24 years, 3 parties and a caucus of one later, Leeper leaves his legislative legacy

04/13/2014 06:06 PM

While the word unique is often carelessly thrown around, it is the perfect adjective to describe state Sen. Bob Leeper and his 24-year tenure in the General Assembly.

Leeper was first elected as a Democrat in 1990, then switched to be a Republican in 1999, giving Republicans an extra seat of breathing room as they took control of the state Senate for the first time. Later, amid a disagreement with Republican leadership, Leeper switched his registration to be an independent. And in 2006, he became the first Kentucky state lawmaker to win an election as an independent. (Leeper opened up to Pure Politics about what led to that final party switch, which is included in the profile below).

That unusual path through the legislation will come to its end this year as Leeper retires. However, he hopes to continue his political career as he runs for McCracken County judge-executive this fall, facing another independent and a Democrat.

Technically, Leeper was a caucus of one, although he did attach himself to the Republican majority caucus.

Despite his registration difference, Leeper demanded the kind of respect that landed him the powerful position of Senate appropriations and revenue committee chairman in 2009. In that position, Leeper helped guide the legislature through the crafting of three two-year budgets during some of the most financially challenging years Kentucky has faced in recent decades.

That capped off a legislative career in which he applied his personal convictions and to every vote, regardless of whether that put him in the minority. He cast a vote with a majority of Democrats in 2002 to allow public universities to continue to conduct research with stem cells, for instance. He voted against a ban on texting while driving in 2010 because Leeper argued that it’s already against the law to drive recklessly.

And during the crafting of his final two-year budget, Leeper repeatedly told his colleagues and reporters alike that his goal was to keep the debt level low and minimize the financial tricks to plug budget holes by sweeping extra cash out of certain government accounts. That way future General Assemblies would have to worry less about a structural imbalance between the state’s revenue and the programs the government must pay for.

Still some of Leeper’s initiatives remain unfinished for others to pick up, chiefly a bill to paved the way to lifting a moratorium on nuclear power plants.

(This is the fifth in a series of the 10 lawmakers who are not seeking re-election or are running for offices this fall outside of the legislature.)


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