A political newcomer will be up against longtime Marshall County Judge-Executive Mike Miller in this fall's election, and both men are predicting a challenging and competitive race.
Kevin Neal, a 15-year veteran sergeant with the Paducah Police Department and a Marshall County resident, will run against Miller, a Democrat, on the Republican ticket. Neal, who lives on a small farm near Palma, said his decision to run came between tours of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps overseas.
"It's time for a change," Neal said. "When I came back each time, the county was the same as when I left. It just seems like we can do better."
Miller, who is in his 41st year as judge-executive, said he met Neal at Tuesday's Fiscal Court meeting, and he believes the two have a lot of the same ideas, from job creation to growing the county. He said the campaigning will probably get more intense this spring.
"I am not mad at him, I just want to beat him," Miller said. "I always think it's a good idea to run like you're 10 points behind, and I intend to do that."
Miller hasn't run opposed since the 2006 election. He has never struggled with an election in any of his 10 races, and is the longest-tenured judge-executive in the state. This year, however, he's faced some difficulty, including allegations that he allowed a retired employee to be eligible for unemployment benefits. A special investigator has suggested criminal charges, but a Kentucky State Police investigation has yet to be completed.
Miller said Friday that although job creation is a priority, he is more concerned with job retention in Marshall County. It is glamorous to have big job announcements, Miller said, but plants like the ones in Calvert City are his community's lifeblood.
"The plants in Marshall County, they're very important to our economy," Miller said. "And when those companies are investing millions into their plants here, that shows they are happy with Marshall County. That shows a lot about our workforce here."
Neal, 42, was born in Philadelphia but his family moved to the Calvert City area when he was 7 months old. He attended Marshall County High School, played basketball and soccer for the school, and graduated in 1990. Soon after turning 18, he drove to Paducah after basketball practice and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
He served eight years of active duty, first as an infantryman and later as a sniper. He came home and worked in the recruiter's office in Paducah for 30 days, then met a Paducah police officer and was convinced to apply at the department. Neal stayed in the reserves, deploying for Iraq three more times. He said as boots on the ground, he preferred not to get involved in politics, but he was eager to learn more about the world around him.
"I'm not your average politician," Neal said. "I am not one that votes for a straight ticket. I look at each candidate and look at what they've done. I look for someone who is going to fight for our community. And that's what I have done my whole life, from the Marines to the police department to now."
Neal's campaign starts now, and he holds his first public meet-and-greet at Draffenville's Ponderosa Steak House on the morning of Feb. 15. He said the timing in his career - he is eligible to retire from the department if he lands the judge-executive seat - and the timing in Marshall County's political climate also factored into his choice to move forward with filing.
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.