In Depth: Lawmakers Preparing For Leadership Elections

When Kentucky lawmakers convene in January for the 2011 session, election of new leaders will be the first item of business. First, they’ll have to see how next month’s elections might affect the leadership races.

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Right now there are 20 Republicans, 17 Democrats and one independent in the Kentucky Senate. Sen. David Williams of Burkesville has presided over the chamber for a decade, and he will seek re-election as president if Republicans retain control.

“I have every confidence that we’ll be in the majority and that I’ll have enough votes to be re-elected president of the Senate,” said Williams.

Williams – who’s running for governor next year – has no opposition in November, but he may in January. Louisville Sen. Julie Denton plans to challenge Williams for the Senate presidency, but first she must defeat Democrat Rick Hiles for re-election.

Two other Senate Republican leaders, Speaker Pro Tem Katie Stine of Southgate and Majority Whip Dan Seum of Louisville also have opposition next month.

The pending departure of Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley of Richmond, who’s not seeking re-election, opens the door for a new Democratic leader. But with contested races in 15 of the 19 Senate seats on the ballot, Frankfort Sen. Julian Carroll says no one’s campaigning for the job just yet.

“That particular position could either be minority or majority, depending upon the outcome of the election,” said Carroll. “We, quite frankly, developed…our whole strategy for the last two years is for that particular individual to be the majority leader in the Senate.”

Also for the Democrats, Senate Minority Whip Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville has opposition in November.

In the House, Democrats have a comfortable 65-35 majority over Republicans. Speaker Greg Stumbo has Republican opposition next month, but says Speaker Pro Tem may be the only Majority post facing a possible challenge next year.

“As far as I know, that’s the only sort of talk that’s out there,” said Stumbo. “Obviously, everybody’s focusing on the November 2nd election date, and I’d say until after that occurs and the make-up of the bodies is set, you won’t hear much discussion in any of the leadership situations.”

Louisville Rep. Larry Clark has been Speaker Pro Tem since 1994. Right now he’s concentrating on his re-election campaign against Republican Brian Simpson, but Clark’s heard talk former Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green has an eye on the leadership post.

“Well, I feel very comfortable I’ll be re-elected,” said Clark. “After the November election, I’ll start calling the membership and all indications have been very, very positive from the members that have talked to me already. But I think it’s more important members get through the November election before worrying about leadership races.”

Rep. Richards is unopposed in November. As for his interest in the job of Speaker Pro Tem, Richards won’t say.

“I think we need to get through the election,” said Richards, “but I have been receiving a lot of encouragement from members asking me to seek a position.”

“But you can’t say which position?” asked McVeigh.

“Nope.”

Other House Democrats facing November challenges are Majority Caucus Chair Bob Damron of Nicholasville and Majority Whip John Will Stacy of West Liberty.

House Republicans, meanwhile, would like to wrest control of the chamber from Democrats. It’s a long shot, but 58 of the House’s 100 seats are up for grabs. At a recent rally in the Capitol rotunda, Minority Leader Jeffrey Hoover called for “A new day, a new direction in Kentucky.”

“We have a group of very good candidates all across the state of Kentucky,” said Hoover. “And they are excited, and we are excited about their campaigns, about their candidacies. We’re optimistic about picking up seats.”

The only House Republican leader with November opposition is Minority Whip David Floyd of Bardstown. Look for House and Senate leadership races to solidify once it’s clear which party will control each chamber.

Published by Tony McVeigh

Veteran broadcast journalist Tony McVeigh has been covering Kentucky politics since 1986, reporting for Clear Channel Communications before joining Kentucky Public Radio in 2004. His stories are aired by seven KPR affiliates, whose signals blanket the Commonwealth and parts of surrounding states. McVeigh began his broadcasting career at WRFC in Athens, Georgia, while earning a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia. He has extensive anchor/reporter experience, including stints with South Carolina Network and Georgia Radio News Service in Atlanta. In 2007 and 2008, McVeigh was named Best Radio Reporter in the Kentucky Associated Press Awards. He also picked up consecutive AP Awards for Best Political Coverage. McVeigh won four Kentucky AP Awards in 2009, six in 2010 - including Best Political Coverage and Best Hard News Feature - and three in 2011. His coverage of the 2007 Kentucky governor's race topped the Political Reporting category of the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards of 2008. In 2009, McVeigh placed second in Courts and Law Reporting in the Atlanta-based competition for journalists in 11 Southern states. McVeigh is also the proud recipient of an Individual Liberty Award from the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Brunswick, Georgia, native is a die-hard UGA football fan who enjoys photography, astronomy, live music, hiking Kentucky's Red River Gorge and exploring the state's beautiful back roads. McVeigh and his big, fat, black cat Simon, reside in Frankfort, KY.