By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Hal Heiner, a likely Republican candidate for governor in 2015, is behind an independent expenditure political committee formed to help Republican state House candidates and to perhaps along the way pick up some political IOUs for 2015.
The former Metro Council member and unsuccessful Louisville mayoral candidate Wednesday announced formation of “New Direction Kentucky, a political organization that will focus on House races in the 2014 election cycle.”
Kentucky Republicans have set their sights on taking control of the House this year to go along with their majority in the state Senate. Presently there are 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans in the House, meaning Republicans would have to have a net gain of five seats.
But as Minority Leader Jeff Hoover pointed out, the new legislative districts paired two Republican incumbents with other incumbents and two other Republican House members are running for the Senate. That means Republicans really have to gain nine seats.
Heiner’s announcement didn’t indicate how much the group plans to spend or has raised. A spokesman for Heiner, Joe Burgan, said the group plans to “make independent expenditures on behalf of (Republican) candidates in races we target.” He wouldn’t name any potential targeted races or candidates or disclose how much the group hopes to spend.
Asked if Heiner might also be seeking to profit by securing support for a potential 2015 gubernatorial run, Burgan said, “Hal is leading on this issue, on trying to take over the House for the first time in 93 years.”
He also said Heiner has told “a few people that he will have a decision (about running for governor) by March.”
Heiner’s announcement included a number of prominent Republicans working with the new group: Bill Bishop, former party chairman Darrell Brock, Doug Cobb, banker Jess Correll, former McConnell aide Larry Cox, banker Terry Forcht, former party chair Bob Gable, Rich Gimmel, David Jones, Sr., Hilda Legg, Todd P’Pool, Bill Stone, state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington and Mike Whitaker.
Cox also worked for a time for Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who is also considering a run for governor in 2015.
Comer said Wednesday he had heard from “two members of the board who called me to assure me that if I run for governor, they’ll support me.” He wouldn’t identify which two called him. Asked for his reaction to Heiner’s forming the group, Comer said, he supports any effort to elect a Republican House.
“If it is going to support Republican House candidates, I think that’s great,” Comer said. “If it goes to support Hal Heiner, I think there are legal issues there.”
Burgan responded by saying a search of the group’s registration with the IRS, would show “the mission statement of New Direction Kentucky is ‘to elect a Republican majority in Kentucky’s House of Representatives,’ an action that falls clearly within the framework of Kentucky campaign finance laws regardless of what decision Hal makes in the Governor’s race.”
He also said the New Direction group and Heiner would welcome Comer’s help.
As an independent expenditure group, New Direction cannot coordinate its efforts either with individual candidates or with the Republican House Campaign Caucus Committee. But Hoover was happy to hear about Heiner’s announcement.
“But I think it’s indicative of the level of support we’re going to have and the engagement of people all across Kentucky who want to see Kentucky go in a new direction,” Hoover said, adding he had heard for months that such groups might be formed to help elect a Republican House.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, is head of the group targeted by Republicans and Heiner’s PAC, but he said he was unconcerned about news of the new group working on behalf of Republicans.
“He’ll have his and we’ll have ours and ours will be adequately funded,” Stumbo said. “There are several of those independent expenditure groups out there on both sides so I’m not worried about it.”
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.