By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Republican state Senate President David Williams said Thursday he will consider a judicial appointment if it’s offered.
It is the first time Williams, R-Burkesville, has commented publicly on the vacancy created by the death last month of long-time 40th Circuit Judge Eddie Lovelace. The circuit covers Clinton, Cumberland and Monroe counties.
Williams issued a statement through his spokeswoman, Lourdes Baez-Schrader.
“If there is an appointment offer, Sen. Williams will consider it,” she said.
Since the vacancy occurred after Aug. 6, the process for filling it is for a judicial nominating commission to be convened. That panel will select three qualified candidates and submit their names to Gov. Steve Beshear. The governor will then choose one to fill the vacancy.
The nominating commission was announced Thursday. It will be chaired by state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton. Other members are Catherine Capps and Gary Lee, both of Burkesville; Helena Pitcock and Jarrett Stephens of Tompkinsville; and Steve Morgan of Albany. The commission is scheduled to meet Oct. 26.
Williams, who has presided over the Senate since 2000, and Beshear have battled on multiple issues and political fronts since Beshear was elected governor in 2007 on a platform that included a promise to put a constitutional amendment on expanding gambling before voters. The measure has never gotten out of the General Assembly and Beshear has blamed Williams for its failure. But, in one case if failed in the Democratic House and in another received a floor vote in the Senate, but fell far short of the necessary vote total.
Williams has also battled Beshear on the budget and over Beshear’s decision to move to a managed care system of delivering Medicaid services. Meanwhile, Beshear has twice used his power to appoint incumbent Republican senators to more lucrative state jobs to create vacancies, one of which was won by a Democrat and the other by a Republican.
Each time, Williams criticized the governor’s use of his appointment power to try to weaken the majority Republican Party’s control in the state Senate.
Then in 2011, Williams challenged Beshear for governor and lost badly.
Since the news of Lovelace’s death and the judicial vacancy, Frankfort has been abuzz about the possibility of Beshear appointing Williams to fill it, thereby removing Williams as an obstacle to his agenda.
Last week, Beshear said Williams is qualified to fill the position and he previously said he would consider naming Williams to fill the vacancy, although he was careful each time to say he would consider all the nominees by the nominating commission.
If Williams were appointed and accepted the position, it could boost his retirement significantly. He also may have tired of the legislative battles and after losing the gubernatorial election be looking for other opportunities. He’s long been rumored to be interested in a seat on the bench, although for a time it was thought he was more interested in the federal bench, something not likely so long as there is a Democratic president.
Williams’ departure would affect more than Beshear’s prospect for passing expanded gambling. It might set off a battle for a successor and control of the Republican caucus. Even if the caucus avoids a fight and settles on a consensus candidate for president, that person will have a difficult time matching Williams’ record in holding the caucus together and usually speaking with a unified voice.
While Beshear and horse racing interests blame Williams for “gridlock” and being an “obstructionist,” many Republicans and other Frankfort observers say Williams has been an effective and savvy legislator whose party dominated the Frankfort agenda although it controlled only one branch of the General Assembly.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.