(Editor’s note: Jacob Conway has been actively involved in local and state politics since he was 16 years old. Conway has managed or consulted on a host of local, state and judicial campaigns since the 2002 election cycle. He currently is a partner at Website Mentors, a locally owned and operated Web Design and Digital Marketing Firm.)
By Jacob Conway
As someone who grew up in the southeastern part of Jefferson County, I am very familiar with the name “Ackerson.”
Jon Ackerson has represented East Enders for 21 years as a member of the General Assembly (serving in both houses), four years on the Jeffersontown City Council.
In 2008 he came out of political retirement and replaced outgoing Metro Councilwoman Julie Raque Adams, representing the 18th District.
In 2008, Ackerson – a practicing lawyer – ran in a hotly contested three-way primary.
You might remember accusations of dirty pool flung back and forth between Mr. Ackerson and one of his opponents, Ellen Reitmeyer. Reitmeyer is a long-time leader in the local Republican Party, and worked as the legislative aide to then-Councilwoman Adams.
Ackerson raised more than $40,000 and handidly won his party’s nomination, receiving 420 more votes than his two opponents combined.
After he won the primary, the Democratic candidate dropped out of the race stating that he couldn’t raise the money to compete with a candidate like Ackerson. In addition to Jon’s long record of public service, his wife Kay Ackerson served three terms on the Jeffersontown City Council and his son Brent Ackerson currently serves on the Metro Council.
Brent represents the neighboring 26th District and is a Democrat.
Most people would assume that the elder Councilman Ackerson would receive little if any opposition in his bid for re-election.
However, the long time legislator might have a fight on his hands this year.
Recently Tea Party Activist Marilyn Parker filed her paperwork to challenge Ackerson for their party’s nomination. The winner of the May 2012 primary will face off with the winner of the Democratic Primary.
The filing deadline for major party candidates is two months away, and third Party and Independent candidates have until August to file their paperwork, meaning a few more candidates could enter the fray.
During his first term on the Metro Council, the long time Republican has proven to be an independent voice who chooses conscience over caucus.
He has crossed sides on several key votes that fell along party lines; he donated to several high profile Democrats including Councilman Jim King’s mayoral race and publically endorsed Gov. Steve Beshear’s re-election campaign.
Yet, conservatives would be hard pressed to call him a RINO (Republican in Name Only): He also donated to Hal Heiner in both the mayoral primary and general election(s) and he supported Republican Todd P’Poole in his recent bid for attorney general.
Last month, he voted with the Republican minority on a union-related ordinance that fell on party lines.
I recently sat down with Councilman Ackerson to discuss his bid for a second term, which by all accounts looks to be shaping up to be one of the more exciting races on the ballot this May.
I first asked the Republican stalwart why he thinks he drew an opponent from the right and specifically from the Tea Party wing of his party. Ackerson didn’t know, telling me he regularly attends Tea Party meetings and considers his views on limited government to be inline with their views.
He pointed out that during the 2010 election, he supported Tea Party darling Rand Paul’s U.S. Senate campaign.
“I would assume my opponent wants to be more involved in the Republican Party and in the political process; serving on the Metro Council is a good stepping stone to higher office,” Ackerson said.
I asked him if he thought that his reputation for working across party lines and if his recent endorsement of Governor Beshear caused him to draw a primary opponent.
He thought it could have played into his opponent’s decision, though he added he didn’t think that Parker would be the only candidate to challenge him. Something he said he welcomes, stating it was a “positive thing” that so many people are interested in public service.
In response to questions about his record of bi-partisanship he pointed out that he was a loyal Republican who donates more than any other GOP elected official to his fellow candidates and local party.
He quickly pointed out though that he “couldn’t in good conscience support an individual simply because they were a Republican, if they were incompetent.” A sentiment with which I strongly agree. He added that the voters elect legislators to work together to accomplish goals, not to fight with one another.
His opponent(s) better be ready to raise money and have the time to walk the district … the Ackersons are well known for their retail door-to-door campaigning style.
Jon also pointed out that he has never had a problem raising money and doesn’t expect that to change this year. If he loses, he said it wouldn’t be due to “a lack of funding”.
Our conversation then turned to his record on the council, when asked what he was most proud of he said he it was the individual work he has done inside his district.
Ackerson recently funded handicap-accessible sidewalks to assist residents in the suburban city of Hurstbourne. He has used his contacts going back to his days in the Kentucky General Assembly to secure funding to improve traffic and road conditions on the notoriously congested Hurstbourne Parkway between Interstate-64 and Shelbyville Road.
Ackerson attends all of the suburban city council and neighborhood associations meetings at least quarterly throughout his district.
Should he be re-elected, he wants to continue his work on improving infrastructure throughout his district by adding sidewalks and other pedestrian lanes allowing residents to walk and bike throughout his district.
He also wants to continue his work reforming and improving the planning and zoning process in Jefferson County.
Ackerson currently chairs the Council’s Planning and Zoning committee and pointed out the current process is too bogged down with red tape, which in his opinion hurts our economic development and overall job growth.
I attempted to contact Marilyn Parker for an interview to get her perspective. But due to what she perceived as my personal friendship with Jon’s son, Brent and his legislative aide, she refused to discuss her race with me.
As a veteran of local politics, I feel safe in saying that the 18th District Metro Council Republican Primary will be just as exciting in 2012 as it was in 2008 – if not more. Stay tuned.