- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 29, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Ralph Alvarado came back to politics after someone spray painted a racial slur on his front porch. He came back after an embarrassing 15-point loss to a Democrat in 2006. And he came back after an agonizingly close loss in 2010 that cost more than $100,000.

After his latest comeback, the 45-year-old Republican doctor finally claimed a prize: a seat in the state Senate representing Clark, Fayette and Montgomery counties as the first Hispanic member of the Kentucky General Assembly. Except maybe “prize” is the wrong word.

“The office was treated like a trophy. And I treat it like an absolute hammer,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to build something.”

Alvarado defeated Sen. R.J. Palmer in November, a rare feat to knock off an incumbent who was also leader of the Senate Democrats. In the four months since taking his seat, Alvarado sponsored eight bills that passed the state Senate - more than any other senator. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul asked Alvarado to introduce him in Louisville as he announced his campaign for president before assembled media from around the world.

“I am excited about the impact he will have as we seek to build a bigger, better and stronger GOP,” Paul said in a statement.

And Wednesday GOPAC, a national Republican recruiting organization, named him an “emerging leader” of 2015, giving him access to speech coaches, fundraisers and strategist to help mold him for a run for higher office - whatever, and whenever, that might be.

“Things are moving fast,” Alvarado said. “I have somewhat of a sense of urgency. I appreciate how much effort it has taken to get here.”

Alvarado, whose father is from Costa Rica and his mother is from Argentina, first ran for office in 2004 because he wanted to reform the legal system to reduce what he calls frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. He lost to Democratic state Rep. Don Pasley, and four days after the race someone spray painted a racial slur on his front porch. He challenged Pasley again two years later and lost by 15 percentage points in a year that Democrats enjoyed victories across the country.

He lost to Palmer narrowly in 2010 and decided his career in politics was over. But after serving as a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention, where he was in demand for Spanish-language TV stations, he tried again in 2014 with a newly redrawn district. This time, he defeated Palmer by nearly 6 percentage points.

In his first month in the Senate he led a contentious floor fight on a bill allowing a panel of medical experts to review malpractice lawsuits, with their reports admissible in court as a means to dissuade frivolous actions. Ultimately, eight of his bills passed the Senate but only one would become law. It requires health insurance plans to pay for colorectal cancer screening in a state that has some of the most deaths in the nation from the disease.

Alvarado also sought a statewide smoking ban in workplaces, which would be a significant move for a state with deep ties to the tobacco industry. He said he asked every member of the Republican caucus to support it. Although the bill passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for the first time ever, it never got out of committee in the Senate.

In the last days of the session, Alvarado angered the Republican leadership by voting with Democrats to suspend the Senate rules and force a vote on the ban.

He said he believes his colleagues know “in their hearts” that voters want the ban.

And he promised: “I’m going to continue to work on that.”

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