With Tommy Turner stepping down from the 85th District of House of Representatives after 24 years, the seat has become the most contested on the May Primary ballot.
No fewer than four candidates are running in the district that include portions of Pulaski and Laurel counties. Among them is a Somerset man well known in local political circles.
For the last four years, Shane Baker served in Governor Matt Bevin's administration as a field representative with the Kentucky Department for Local Government (DLG). His tenure ended last month with Bevin being succeeded by Governor Andy Beshear.
A lifelong Pulaski Countian, Baker grew up in the Nancy community but has lived in Somerset for nearly three decades -- running his own small business for 21 years before before selling it to join the DLG. His and his wife's interest in politics, he said, was a way to deal with governmental policies which frustrated them and wanting to get involved in the hopes of helping create better policy.
"It's like watching a Kentucky ballgame and wishing they had done something a little different," Baker said. "You imagine how you would have done it. Rather than complaining about [politics], I felt I should get involved."
With Turner's impending retirement, Baker said he was encouraged by several to run on his own. After speaking with Turner and praying with his family about the decision, he decided the time was right to throw his hat in the ring.
"Faith and family are my greatest priorities," Baker stated. "These two things drive my thinking on all areas of life."
While he is considering some different business opportunities, for now Baker is focused on his campaign. Two of the issues he's most passionate about are ending abortion and continuing pension reform.
"Kentucky has led the way in passing pro-life legislation in recent years," Baker stated. "Every life has infinite worth. Until this heinous practice has ended, this battle will continue. It is one worth fighting.
"Our public pension obligation continues to grow," he went on. "Because of this, there has been a growing chorus to raise revenue. Many are calling for expanded gaming or recreational marijuana to make up the shortfall. We must keep the promises that have been made to those who serve the Commonwealth. However, we need to be mindful of the costs associated by legalizing these actions. Each of these issues adversely affects Kentucky families."
Baker noted that there are a number of important bills being considered during the 2020 General Assembly. He called a Senate bill requiring voter identification "commonsense legislation that most anybody can get behind" regardless of their side of the aisle.
"It's important that we have integrity in our elections and can fully trust that the votes which have been counted are votes that are legitimate," Baker said.
Another Senate bill would move the election for Kentucky constitutional offices from odd years to even that align with the Presidential election -- saving millions of taxpayer dollars, not only for the commonwealth overall but its 120 individual counties collectively. He noted that every local government is dealing with budget issues, exacerbated by the opioid epidemic and jail overcrowding.
"We have to be mindful of our dollars," Baker said, adding that most families must budget carefully and live within their means. "We have to make sure as stewards of taxpayers' dollars -- whether it's local, state or federal level -- that we are good stewards of those dollars and that we pass commonsense measures to make sure that we're not spending money unnecessarily."
In addition to saving money when possible, Baker said the state should be looking at ways to raise revenue while continuing to making Kentucky more business-friendly. "We have great obligations as a state to our pensioners and other things with education and things that we need and need to pay for. To do that, we're going to have to have revenue," he said.
Rather that further squeezing existing taxpayers, Baker would like to see the legislature help broaden our tax base by creating more job opportunities. Not only would it help the bottom line, but jobs allow young people to remain close to home if they choose rather than having to move away.
"Some of the legislation passed in recent years has helped do that," he said. "There's still more work to be done, because it's not about businesses; it's about the people who work at those businesses. Every person in our community; they have families and are trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.
"Increasing job opportunities will help people take care of their families. At the end of the day, it brings the revenue we need to pay for all the things that we owe plus things that we want in the future. We want safe roads and good schools for our families and future generations," Baker concluded.
At the local level, Baker praised the collaboration of the City of Somerset and Pulaski County through SPEDA (Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority).
Baker is married to Laura VanHoose Baker, a teacher at Hopkins Elementary. They have two sons, Gabe and Caleb.