By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
RICHMOND — THE CANDIDATES
Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond
Rita Smart, 63, was elected to represent the 81st House District in November 2010, and is running for her second two-year term. Along with her husband, Richard, she owns the Bennett House Bed and Breakfast on West Main Street in Richmond. Prior to that, she was a county extension agent for Madison County from 1970 to 2005. The mother of two daughters, Smart served one term on the Richmond City Commission, 2008-10. From 2005 to 2009, she was the parttime Main Street Coordinator for Richmond. As of Oct. 22, Smart had spent $53,300.40 for the November election, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Mary McGill Long, R-Berea
Mary McGill Long, 61, served on the Berea City Council a number of years ago, but this is the first time she has run for a state-level office. She has always been active in her community through volunteering and serving on boards, including with the American Cancer Society and the Madison County Tax Assessment Board. Long also has been a Girl Scout leader.
Born and raised in Perry County, Long is married to Dr. Rob Long and has a son, a daughter and a stepson.
As of Oct. 22, Long had spent $1,845 in both her primary and general election campaigns, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
“I’m not for raising new taxes,” Smart said. However, she feels the state’s tax system must be modernized.
“Historically, Kentucky has never had the revenue sources for the services people need and want.”
The current taxation system was instituted in the 1950s, and Smart pointed out that no business that is successful today is running on a business plan from 60 years ago.
Long also said she is against any tax increase for Kentucky residents unless there is a definite need. She described herself as a fiscal conservative and if elected, she would look at every cabinet and department in state government for problems related to expenditures. Long added that those issues must be resolved before looking at tax modernization.
Kentucky’s pension plan for state employees is facing a major unfunded liability, which has moved the cost burden increasingly to county and local governments. School and health boards, to name a few, have struggled to balance their already cash-strapped budgets when a significant chunk of money must go into employees’ pension funds.
Long said it is important to protect the promises made to older workers, but changes must be made for newcomers in the state pension system.
“I don’t think we can continue to say we can take care of newcomers coming in,” Long said.
“We’ve got to stop the runaway train,” Smart said of the pension plan. She acknowledged that it wasn’t going to be easy, but it needed to be done. Smart also said that younger workers coming into the system may be expected to pay more into the pension plan.
Healthcare:Smart is a supporter of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“Our state will benefit (from the ACA) more than any other state in the union,” Smart said. She said in her work as an extension agent, she saw many rural families who were unable to get affordable health insurance and ended up losing their homes and farms because of medical bills.
“I think the ACA was a mistake,” Long said. She said funding for the healthcare reform was going to come from a federal fee on every bank transaction in the country, however several organizations, including the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center, have refuted this claim. A 1-percent “transaction tax” was first proposed in 2004 by one U.S. House member to replace federal income tax and eliminate the national debt, but the bill, which had nothing to do with the later healthcare bill, was never voted upon.
Long said she understands how hard it is for people to get and afford health insurance.
“I didn’t have health insurance for eight years,” Long said. “I decided to stay healthy. I raised my children to be healthy.”
The ACA requires states to set up a health exchange for its residents to purchase affordable insurance, but if a state refuses to participate, the federal government will run that state’s exchange.
Smart said whether people supported the bill or not, the state should run the exchange.
“It’s important we have local control,” Smart said.
Long agreed with Smart’s position: “I don’t think the federal government should be involved in what we’re doing in this state.”
Last year, Gov. Beshear moved control of Medicaid to three private managed care operations in an effort to reduce costs. However, earlier this month, one of the MCOs backed out of its contract claiming the system was not profitable.
Long’s husband, Dr. Rob Long, was a long-time practicing physician, and Long has seen first-hand how the reduction in Medicaid reimbursements has created barriers for people who are already struggling to get health care.
“Many doctors have stopped taking Medicaid patients,” Long said.
Smart said the governor was trying to appease Kentuckians who were calling for more efficient government by contracting with MCOs to handle Medicaid care, however “cheap is not always best,” she said.
Fighting drug abuse:
During the last session, the “pill mill bill” was passed by the General Assembly, which placed more restrictions and monitoring on many types of medications.
Long said the bill needs to changed, “if not repealed.” The increased restrictions and regulation surrounding the prescribing of certain medications to patients, most of whom aren’t addicts, have led to some doctors even giving up their narcotics licenses, Long said.
Smart voted for the bill but said that many of the restrictions that are causing problems for doctors and patients were set by the Medical Licensing Board, not the legislature. She said the legislature should not revise or repeal the bill but work with the board to improve regulation.
Also proposed during the last session was a bill that would made pseudoephedrine, a allergy medication also used to make methamphetamine, a prescription-only medication. After lobbying against the bill by some pharmaceutical companies, the bill did not pass.
Smart said she supported the bill.
“I would give up my time to get a prescription if it would save a child’s life, and I’m disappointed in people who won’t,” Smart said.
Long disagreed with making pseudoephedrine a prescription medication.
“It’s legislating for the few against the many,” she said.
Education:Smart said an emphasis on vocation education is key to improving the area’s workforce. She believes that manufacturing jobs are coming back, but they will be more high-tech so students need to be learning more about technology in the classroom.
While area elementary schools tend to do well in testing, middle and high schools need more attention, Smart said. Giving teachers raises and finding a way to get funding for full-day kindergarten will be priorities for Smart if she is re-elected.
Long noted that “education starts at home,” and she supports exploring ways to make childcare more affordable.
Helping the Kentucky’s elderly and children will be her focus if she’s elected, Long said.
“It’s those two segments that have the hardest time,” Long said, adding she believes families and churches are the key to helping those vulnerable groups.
“We need to get where we feel responsible for our community,” Long said.
If Long is elected to represent the 81st District, she would create an advisory board of people who have experience in certain areas, including economic development, to help guide her. She said she supports financial incentives and reducing taxes to bring jobs to the area.
Smart said she supports state economic incentives to bring new industries to the area as well as allow existing companies to expand and add more employees.
She noted that a “big percentage of our workforce is through the government,” including EKU, public schools, Department of Criminal Justice Training, judicial system, the Army depot and city and county government.
“I’ve worked really hard to maintain funding for things we already have,” Smart said. “I was really happy with the revenue we were able to maintain.”
This election:Long said she was driven to run for office because she was raised to be civic-minded.
“We need to give back more than we take,” she said.
Long said she’s always been a problem-solver, and she is willing to push for bipartisanship if it helps the state.
“I’ve always been very vocal,” Long said, calling Smart an “uncompromising liberal.”
“I don’t know why we can’t reach across the aisle anymore,” Long said.
Smart said she hopes the voters of the 81st District will let her “continue what I’ve started.” The past two years have helped her “learn the ropes in Frankfort,” networking with key people who can help the district and the entire state, she said.
More importantly, Smart said she has enjoyed helping constituents with problems navigate the red tape in Frankfort.
“I will continue to do that because that is what a representative is for,” Smart said. “We work all year long.”
In 2012, Smart earned $25,409, which was made up of the in-session salary and interim work days. She earned $20,139 as a legislator in 2011, according to state records.
To find out more about Smart, go to www.ritasmart.com. Long does not have a campaign website.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.