By Lee Chottiner
Dr. Karen Berg is again on the campaign trail.
The Jewish Louisville physician, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate from the 26th District in 2018, has been named the Democratic candidate for that same seat in the June 23 special election to succeed the incumbent, Sen. Ernie Harris, who recently resigned with 2½ years left on his term.
She will face Oldham County Republican William “Bill” Ferko. The 26th District includes parts of Jefferson and all of Oldham counties.
If she wins, Berg says she will become the first female physician to serve in the legislature. She could also become the only Jewish member in either house. (Another Jewish candidate, Daniel Grossberg, is running for the Democratic nomination for the 30th House District against incumbent Tom Burch.)
Both campaigns have implications for Jewish representation in Frankfort.
Berg, a diagnostic radiologist at the University of Louisville Hospital, told Community she decided to run because more people with “healthcare expertise” are needed in the capital.
But she also cited her Jewishness as motivation for the work she does.
“It is important to have leadership in Frankfort that reflects that great diversity of Kentucky,” Berg said. “My faith drives me to be compassionate, respectful and help people in every way I can.”
Most states that border Kentucky have at least one Jewish representative in its legislature, but the Bluegrass State hasn’t had one since Kathy Stein, a Democrat from Lexington, left the House in 2013 to become a Fayette County Family Court judge.
Berg, who lost her last election by approximately 3,000 votes, likes her chances better this time.
“Since that time, Andy Beshear was able to win the district by almost 10 percentage points,” she said. “He did not actually win Oldham County, but he won enough votes on the Jefferson County side to win the district.”
She also has a new campaign manager – Eric Hyers, who ran Beshear’s campaign.
But there is a big question mark hanging over this campaign: the coronavirus.
Beshear has signed an executive order permitting, for this election at least, a no-excuse-necessary absentee ballot. Typically, Kentuckians can only vote absentee if they can demonstrate that they are unable to be at the polls on Election Day. Secretary of State Michael Adams will send out postcards to registered voters, instructing them how to request a mail-in ballot. In-person early voting will be open from June 8 through 23.
Berg couldn’t say how an uptick in absentee voting would affect her campaign. “It’s going to be a confusing process,” she said.
And traditional campaigning – knocking on doors, shaking hands – is out of the question because of the coronavirus.
Instead, the campaign, like others, is relying on post cards, neighbors calling neighbors and other alternatives, Hyers said.
“Digital organizing, friends reaching out to friends on Facebook, things like those things combined will be really effective,” he said.
Want to vote by mail?
The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is 4 p.m., Tuesday, June 16.
For more information, contact Kristi Gay, administrator, absentee voting
and candidate info, at kgay@JeffersonCountyClerk.org or 502-574-5886.