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Eastern Kentucky politics scare voters and candidates



Published: Fri, May 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



And we thought the Mahoning Valley was bad. These days, local candidates may be throwing verbal brickbats at each other, but at least in recent years elections have focused on ballots not bullets.

In Eastern Kentucky, two candidates for sheriff were shot to death, a county clerk narrowly escaped the barrage of bullets that were fired at his van, and the sheriff in another county suspended absentee voting when crowds became unruly. If such goings on were going on in Ohio, we'd be calling for an investigation by the Secretary of State's office -- which has jurisdiction over elections -- and the state police. In Kentucky, where shootings have marred elections since the 1800s, this is apparently considered par for the course. It should be no surprise that the Hatfields and McCoys hailed from Kentucky.

In February, The Associated Press reported on four former Eastern Kentucky sheriffs who were trying to regain elective office in the May primary -- three as sheriff -- after being removed from office because of criminal charges.

Cast of characters

They were: Roger Benton, a former three-term Morgan County sheriff was convicted in federal court of accepting $10,000 to protect drug deals. He finished third in a four-man field of Democrats in the primary held last Tuesday.

Ray Clemons, 53, a former Breathitt County sheriff, was sentenced to a year in prison in 1997 for failing to report drug activity in his own family. He lost by only 44 votes.

Douglas Brandenburg, 54, served four terms as Lee County judge-executive before being ousted by voters in 1989. He was in a second term as sheriff in 1994 when he pleaded guilty to federal charges of obstructing justice. He did win the Democratic nomination.

Paul L. Browning Jr., 56, a former Harlan County sheriff, was convicted in state court in 1982 of plotting to kill two county officials. He said he was seeking his old job again because he had some ''unfinished business.'' Apparently someone else had some unfinished business with Browning who in March was found shot dead inside his burned-out truck on a country road.

In Clay County, where the van of incumbent clerk Jennings White was shot up -- he wasn't hurt or re-elected -- a poll worker had to be removed for politicking at the polling place on election day. The Kentucky attorney general's office is said to be investigating vote buying in the county which has only 15, 804 registered voters, but 853 voting absentee -- a likely sign of irregularities.

At least someone in Frankfort sees a problem.




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