As May 17 grows closer, the Republican Primaries are creeping upon us. In Campbell County, one could argue the most prominent seat up for election is judge/executive, especially with an incumbent who has held office for 24 years and two candidates that we saw run against one another in 2018.
Primary election voter turnout has been meager across the counties in Northern Kentucky over the years.
What makes primaries so important?
Using this race as an example, with no Democratic challenger, whoever wins between the incumbent Steve Pendery and challenger Anna Zinkhon wins the election.
Pendery was elected Campbell County judge/executive in November 1998. He said this position is not something you just take turns doing.
“If you had a family business, you would laugh if someone said this person had been around too long, you’d say we’re going to get the best person, period,” Pendery said. “I don’t consider myself irreplaceable, but I know a lot of people, and we have an excellent staff.”
The first campaign Pendery said he was involved in was when he was just 9. He walked up and down the street in Newport, passing out forums. Ever since then he has been engrossed with local government.
Pendery was previously a city councilmember in Fort Thomas from 1984 until 1990 and then Mayor of Fort Thomas from 1990 through 1998 before becoming Campbell County judge/executive.
“It gets more fun as time goes on,” Pendery said. “Someone new would have no idea what our financial circumstances are. No idea of personnel capabilities, and I have a good grip on that. The longer you do it, the more you see what needs to get done and the more fun it is.”
As far as personnel capabilities go, Pendery said the county now has an active voice at the legislative level to help get the county what it needs.
“We are actively sending Justin Otto (Campbell County Economic and Community Development Director) to Frankfort to lobby for what we need. Only in the last few years did the legislature do more good than harm,” Pendery said. “It’s exciting to have that opportunity to talk with people with open minds and help you try to achieve your ends.”
Pendery said his accomplishments belong to a whole lot of other people. He said there is an ethic that calls upon everyone to work together, and rarely does it come down to a republican or democrat thing.
One of his most recent accomplishments for the county, Pendery said, is negotiating a deal with Cincinnati Bell alongside Boone and Kenton counties to get Fiber Optics the door of every resident in Northern Kentucky, making it the largest Fiber Optics deal in the country.
“We’re ahead of the curve on that,” Pendery said. “The three of us settled on the same company. We worked before Covid-19 came, and we were at the top of the line. The projects are halfway over already. Almost all residents will be done in the next 18 months. Every person with Fiber Optics already gets a price break. Fiber is the most secure thing out there and the best thing.”
Another recent investment into the county involved troubleshooting a region-wide radio system for first responders. This project was also done in collaboration with Boone and Kenton Counties.
Pendery said first responders needed a more sophisticated system to communicate with. Due to technology upgrades, the county’s current system would be forced out of commission.
Now areas like dead spots in the county or old buildings that signals could not penetrate before will not be an issue. First responders have a new radio that can carry signals on a narrow bandwidth. They can also talk between counties now and with Cincinnati Police.
Pendery said this project was an estimated $40-$50-million-dollar investment, but it only cost $30 million due to the collaboration between counties.
“We’re a big donor region, and we don’t get much out of it,” Pendery said. “Northern Kentucky is off the charts on workforce participation rates. We are 10% points hire than the rest of the state. More people work here than anywhere else in the state. An investment in Northern Kentucky offers a return like nowhere else in the state.”
A few other things Pendery mentioned he has helped the county work toward are the Northern Kentucky University’s new Health Innovation Center, new medical school and Griffin Hall Informatics Center.
He said they have also invested in quasi-government agencies like The Brighton Center and Mentoring Plus.
Pendery’s opponent, Anna Zinkhon, said at the REP Candidate Forum that though she appreciates Pendrey’s 24 years of work, she thinks the county needs change and knows she can do better. Zinkhon previously ran against Pendery in 2018 and lost.
Zinkhon declined to speak with LINK nky. All of her comments come from the REP Candidate Forum from April 11.
Zinkhon was asked at the forum if she thought the county should stop doing so many things in tandem with Boone and Kenton counties and become more independent even if it costs more money.
“I think it depends on what services we’re providing,” Zinkhon said at the forum. “I’m not an expert. I’m not in the position yet. But I definitely will be representing Campbell County. If it makes sense for Campbell County, a value for being with Boone and Kenton, we’ll definitely do it. But if we’re going to get the short end of the stick, we’re not going to do it.”
Zinkhon is the chair of the Campbell County Republican Party. Her vice-chair of the Campbell County Republican Party, Dave Fischer, is also running for a seat on the Fiscal Court. He is running for Campbell County Commissioner, District one, against incumbent Brian Painter.
“I’m not a politician; I’m a farmer. I’m American,” Zinkhon said. “I’ve been involved in local community projects over the last 15 years that have taught me a lot about what goes on in our local government, and I think we need some change.”
Though Zinkhon did not directly go into what changes she would implement should she be elected, she did go into what makes her qualified for the position.
“I think we can do better. I know I can do better,” Zinkhon said at the forum. “I come from a corporate background where I worked my way up from the ground into upper management. Managing IT professionals in the corporate world in Cincinnati, and I left that to start my own business. I started Misty Ridge Farm. It’s a boarding and riding lesson farm, and I’ve been employed by it since 2001.”
Zinkhon said since she lost in 2018, she has been trying to do everything to reach out to voters to make them educated.
“I ran in 2018, and people told me when I knocked on doors, ‘I don’t vote because I cannot get any candidate information. There’s no newspaper. I don’t know what the job involves, so I don’t want to give the candidate the job if they can’t do it. And since I’m afraid to give a bad person a vote, I’m not voting.’ We are trying to change that,” Zinkhon said at the forum.
Zinkhon said her ethics come from farming, working hard, accomplishing things on her own, and having her word mean everything.
“When I tell you I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability,” Zinkhon said at the forum. “I hope to get your support. I think we’ve got a lot of great things going here in Campbell County, and I think a lot of stones have been left unturned, and I’m going to turn them over and ask the hard questions.”
When asked about his opponent, Pendery said he thinks everyone needs to put down their remote and go volunteer to find out that most people are good.
“The average American is already a good person or is trying to become one, and all they want is what’s best for their kids, grandkids, friends,” Pendery said. “There are people working in Northern Kentucky trying to make it a better place every day. We all need to be proud of what is done here. I get sick of hearing how wrong everything is because it’s bulls***.”
As for voting in local elections, Pendery said happy people stay home, angry or frightened people go vote.
“If you don’t turn out, there’s a natural drift to the extremes,” Pendery said. “The people that show up are mad. It perpetuates this uncivil angry America that I think we all need to try to cure.”