County Connections: Sen. Jimmy Higdon talks lessons learned from time in GOP leadership, his push to expand expungement law

10/25/2017 02:56 PM

LEBANON — State Sen. Jimmy Higdon is doing some homework before he’s called to take the gavel as Senate president pro tem in next year’s legislative session.

“I’ve looked at my cheatsheets that are up on the podium, and we do have several sessions scheduled to make sure that I do have some practice before I’m called into duty,” Higdon said in an interview Saturday at his home.

The Republican senator who represents Marion, Casey, Spencer, Nelson and part of Jefferson counties isn’t new to Senate leadership, most recently serving as the upper chamber’s majority whip since the 2015 session.

Higdon learned a lot in his first leadership election, saying he put the cart before the horse by running for whip before he was appointed to chair the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee in 2013.

“Those two years as a committee chairman taught me a lot, and I think it’d be very difficult today to serve in leadership and not have been a committee chairman because I work so closely with committee chairmen and they come to leadership for advice,” he said.

Higdon has lived in Lebanon for most of his life, graduating from the inaugural class at Marion County High School in 1971.

He’s seen tremendous growth in his community, with the county now home to about 5,000 manufacturing jobs.

His son, Jim Higdon, has also authored a book on Kentucky’s most notorious marijuana syndicate that was based in Marion County, the Cornbread Mafia.

But Jimmy Higdon is probably best known in the halls of the Capitol for taking on a shoplifter at the grocery store he ran in 2010.

The incident, in which the man got away before he was later captured and deported, also led to some good-natured ribbing at home, including from his old football coach.

“He was a stickler about tackling, and he came in the front door of my store and he hollered all the way across the store, ‘Higdon! You didn’t wrap him up,’” Higdon recalled.

“And if you look at the video, I’m trying to one-arm this guy, and this guy was stout, and if you look and see in my other hand, I’m trying to put away my brand new iPhone that I’d just got and had read about people breaking the glass on them and how easy they were to damage.”

While his days as a grocer as behind him, Higdon is focused on his work in Frankfort.

Beyond the larger issues of pension reform and crafting a budget, he hopes to expand the list of nonviolent, nonsexual Class D felonies eligible for expungement after 10- and 15-year waiting periods. Some felonies on his radar include impersonating a police officer and trafficking small amounts of marijuana.

“I’ve done a lot of work to try to make it a very narrow group of Class D felonies and concentrate on 15 or 20 additional felonies that we could possibly run them up the flagpole and see if we can have those included in expungement also,” Higdon said.

“They’re a little more offensive, so we’ll ask for more time, more than the five years that the first bill (House Bill 40) includes and even some of them up to 15 years, but you know, House Bill 40 seems to be working very well,” he added.

Higdon has heard more and more from people who have had their lives impacted by mistakes they’ve made years ago, and he hopes the legislation he plans to introduce makes it easier for Kentuckians to get back in the workforce.

He says a number of those impacted accepted plea deals that did not include jail time, but the felonies on their records do enough damage when they’re on the job hunt.

“That was very attractive to a lot of people, and a lot of people pleaded to those type of Class D felonies not knowing that it was really a life sentence,” Higdon said. “It was a little cloud that would follow them for the rest of their lives.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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