Challengers emerge against state House leaders of both parties

12/21/2010 09:37 AM

Challengers are mounting internal campaigns to knock off at least two of the five Democratic House leaders and two of of the three top Republicans in that chamber, according to interviews with lawmakers.

The incumbent House whips for both parties are having to defend their positions. The whip’s job description is to count votes in each caucus on key bills.

And two longtime leaders are facing challenges.

Rep. Larry Clark, the Democratic Speaker Pro Tem, has served in that position since 1994, and is up against the longest-tenured House Speaker in Kentucky history in Rep. Jody Richards of Bowling Green.

And Rep. Bob DeWeese of Louisville, who has been the House Republicans’ caucus chairman since 2001, has drawn two contenders for that job: Reps. Brad Montell of Shelbyville and Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green.

Both caucuses will kick off the 2011 General Assembly on Jan. 4 with leadership elections among themselves. Here’s a breakdown of the races:

Republican Caucus Chair

The position, in charge of directing the caucus for meetings, votes and during elections, is currently held by DeWeese, who represents part of northeastern Jefferson County.

Both Montell, first elected to the House in 2002,  and DeCesare, who joined the legislature in 2004, confirmed in phone interviews with cn|2 Politics that they were running for the leadership post.

Each said his candidacy was not a referendum on DeWeese’s leadership.

“I’m not running against (DeWeese’s) leadership,” Montell said.”… I’m a realistic person in knowing that our chair is loved. It’s an uphill battle for me.”

Montell said he was running because he had ideas on how to make the growing Republican caucus stronger during the upcoming session. The House GOP had a net gain of seven seats in November, going from 35 to 42 in the 100-seat chamber.

“I think I have some ideas I can share to make us more effective and efficient in the upcoming session,” Montell said.

DeCesare said he was running because it was time for a new caucus chair but added that he didn’t mean he disliked what DeWeese was doing. DeCesare called the three-way competition for Republican caucus chair “healthy.”

“It’s healthy, the competition is healthy,” DeCesare said. “It’s something our caucus has to decide.”

Both Montell and DeCesare declined to share their ideas for the caucus or how many votes they may have, saying it was something for inside the caucus.

DeWeese, the current caucus chair, said in a phone interview he didn’t see any “groundswell” to remove him from his leadership position. Yet that doesn’t mean he’s taking the internal challenge lightly.

“You’re always worried when someone’s running against you,” DeWeese said.

As for why he thinks he has a challenge, despite both Montell and DeCesare both saying DeWeese has provided good leadership, DeWeese credited the race to having a strong caucus.

“We have a lot of guys in our caucus who are good guys and they want to be in leadership,” DeWeese said.

Democratic majority whip

In a re-match of two years ago, Rep. Tommy Thompson of Owensboro is challenging majority Whip John Will Stacy of West Liberty for that position. Stacy is finishing his first term as whip, a job won in a close vote last year, according to members of the Democratic Caucus.

Many Democratic caucus members, including Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, Rep. Rick Nelson and Damron said in interviews that they had received letters from both Thompson and Stacy regarding their interest in being whip.

Marzian said she was supporting Stacy in his bid to return as whip. Neither Thompson nor Stacy could be reached for comment.

Republican minority whip

Current GOP whip David Floyd of Bardstown is being challenged by Rep. Danny Ford of Mount Vernon.

Ford is no stranger to the GOP leadership team. He previously served as minority whip in 1993 and 1994 and as minority floor leader from 1995 to 2000.

That previous leadership experience is what is driving Ford to run for leadership again, he said.  He said he wants to see more outreach into the communities of the members of caucus.

As for whether or not he can knock Floyd out as whip, Ford said that wouldn’t be known for a few weeks.

“That will be seen Jan. 4, I guess,” Ford said. “I feel good about it. And I think David Floyd is a good guy too.”

Floyd, when reached for comment, said he would prefer not to discuss internal caucus issues.

Speaker Pro Tem

Former House Speaker Jody Richards is mounting a challenge to current Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, several House Democrats confirmed. The match-up was first reported by Joe Gerth of the Courier-Journal.

Richards, of Bowling Green, told cn|2 Politics “no comment” when reached by phone last week. But Richards’ potential challenge has been one of the worst kept secrets in Frankfort for the last few months.

Marzian, from Louisville, said that while Clark is also from Louisville, she had yet to make up her mind on who to support, but noted she did want someone from Louisville in Democratic House leadership.

Democratic Caucus Chair

One more race could be brewing.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Damron, who first served two years as majority caucus chair in 2005-06 before returning in 2009-10, is going for a third term in that position. He said that as caucus chair, he lead the Democratic caucus to minimal losses in an election year when many state legislatures flipped from Democratic to Republican.

He also said that losing seven seats to Republicans shouldn’t effect his standing with the caucus.

“Our members recognize we did everything we could do,” Damron said. “(The Republican mood) didn’t effect us as much. Every race we lost we made large financial investments to try and keep the seats, but each had their own problems.”

Damron said he has talked to nearly every member of the caucus and feel he has the votes needed to continue as caucus chair. But he said he’s ready for a challenge.

“Some members will always be looking for someone else,” he said.

Nelson and Rep. Carl Rollins of Midway both said they had heard rumors that Rep. Sannie Overly could challenge Damron, but noted that Overly had not reached out to either of them.

“I’ve heard some rumblings,” Nelson said. “Usually legitimate candidates have called everyone in the caucus by now.”

Messages left for Overly weren’t returned.

Among the Democrats, only House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins enter 2011 almost assured of not drawing challenges to their leadership positions.

For Republicans, Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover is unchallenged and looks to win a sixth term as GOP leader.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston


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