By ROGER ALFORD — Associated Press
Posted: 11:03am on May 27, 2011; Modified: 1:05pm on May 27, 2011
FRANKFORT, Ky. — In a move that has helped to organize supporters, independent gubernatorial candidate Gatewood Galbraith said Friday he now has the 5,000 signatures needed to get his name put on the general election ballot in Kentucky.
Galbraith, a Lexington attorney, said he intends to collect another 5,000 signatures before turning them over to the secretary of state’s office to officially enter the race against Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican nominee David Williams, just in case the opposing campaigns challenge the eligibility of some of the people who signed.
Last December, Galbraith filed paperwork declaring his intent to enter the race for governor. Under Kentucky law, independent candidates also must collect at least 5,000 signatures from registered voters, which, Galbraith said, isn’t as easy as it may sound.
“There’s no doubt; it’s a burden,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. “But I understand there needs to be a threshold so the ballot doesn’t become overcrowded. That’s the rule in place, and we’re going to comply with it.”
Galbraith said collecting the signatures has strengthened his campaign by energizing supporters and establishing grassroots organizations in the majority of Kentucky counties.
“It’s a natural organizing tool,” he said.
Early on, Galbraith differentiated himself from the other gubernatorial candidates by taking a strong stand against mountaintop removal coal mining, charging that it has caused “unsurpassed environmental damage” in Appalachia and should not be permitted to continue.
Both Beshear and Williams have called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ease restrictions that have made it difficult for coal companies to get governmental permission to open new mountaintop mines or to expand existing ones.
Galbraith had received an early endorsement from the United Mine Workers of America, only to have it rescinded later. Union leaders opted to instead support Beshear, who they believed had a better chance of winning the Nov. 8 election.
Mountaintop removal has long been a heated issue in Kentucky politics. Demonstrators have been sitting outside Beshear’s office each Thursday to bring attention to the procedure, in which forests are cleared and rock is blasted apart to get to coal buried underneath. The leftover dirt, rock and rubble usually is dumped into nearby valleys. Coal operators say it is the most effective way to get to the coal, while environmentalists say it does irreversible damage.
Frankfort resident Angela Mitchell, a solitary protester who sat outside Beshear’s office for two hours on Thursday, said she’s a likely Galbraith supporter.
“I don’t’ feel like we’re getting anywhere with the other two candidates, so maybe it’s time for a change,” she said.
Galbraith also stands apart from Beshear and Williams as a proponent of legalizing hemp and medicinal marijuana, positions that have marginalized him for mainstream Kentucky voters in four previous runs for governor.
Since announcing his interest in running again, Galbraith has downplayed the marijuana issue, saying it’s only a minor part of his platform.
Galbraith said he believes he can win the general election against much better-funded candidates. Williams raised some $1.2 million for the primary election race that he won earlier this month. Beshear has raised about $5 million and is already on the air with the first television ad of the general election season.
“It doesn’t make any difference how much money Gov. Beshear spends,” Galbraith said. “If your vote’s not for sale, it doesn’t matter how much he spends.”