South Louisville district could hold key to control of Kentucky - WDRB 41 Louisville News

South Louisville district could hold key to control of Kentucky House

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McKenzie Cantrell McKenzie Cantrell
Denny Butler Denny Butler

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As Election Day approaches, the pressure is cranking up in one south Louisville district.

Control of the Kentucky House could hinge on one race, the 38th District, which is traditionally a Democratic stronghold.

But the race is straining some traditional loyalties because the incumbent, Rep. Denny Butler, is a former Democrat who turned Republican.

On Friday morning, Butler did what he does most every Friday morning, election or not: delivering Meals on Wheels to senior citizens.

“When I was a young kid, I was delivering meals with my mother in south Louisville,” Butler said.

Butler, a retired homicide detective, is from a family well-known in south Louisville politics.

He was elected to the state House in 2012 as a Democrat. But a year ago, in a surprise move, Butler switched parties.

He says he was angry at the mismanagement of a multi-million-dollar police and fire training fund and the reluctance of Democrats to do anything about it.

“I felt like I had a decision to make whether I protect a party and remain quiet, or I stand up and make a stand for transparency with our tax dollars and make a change,” Butler said.

Democrat McKenzie Cantrell says Butler's switch is what prompted her to jump into politics and run against him.

“It just didn't feel right to me, and something inside me just said, ‘This is your time. You need to do this. You need to step up,’” Cantrell said.

Cantrell, a Tennessee native, is a product of Emerge Kentucky, a group which trains Democratic women to run for office.

She's an attorney for the non-profit Kentucky Equal Justice Center and has lobbied in Frankfort for anti-poverty programs.

“I know how things sometimes don't work in Frankfort, and I want to be a part and see the change that I want to see,” Cantrell said.

Democrats want to reclaim this seat as badly as Republicans want to hold it. A pro-GOP PAC has spent thousands of dollars on Butler TV ads.

But Cantrell has gotten big support from labor unions in part because of Cantrell's opposition to right to work laws.

“You can't be for something that strips workers of their right to bargain and unionize and join together for better workplace conditions,” she said.

But Butler says he also opposes right to work and admits concern about losing labor support.

“I haven't changed positions on labor at all. But they've drawn a line in the sand and said that they don't want Republican support, so that's a decision they make,” Butler said.

Cantrell and Butler agree on other hot-button issues as well.

Both agree heroin is a serious problem and support additional resources for both law enforcement and treatment.  

Both say funding public pensions is a top priority.

Butler and Cantrell say they support a statewide smoking ban and a statewide fairness ordinance.

They also both express support for medical marijuana, but they're split on some issues likely to face the General Assembly.

Cantrell opposes charter schools, while Butler says he would likely support a pilot project.

Butler supports Gov. Matt Bevin’s effort to reduce Medicaid spending, while Cantrell supports the expansion.

Both acknowledge the race is one that will be closely watched on Election Day, resulting in high stakes and high drama in south Louisville

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