By Lee Chottiner
(Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an earlier story.)
Dr. Karen Berg, decisively won a June 23 special election for the state Senate from District 26, guaranteeing that a Jewish lawmaker will be part of the next session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
With all 82 precincts reporting, in a district that spans Jefferson and Oldham counties, Berg, a Louisville Democrat, won with nearly 58 percent of the vote against Republican Bill Ferko. Her victory represents a one-seat pickup for the Democrats in the state Senate.
Ballots took several days to count because of Kentucky’s experiment with no excuse mail-in voting. Ballots were counted even if received after election day, as long as they were postmarked in time.
When the results were known, though, Berg became not just the only Jewish member of the legislature, but its first female physician.
In another contest involving a Jewish candidate, Daniel Grossberg lost his primary bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Tom Burch in House District 30.
“I’m very excited; I’m humbled; I’m ready to get to work,” said Berg, who will serve out the unexpired term of Ernie Harris, who resigned earlier this year. “There’s a lot of good work to get done.”
A diagnostic radiologist at the UofL Health, Berg has credited her Jewishness for motivating her professional and political work. “My faith drives me to be compassionate, respectful and help people in every way I can,” Berg said.
Even though the General Assembly is not expected to convene again this year, unless a special session is called, Berg said she will receive her committee assignments and get to work, preparing for next year’s regular session.
“The senators and representatives all work out of session,” she said. “You need to spend the year getting ready for the work you do in the session.”
As a physician, Berg supports Gov. Andy Beshear’s plan to reestablish Kentucky’s health insurance exchange, which was dismantled by his predecessor, Matt Bevin. But she said her top priority in the Senate, at least initially, will be to “listen and learn.”
There are currently no Jewish members of the General Assembly. The last one, Kathy Stein of Lexington, left the Senate in 2013 to become a Fayette County Family Court Judge.
Grossberg, a Louisville realtor, was making his first run for the legislature, but it won’t be his last.
“I’m running again in 2022 – same seat,” he said.
He credited Berg for showing that candidates from minority communities – in this case, the Jewish community – can still win election to state offices in Kentucky despite a polarized political climate.
“She didn’t win because Jews voted for her,” Grossberg said. “She won because non-Jews were willing to listen to her message, and they thought she would be the better senator. Karen had a vision, and people bought it.”
Community does not make political endorsements.