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Kentucky Supreme Court: Rep. Kulkarni remains eligible candidate until court can review

Rep. Nima Kulkarni of Louisville asks a question about House Bill 5, an act related to crime, during a House Standing Committee on Judiciary in January 2024..
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Rep. Nima Kulkarni of Louisville asks a question about House Bill 5, an act related to crime, during a House Standing Committee on Judiciary in January 2024.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals had ruled that Rep. Nima Kulkarni of Louisville was disqualified as a candidate in the Democratic primary, but Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice VanMeter ordered the election can proceed with her on the ballot until the high court can review the case.

The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court issued an order Monday that pauses an appeals court ruling last week disqualifying the candidacy of state Rep. Nima Kulkarni. The order allows the Democratic primary to proceed until the justices can review the case this summer.

A petition was filed in March to disqualify the Louisville Democrat’s candidacy due to an error on her filing with the secretary of state. A Jefferson Circuit Court ruling denied the petition, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed that decision and ordered that she be disqualified.

Chief Justice Laurance B. VanMeter granted Kulkarni’s motions Monday morning, ordering that the Democratic primary in House District 40 can proceed as if no challenge to her candidacy had taken place.

However, the secretary of state cannot certify the results of the primary race until the Supreme Court reviews the case this summer and comes to a decision on whether Kulkarni is an eligible candidate.

VanMeter ordered both parties to file briefs with the court by May 31. Oral arguments are scheduled to take place on June 6.

The petition to disqualify Kulkarni was filed in March by Dennis Horlander, a former Democratic state legislator who served for more than two decades in Louisville before he was defeated in the 2018 primary by Kulkarni.

At issue was the fact that one of the two required signatories to her candidate filing was a registered Republican at the time. Kentucky law states a candidate is only eligible to run in a party’s primary election if both signatories are also in the same party.

The lower court and appeals court differed on whether or not it matters that the signatory in question, Sharon LaRue, switched her party registration to Democrat shortly after Kulkarni filed her candidacy form and before the secretary of state’s office certified the candidates.

Kulkarni issued a statement praising the Supreme Court review, saying "democracy should always prevail.”

“As of today, I remain on the ballot, and ask Democratic voters in District 40 to cast their ballot for me, the only candidate in this race who is seeking the office of State Representative in the best interests of our district,” Kulkarni stated. “My opponent in this race has not been interested in campaigning, relying instead on legal tricks to take the choice away from voters.”

The only other Democratic candidate in the race is William Zeitz, who has run a limited campaign and does not have a campaign website.

Steven Megerle, the northern Kentucky attorney representing Horlander, said he was not surprised the Supreme Court granted a discretionary review for a sitting state legislator. He added it was notable the oral arguments were scheduled just four days ahead of the deadline for the State Board of Elections to certify the winners of primary races.

Kulkarni has argued that Horlander’s lawsuit is "a desperate attempt by my former opponent" to disenfranchise her constituents.

Horlander, known as a socially conservative legislator, was unseated in 2018 after Kulkarni defeated him by a 21-point margin in the Democratic primary that May. Horlander sought a rematch in the 2020 primary, but lost in an even larger rout, receiving 21% to Kulkarni’s 78%.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Joe is the enterprise statehouse reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email Joe at jsonka@lpm.org.
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