midway College, to fill former Rep. Carl Rollins’ term. Rollins was named head of the agencies overseeing scholarships largely funded by the Kentucky Lottery Corp.

Hack, who helped launch the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy under Patton in 1998, said he was encouraged to run by Democrats, Republicans and other voters in the district “who are disgusted with what’s happening in Frankfort.”

He changed his party affiliation to independent from Democrat in 2007.

“Our commonwealth is on the brink of financial bankruptcy, and the two parties have failed us,” Hack said. “They are not producing the results that we need to move this state forward.”

Hack is a founding partner in Marksbury Farm Market in Lancaster and chairman of the anti-gambling group Stop Predatory Gambling. He was also the first president of the Kentucky Tobacco Settlement Trust and first chief executive of the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund.

His top issues include modernizing Kentucky’s tax code, improving the cash-strapped Kentucky Retirement Systems and building a sustainable business environment for the agriculture community, he said Wednesday morning.

Pension reform was hailed as a major achievement of the 2013 session, but Hack called Senate Bill 2, which will place newly hired public employees in a hybrid cash balance pension system and mandate fully funding state pension contributions “lipstick on a pig.”

“State employees need assurances that their pension system is not going to go bankrupt, and we need to get about the work of developing real solutions to the unfunded liability in the Kentucky Retirement Systems,” he said.

The race to fill Rollins’ House seat will be hotly contested with fewer than seven weeks to the election. Republicans see it as an opportunity to narrow the partisan gap in the state House, where Democrats hold a 54-45 majority. Crews, 51, lost to Rollins by 744 votes in 2010.

Prominent Democrats have shown support for Kay, a former legislative aide to House Speaker Greg Stumbo and staffer under former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler. Gov. Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, Auditor Adam Edelen and other high-ranking Democrats stumped for Kay at Kentucky Democratic Party headquarters Monday, where Kay netted $20,000 for his campaign, cn|2 reported.

Crews will have a similar event 6:15 p.m. Thursday at Capital Plaza Hotel.

Hack, who hopes to raise about $60,000 to finance his campaign, said he likes his chances in the special election because the number of pure partisan voters is shrinking.

“We’re neither in a position to match what the parties are going to put into this race, nor do I want to match what they’re putting into this race because what they do, the funding levels they put into elections is obscene,” he said. “If we can raise $60,000, we will be in a position to not only be competitive in this race, but we’ll win it.”

The 56th House District covers Woodford County and portions of Franklin and Fayette counties.

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