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A history of Boyle County’s judge-executive elections

Who has been judge-executive in Boyle County when — and why — has become a topic of debate this election season.

Republicans like Tom Tye have looked at the county’s history of Democratic judge-executives and cried foul: “We don’t need county office-holders who hand-pick their successors. That is the role of the voters, not government officials,” Tye, the Boyle County Republican Party chair, wrote in a 2017 opinion column published in The Advocate-Messenger. “Our office-holders in Boyle County have consistently relied on the tactic of ‘timely’ resignations to allow their chosen successor the luxury of on-the-job training and the advantage of being the incumbent in the next election.”

In a story just a few weeks ago about the importance of public candidate forums that are being sponsored by the Boyle County Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Chair Rick Waldon said this year’s election will be historical because “This will be the first time, I believe, since 1978, that the judge-executive will have an election.”

Boyle County Democratic Party Chair and former county attorney Richard Campbell wrote a letter to the editor expressing concern about the accuracy of Waldon’s comment and speculating that it “may be a conjecture based upon a ‘guest’ article published by the Republican county chair (Tye) several months ago.”

To clear the air about Boyle County’s judge-executive history, here is a timeline of who has held the seat and how they got it, ever since the modern judge-executive position was created in the late 1970s.

When Democratic Boyle County Judge S.C. June White died unexpectedly in July 1977, Mrs. Mary Cloyd Pendygraft of Junction City was appointed to serve as Boyle County judge until Jan. 1, 1978, finishing White’s unexpired term. She had been employed in the county judge’s office for more than 15 years as secretary and trial commissioner, serving under the terms of both the late Judge White and his predecessor, the late Judge Gilbert White.

Pendygraft was sworn in as county judge by Chief Justice Scott Reed in the office of Gov. Julian Carroll in Frankfort.

Pendygraft (D) faced Al Meade (R) in the general election for the newly formed office of judge-executive in 1977 and won. She was uncontested for re-election in the next two election cycles in 1981 and 1985.

In November 1989, Pendygraft defeated Republican Sage Cutler to earn a fourth term. She also announced she would not run for re-election.

Pendygraft retired in July 1993 and recommended Tony Wilder (D) be appointed for the remainder of her term — less than half a year. At the time Cutler said, “I’m disappointed that the governor appointed Tony instead of someone not related to the campaign. … I think it would have been better if the governor had appointed a non-biased person … Sen Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, met with the governor and asked him to appoint someone else, but apparently to no avail.”

In the November 1993 general election, Wilder beat Cutler.

Wilder was unopposed in the 1998 election. He defeated Republican Brent Shannon in 2002 and defeated Republican Scott Scutchfield in 2006.

When Wilder resigned in 2008 to take a position in state government, Harold McKinney (D) was appointed by the governor to fill his seat. Because of the amount of time remaining in Wilder’s term, a special election was held in November of that year, with McKinney defeating Republican challenger Pete Kendrick.

In 2010, McKinney was elected to his first full term as judge-executive after defeating Republican challenger Lynn Harmon. In 2014, McKinney defeated Harmon again.

McKinney is not seeking re-election this year; Democratic candidate Gary Chidester and Republican candidate Howard Hunt are competing for the seat.

IF YOU GO

A public forum between Democratic candidate Gary Chidester and Republican candidate Howard Hunt for the seat of Boyle County Judge-Executive will be held at 6 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Oct. 11) at Gravely Hall at Danville High School.

Following the judge-executive forum, magistrates for District 5, Jamey Gay (D) and Stephen Cline (R) will meet at 6:45 p.m.