Decision in eligibility challenge against Democratic lawmaker could come next week

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


LOUISVILLE — A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge could make a ruling as early as next week about whether or not a sitting member of the Kentucky House of Representatives can appear on the May primary ballot. 

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, a Louisville Democrat who represents the 40th House District, filed earlier this year to seek reelection to her seat. However, Dennis Horlander — who previously represented the House district and has lost to Kulkarni in the 2018 and 2020 primaries — is challenging the validity of Kulkarni’s candidacy papers. 

The decision from Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry would affect the May 21 primary election. Kulkarni, who has served three terms in the House, has one Democratic challenger, William Zeitz. 

Both Kulkarni and Horlander appeared in court Wednesday and gave testimony. The hearing lasted about an hour and a half. 

Horlander claims that Kulkarni is not a bona fide candidate as one of the two witnesses who signed her papers was not a registered Democrat. The witness, Sharon LaRue, was a registered Republican at the time. After the filing deadline passed in early January, LaRue changed her registration to Democrat. Horlander is represented by attorney Steven Megerle, a former Republican city commissioner in Covington. 

Kentucky law says that any candidate filing to run in a primary election must have their petition signed by two registered voters of the same party within the election’s district. 

“The main question is whether or not we’re going to have open primaries in Kentucky,” Megerle said after the hearing. “And whether or not Republicans can nominate Democrats and Democrats can nominate Republicans for office.” 

Kentucky has closed primaries. 

Kulkanri told the court she had no reason to believe that LaRue was not a registered Democrat. The representative said LaRue had previously supported her campaigns, including canvassing for her, and the two have discussed Democratic politics and policies at length. 

After the filing deadline passed for candidates to file to run with the Secretary of State’s Office, House Democratic Leadership told Kulkarni about the issue of LaRue’s registration. Kulkarni said a contractor hired by the caucus had checked her and other Democratic representatives’ paperwork. Then, LaRue changed her voter registration. 

James Craig, Kulkarni’s attorney, pointed out that only a Democratic voter who is eligible to cast a ballot in the May primary for the 40th House District could file a lawsuit questioning Kulkarni’s eligibility. 

He then questioned whether Horlander was eligible, asking where he lived and citing a previous challenge against Horlander’s residency that was later dismissed. Craig, who is a Jefferson County Public Schools board member, asked about a second address for an apartment that is also in the 40th House District

Horlander replied that he lived at a Jefferson County address listed on his driver’s license and voter registration. Craig contended that it was a business address. 

Kulkarni said after the court adjourned that the lawsuit is “an attempt to throw somebody off the ballot” who is seeking a fourth term in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Her fellow Louisville Democratic Reps. Lisa Willner and Sarah Stalker were in the audience for the court hearing. 

“I believe that voters have the right to decide that on the May 21 primary date, and I do not believe that right should be disenfranchised,” Kulkarni said. 

Mergle said Horlander is seeking that votes cast for Kulkanri do not count in May’s primary. The attorney added that the Secretary of State’s office can issue a nomination of election for the remaining candidate to move on to the general election. No Republicans have filed to run for the 40th House District. 

Assistant Secretary of State Jennifer Scutchfield said ballots for the primary election have already been printed. 

Perry said the issue seems “straightforward” and said he will make a decision no sooner than next week. 

“It’s a great exercise in civics for all those watching,” the judge said. “This is how we resolve disputes.”

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