- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Republican voters have two options to potentially end the party’s long absence from the Kentucky attorney general’s office: a state lawmaker who touts his role in shaping criminal-justice legislation and a county prosecutor who promotes his courtroom experience.

The May 19 Republican primary for the job as Kentucky’s chief law enforcement officer pits state Sen. Whitney Westerfield against Lawrence County Attorney Michael Hogan. Kentucky’s current two-term attorney general, Democrat Jack Conway, is running for governor.

The nominee will face Andy Beshear, the son of Gov. Steve Beshear, in the general election. Beshear is unopposed in the Democratic primary. The winner in November will run an office with about 200 employees and a yearly budget exceeding $10 million.

The GOP candidates come from rural areas on opposite ends of the state: Westerfield is a native of Hopkinsville in southwestern Kentucky, and Hogan is from a county on the state’s eastern border.

Both tout their conservative credentials and say they would use the courts to fight what they see as President Barack Obama’s regulatory overreach. But each says his experience should give him the nod for the nomination.

Westerfield, 34, a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney, points to his Senate Judiciary Committee chairmanship.

Hogan, 47, touts his legal career spanning both sides of the courtroom - from a stint as public defender to his long tenure as a prosecutor.

Westerfield said he helped craft high-profile legislation to combat heroin addiction and to allow victims of abusive dating relationships to seek emergency protective orders. Last year, he championed legislation revamping the state’s juvenile justice system.

Westerfield said he would have an advantage in working with lawmakers on criminal-justice initiatives and advocating for prosecutors.

“You can’t just come in and demand things,” Westerfield said. “You’ve got to be prepared to work and compromise and find common ground and work from that and build consensus. I’ve done that.”

Hogan, in his fourth term as county attorney, countered that lawmakers listen to whoever holds the job as attorney general.

“He may be in the Senate with them, but I know the same individuals,” Hogan said.

Hogan has criticized Westerfield’s voting record: “If you’re going to tout yourself as being more experienced because you happen to be a one-term senator, then let’s examine that one-term senator’s record.”

Westerfield’s vote to raise limits on how much a person can donate to a political campaign would have increased the influence of money in politics, Hogan said. That measure died in this year’s legislative session. Westerfield said the bill would have created more transparency by encouraging money to be donated and reported by campaigns as opposed to money given and spent anonymously by outside groups.

Hogan also questioned Westerfield’s opposition to a bill that effectively stopped a drop in the state’s gas tax, a major source of revenue for the state road fund, which counties rely on to fix roads. Westerfield said the bill lacked a solution to a “broken formula” to support road work.

Both candidates said they would continue the work of the AG’s cybercrimes unit. Conway created the unit, which has launched 450 child pornography investigations that led to almost 800,000 images being seized from the Internet, Conway’s office said.

Westerfield and Hogan criticized Conway’s decision in March 2014 not to defend Kentucky’s gay marriage ban. Conway said he would not appeal a federal judge’s ruling forcing Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Gov. Beshear hired private attorneys to appeal the decision, which is now under review before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both Republican candidates said the attorney general is bound to defend state laws.

The latest campaign-finance reports showed Westerfield had about $60,000 on hand a few weeks before the primary. Hogan had $1,400 on hand.

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