HAZARD – In a little over a month’s time, John Hansen will be back in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office here in Perry County, and he said he expects to begin working on day one.
Hansen served one term from 2000 to 2006 before opting to leave the office for an unsuccessful run for Hazard mayor. Though not a newcomer to local politics, he noted that there was some surprise in the results of this year’s election.
“My initial reaction when I won was kind of a shocking surprise, to be honest with you,” Hansen said, referring to how tight the race was, even down to the final precinct.
The election between Hansen, a Republican, and Democratic incumbent Teresa Reed was indeed down to the wire. Reed held a scant 15-vote lead on election night with only the Krypton precinct remaining. When all the votes were tallied, however, Hansen had won the office by a mere 98 votes.
“When you’re down by 15 and the last precinct to report out is the only Republican precinct in the county, then and only then can you kind of put your hopes up a little bit, and that’s what happened,” he continued. “And I’m grateful for that, and once again I’m grateful to everyone who supported me and everybody that almost literally came out of the woodwork about the last month of the race.”
Since the election, Hansen, who for the past six years has been working as a private defense attorney, has begun work to make the transition back to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office. He noted that he has his office staff lined up, adding that there will be some new faces in the office for his new term.
Early in that term, Hansen will also be tasked with prosecuting a high profile murder case, for which Reed had filed noticed that she would be seeking the death penalty. Hansen commented that while he is not yet familiar with the details of the case, in which Perry County physician Dr. Dennis Sandlin was allegedly murdered by Knott County resident John C. Combs at the Leatherwood-Blackey Clinic in 2009, he did agree that it seems to merit the death penalty. Combs was alleged to have shot Dr. Sandlin over prescription narcotics.
“I’m not about to let somebody’s drug addiction fool me into thinking it’s worth more than somebody else’s life,” Hansen said. “That’s a foolish concept.”
The trial is currently set for Jan. 7, though a continuance is likely to give Hansen time to prepare.
During his first term in office, Hansen prosecuted a number of drug cases and said he found early on that Perry County residents are supportive of efforts to prosecute drug offenders, and he doesn’t think that attitude has changed. He added that officials can put a dent in the problem and send a message to the area’s drug dealers.
“We can send a message out,” Hansen said. “You can get the right trafficker, you can put traffickers out of business. You can put them in jail fast enough so that you won’t have enough to replace them in a small area like Perry County. We’ve done that before.”
The problem with that approach, he noted, is that simply arresting the dealers won’t help so much in quelling others’ addictions. Eastern Kentuckians are still going to other states that don’t have prescription monitoring systems and bringing illegal narcotics back to the area.
The issue is what can be done to get people off drugs. The ultimate solution, he added, is jobs. But with President Obama’s re-election and the coal industry remaining in decline, Hansen said he doesn’t see as much hope for local job creation, and in turn, more people could turn to drugs.
“If the coal industry is going to be in decline, so will every other industry,” he said. “So, we’ve got a bigger problem because the reasons that force people to go to drugs, the reason people are turning to drugs, are going to be omnipresent in the next few years. There’s nothing to look forward to.”
Local leaders like Sen. Brandon Smith and Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble are the “primary go-to folks” to convince national leaders like Rep. Hal Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell to bring more industry to the county, Hansen said, but argued that Sen. Smith and Judge Noble aren’t doing their jobs in bringing more employment to the area.
Hansen was previously in office when Circuit Judge William Engle instituted the county’s first drug court in 2005. He noted that when he takes office, he will continue involvement with drug court, an effort he said is worth it if the individual can complete what is an arduous process.
“When we have three of folks who would rather spend time in prison than complete drug court, that tells you how tough it is,” he said, adding that while drug court has had its setbacks in personnel and is not a perfect program, it has benefits for some of the people who complete the process. “I do know quite a few drug court graduates who do quite well. The majority of the people who go through drug court and graduate are doing a lot better than the ones that flunked out.”
The drug problem has brought a lot of negative press to the region and county, Hansen continued, and he hopes that by the end of his next term, that through prosecuting criminals and support to the community, his office will have done an effective job in “assisting the growth of Perry County, and helping Perry County back on the path to recovery.”
Hansen will be sworn in for a new term in office in January.