Lawmakers Positioning For Leadership Races

by Rick Howlett on June 25, 2008

Leadership races in the Kentucky General Assembly won’t be decided until January, but the campaigning is already underway.   Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh reports that’s particularly the case among House Democrats.

Louisville Rep. Larry Clark has served in the Kentucky House since 1984. He’s been the chamber’s number-two man since 1993. But in this year’s regular session, he and House Majority Whip Rob Wilkey found themselves at odds with other House leaders over casino gaming. Clark admits the division was damaging, but says it was Speaker Jody Richards’ decision to isolate the two from the leadership team.

“It hurt the whole chamber. When we function as a team we all do a whole lot better. But that was the decision the Speaker made and why he made it, I don’t know, but I’ll just do the best job I can do.”

Louisville Rep. Joni Jenkins agrees the rift hurt the House and says that’s one reason she’s challenging Clark for the Speaker Pro Tem’s post.

“Over my 14 years here, I’ve shown that I’m a person that can work toward compromise. And it looked like that was something that was needed within the leadership team and I thought I could bring something like that to it.”

Majority Caucus Chair Charlie Hoffman of Georgetown also faces a January challenge, and as Yogi Bera would say, it’s déjà vu all over again. His opponent is Nicholasville Rep. Bob Damron, whom Hoffman upset two years ago. Damron is still smarting over the defeat.

“It was tough, you know, losing a leadership race, especially when I thought I had the race won comfortably. But I’ve had a lot of encouragement from a lot of members. They liked what I was able to do as Caucus Chair and I think they look forward to returning to some of that and so I feel pretty confident about it.”

But Rep. Hoffman is feeling pretty confident, too.

“I’ve had a lot of commitments from people saying they’d like to see me continue in my present position. I intend to reach out to each and every member and ask them to support me. I feel confident they’ll give me every consideration because we have worked so hard.”

Majority Whip Rob Wilkey is retiring, but he’s not going quietly. He recently lashed out at Speaker Richards over the leadership rift and called for change. At least four people are interested in Wilkey’s post, including West Liberty Rep. John Will Stacy, whom many consider the frontrunner.

“It’s been my position here, always, that there are issues that come and go, but there’s a lot of good people that serve in the House, on both sides of the aisle, and if you don’t let those issues become personal, then there’s no reason that you can’t get along and work together on the next issue.”

Also in the race are Owensboro Rep. Tommy Thompson, Covington Rep. Arnold Simpson and Lexington Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo.
“I’ve been interested in that seat previous to this time,” Palumbo said.

Coyly watching it all from the sidelines and dropping hints he may soon enter the fray in come capacity is former attorney general Greg Stumbo, who served 24 years in the House, 18 in leadership. He’s back and champing the bit to return to leadership, including as Speaker.

“It would be a great honor to end up a political career to be chosen by your colleagues in this chamber to become Speaker.”

However, Stumbo says he and Speaker Richards are friends and it’s doubtful he will challenge Richards next year. What about talk that Richards may seek one more term and then move on? Is it true, Mr. Speaker?

“No, no, no. I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do, except I’m running for re-election in January and I think I have the votes to do it!”

So far, Richards has no opposition. It’s rare to see leadership races underway so early, but the special session on pension reform is providing candidates the perfect opportunity for some face-to-face campaigning. Come January, they’ll find out if their efforts paid off.

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