By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
For the first time in 13 years, the Kentucky state Senate will be led by someone other than David Williams.
Senate Republicans, including those elected to first terms in the November elections, caucused for nearly three hours Tuesday and voted for Robert Stivers, Manchester, as their choice for president; Katie Kratz Stine, Southgate, president pro-yem; Damon Thayer, Georgetown, floor leader; Dan Seum, Louisville, as caucus chairman; and Brandon Smith, Hazard, as whip.
Since the offices of president and president protiem are constitutional offices, Stivers and Stine must be confirmed by a vote of the full Senate when it convenes in January — but since Republicans have 23 votes and enjoy the support of the lone independent, that is likely only a formality.
Stivers won over Bob Leeper, the independent from Paducah. Seum, who as the incumbent caucus chairman was in charge of the election Tuesday, said Leeper was allowed to run and vote after Stivers moved to suspend a rule limiting participation only to Republicans.
Leeper expressed no complaint after the Republicans walked out of their closed-door meeting.
“It was a very, very well run meeting,” Leeper said, adding the process was fair and the votes were by secret ballot, something he’d sought in hopes it would make it easier for Republican senators to vote for an independent. No actual vote counts were disclosed to the press.
Stivers indicated no resentment toward Leeper’s challenge, saying he thinks Leeper has been an effective chairman of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
“From my perspective, Bob Leeper has been a good Appropriations and Revenue Chairman,” Stivers said. “I know of no reason to remove Bob Leeper as A & R Chair. The decision-making process is not going to be one based on the nature of retaliatory.”
Stine was unopposed for president pro-tem. Seum was re-elected caucus chair over Joe Bowen of Owensboro.
Stivers was previously floor leader and his candidacy for president left that position open. Thayer won over David Givens of Greensburg. Smith won over Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon for the position of whip.
Seum said there was an initial tie in one race but would not disclose which race.
Thayer’s and Smith’s elections also open two chairmanships along with two others vacated by retiring senators because “leaders don’t chair committees,” according to Thayer.
Stivers said he has a different style than Williams but it will be up to the public to draw conclusions as to whether the tone of the Senate or its working relationship with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear or the Democratic-controlled House will be better than it was under Williams who often clashed with both.
“I think this group wants to have dialogue,” Stivers said. He said he may not always agree with the governor or House leadership but he wants “dialogue with all interested parties” on “big issues” facing the General Assembly.
Thayer, who broke ranks with Williams to work with Beshear on an expanded gambling proposal in the last General Assembly, said his position on that issue hasn’t changed but other Republican senators continue to have different positions on gambling. He said gambling was not discussed Tuesday.
None of the elected leaders is from western Kentucky, but Stivers said that area is represented on committee chairs and will likely continue to be. He said the core group of leaders represents the entire state.
One reason Bowen ran for Caucus Chairman, he said when he announced he was running, was to represent the western part of the state.
Stivers said decisions about chairmanships will be made by the caucus when it meets again in Frankfort on Dec. 13 and 14.
Shortly after the meeting, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell issued a statement through his press office congratulating Stivers and the new leadership team, saying he has “total confidence” they can address the problems facing Kentucky.