Voters in Northern Kentucky resoundingly chose Republican candidates overall in the 2022 general election but, in a non-congruent manner, voted down a Republican-aligned measure that would have eliminated the right to an abortion in the Commonwealth’s constitution.
Most legislative seats in Northern Kentucky are in Republican control after the election, including one significant flip in House District 65, currently held by Democrat Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington).
Wheatley lost to Republican Stephanie Dietz in a close race — 6,912 to 6,629 votes. The race was one of the most expensive House races in Kentucky, with Wheatley’s total campaign receipts amounting to $99,805.17. Dietz’s total campaign receipts amounted to $57,572.08, but an outside group called KSL, Inc. spent significant money on advertisements.
Dietz is the first woman to hold the seat and the first Republican in 97 years.
Redistricting significantly changed the district that’s been Democratic and mainly contained the City of Covington.
Under the new redistricting maps, Wheatley lost the more urban parts to more suburban districts, with one precinct going to Kim Banta (R-Fort Mitchell) in the 63rd. Other parts of Covington, particularly its eastern neighborhoods along the Licking River, shifted from the 65th to the 64th, represented by Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill).
“If Buddy Wheatley’s seat is not redrawn in the way it was redrawn, he’s winning,” said Ryan Salzman, a Northern Kentucky University political science professor and Bellevue City Councilman.
But, Republicans say that it came down to candidate quality in the 65th.
“I think candidate quality really matters,” said Kenton County Republican Chair Shane Noem. “Stephanie was a really hard-working candidate who knocked on doors aggressively. She earned every vote she received.”
With the loss of Wheatley, there is now only one NKY Democrat in the Kentucky legislature after incumbent Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport) held on to her seat after beating Republican challenger Jerry Gearding in the 67th District by a tally of 7,673 to 5,996 votes.
Outside of Roberts, Democrats in Northern Kentucky took a shellacking in NKY in key races. In Senate District 24, Republican Shelley Funke Frommeyer beat Democrat Rene Heinrich by 27,346 to 16,960 votes. The seat is currently held by Republican Wil Schroder of Wilder, who chose not to seek reelection.
Senate District 20, which is new to NKY, expanded into Southern Boone and Kenton counties after redistricting, which occurs every 10 years in Kentucky. Former legislator Gex Williams beat out Democrat Teresa Barton by a tally of 22,166 to 17,206 votes.
The district stretches all the way to Franklin County — a heavily democratic area of the state — and despite this, Republicans still prevailed.
“We could look at Senate District 20 as being a true toss-up because it was an open seat,” Salzman said, elaborating that it was hard to tell if redistricting affected the seat already held by a Republican in retiring state Senator Paul Hornbeck from Shelbyville.
“Kentuckians voted today for lower prices, more affordable American energy, safer communities, and excellence in education,” Williams said of his win.
That was similar messaging used by most Republicans ahead of the 2022 general election both locally and nationally as they sought to divert attention away from the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade — a federal ruling allowing for abortion access in the United States.
While that messaging might have resonated with voters to vote for Republican candidates in Northern Kentucky, two out of three counties in Northern Kentucky voted against Amendment 2 — which would have eliminated the right to an abortion in the Commonwealth’s constitution — a measure heavily supported by pro-life Republicans in Northern Kentucky.
Roughly 53% of Kentucky voters rejected the ballot measure, according to results from the Kentucky Secretary of State.
In Northern Kentucky, Boone was the only county to approve the measure, 51% to 49%.
Campbell County voted to reject Amendment 2, 57% to 43%, and Kenton County rejected the measure, 54% to 46%.
“Earlier this year, extremist lawmakers turned their back on Kentuckians and voted to strip us of our right to abortion,” Kentucky State Director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Tamarra Wieder said of the two trigger laws that went into effect after the Dobbs decision.
Salzman thinks this could provide a “cooling effect” on legislators eager to implement stringent prohibitions against abortion.
“You may see things like the exceptions, exceptions for rape, incest, certainly anytime the mother’s life is in danger,” Salzman said.
The voting down of the amendment also opened the door for the lawsuits filed in the wake of the state’s two abortion trigger laws – Human Life Protection Act and Heartbeat Law — going into effect after the Dobbs decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America requested emergency relief after the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Attorney General Daniel Cameron and allowed the abortion bans to go into effect on Aug. 2.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to allow Kentucky’s abortion bans to remain in effect puts nearly a million people’s health care in jeopardy,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Abortion is not only health care but also a critical individual freedom. Make no mistake: abortion bans result in tragic health outcomes and are a form of control over our bodies.”
However, the state Supreme Court blocked the motion for a temporary injunction, keeping the procedure illegal in Kentucky until the court hears oral arguments starting next week.
Correction: this article has been corrected to reflect that redistricting led to the 65th district losing only one precinct to the 63rd district, and not the northern parts of the district.