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Will T. Scott Embraces Longshot Role in Kentucky Governor's Race


Will T. Scott has trailed in the polls to be the next Republican candidate for governor, but he's not giving up.

"I’m California Chrome," Scott said, referring to the horse who won the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. "Remember how far California Chrome was coming into the turn? Who won the race?"

California Chrome's jockey, Victor Espinoza drafted the thoroughbred behind two speedier horses before sprinting to the finish for his second Kentucky Derby win.

In a primary election in which only 10 percent of eligible voters are predicted to vote, Scott said he has a loyal base that will come out for him just when he needs them to.

"My people are hard. They’re hard, solid people they don’t change. Everybody else has got some soft folks who are showing right now," Scott said.

The 67-year-old describes himself as a “lunch pail Republican” who wants to run a "working-people government."

Scott doesn't always toe the GOP party line. For that reason he says he hasn't gotten institutional support.

“The Republican leadership doesn't want me to win because I don’t take a bit and a bridle, I don’t wear a saddle, you don’t see any big industries running here with sacks of money to fund my campaign,” Scott said.

As of May 4, Scott spent about $268,000 on his campaign; less than $150,000 of that was on advertising. He also raised $280,000 for his campaign, nearly $200,000 of that was his own money.

Scott's fundraising numbers are dwarfed by his fellow Republican candidates—$4.9 million for former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, $2.1 million for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and $1.8 million for Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.

Scott does have one political action committee donor: he received $1,000 from the Kentucky Workers Association, formerly known as the Kentucky Workers Injury Litigation Group.

Instead of relying on advertising, Scott has jumped out of a plane, taken a pie in the face and used every opportunity to speak at length about how he'd run Kentucky: innovative coal-fired power plants, work training for drug-addicted criminals and funding the ailing pension systems with expanded gambling at some racetracks

Scott hails from heavily Democratic Pike County in Eastern Kentucky, which is one reason he says he’s the best man to beat likely Democratic candidate, Attorney General Jack Conway.

“We’ll square off and I’ll win,” Scott said, predicting he'll bleed Democratic votes from eastern Kentucky and rural western Kentucky.

In his 2012 race for reelection to his seat in the Supreme Court, Scott beat out former Supreme Court Justice Janet Stumbo, a Democrat, in all of the district’s 22 counties.

Scott’s record as judge has skewed liberal at times—at least when it comes to Eastern Kentucky coal miners.

As a justice, Scott famously ruled in favor coal miners with black lung who had been denied health benefits.

When Scott was a Pike Circuit Court judge in the 1980s, he ruled against Bethlehem Steel for illegally mining 625,000 tons of coal from a Pike County farmer’s land—a case that dragged on for decades and ended up awarding the farmer’s heirs $40 million in damages.

Scott has trailed the other Republican candidates for governor in all regions across the state. But he’s still confident he’ll beat the three other candidates for the Republican nomination for governor; he said there are loyalists who will come out for him in his native Eastern Kentucky.

“Everybody else has been as high as they’re going to go, I’m still climbing,” Scott said.

Like his fellow Republican candidates, Scott wants to do away with the state’s health insurance exchange. He wouldn’t raise the minimum wage, and he supports the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

But Scott differs from his opponents in that he wouldn't push for statewide "right-to-work" legislation, which would make prohibit union dues as a condition of employment. He said doing so would activate pro-union voters.

"I'm not going to run on a right-to-work issue that will cost the Republican party the race in November," Scott said.

Several Democrats in the state House thwarted challenges from Republican "right-to-work" candidates in the November election last year.

Scott said he'd fix the state’s ailing pension system by allowing casino gambling at five venues around the state, including four racetracks.

He said  the proposal would net up to $300 million a year for the state to put towards the teachers' pension system, which is 46 percent funded, and the state employee pension system. That system is 17 percent funded.

Expanded gaming has been a major agenda item for Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, but proposals have gotten little traction in the Republican-led state Senate.

“I don’t buy this argument that I’m creating new gamblers, I’m just catching the ones that are carrying my money out of the state, and my people need it, not Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia,” Scott said.

Scott also wants to provide more treatment for drug addicted criminals in jails by building new medium-security prisons that would focus on therapy and career education for low-level criminals.

The Republican gubernatorial primary has recently focused on controversies, which Scott has largely avoided engaging.

But in the past, Scott has been the center of other controversies.

During his 2012 re-election campaign for the Kentucky Supreme Court, Scott appointed Eric Conn to his campaign board. Conn was accused of laundering contributions to Scott’s campaign by having his law office staff make 10 $1,000 donations to Scott.

Scott returned the money and was never charged with coordinating the contributions

“Up to this day I can’t explain it, the man had every reason in the world to know what the law was,” Scott said.

At the time, Conn was under a federal investigation for illegally funneling Social Security cases through a receptive judge in the Social Security office.

In 2008 the Administrative Office of the Courts announced that it would build Pike County’s new courthouse partly on properties owned by Scott in downtown Pikeville. Since Scott was a Supreme Court justice at the time, that raised concerns that the AOC had been in collusion with Scott to make the buy.

Scott said he sold the property because otherwise it'd be condemned by the state. According to the Herald-Leader, the state paid Scott $360,000 for the property.

Scott said if he loses the race, he won't run for office again.

"I have the answers, I think it’s my obligation to put them out there, if this is my last battlefield they’ll drag me off on my shield," Scott said.

This week, we profiled the Republican candidates for governor. Read them all here.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.