GOP leader Hoover fends off challenge, former speaker to (intermittently) handle gavel after House leadership elections

01/06/2015 08:51 PM

FRANKFORT — State representatives came to Frankfort to address a number of topics facing Kentucky as this year’s legislative session gaveled in Tuesday, but first, both caucuses had to settle which members would lead their members for the next two years.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover survived the first challenge to his post in 14 years en route to an unprecedented eighth term at the top of the caucus as House Republicans elected two new faces to their leadership team.

Meanwhile, House Democrats chose a Rep. Jody Richards, a former speaker, as their next speaker pro tem and incumbent House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson lost re-election to Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow.

Shakeups everywhere but the top

The House GOP fielded competitive races for all their leadership posts, but Hoover, R-Jamestown, was the only incumbent seeking re-election after Rep. Bob DeWeese of Louisville, formerly GOP caucus chairman, and Rep. John “Bam” Carney of Campbellsville, formerly minority whip, stepped aside.

Hoover met his first challenger ever in Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger. The caucus voted in secret ballot, and after the meeting, Hoover said he did not know the final tally in his race.

Despite the competitive race, Hoover and Koenig both said they expect a cordial relationship moving forward.

“As a caucus and as a group we’re united,” Hoover said in the Capitol Annex. “We had good discussions. Everybody’s ready to move forward as a 46-member strong, unified group as we focus on 2016.”

Koenig echoed those sentiments, saying he doesn’t foresee any sort of retaliation for taking on his caucus’ top leader. Koenig said he believes he made his point in challenging Hoover, with disappointing electoral results this fall galvanizing his bid for minority floor leader.

Democrats maintained their 54-46 majority control of the chamber in the November elections.

“I think competition is good, and so I’m proud of the effort I put in,” Koenig said of his campaign. “I worked my tail off, and so I congratulate Jeff and we’re going to move forward.”

Although the GOP chose not to elect a new minority floor leader, Republicans picked Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, as their next caucus chairman and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, as their new minority whip. Rep. David Osborne, R-Prospect, had sought the caucus chairmanship while DeCesare topped other contenders like Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, and Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello.

DeCesare and Lee both pledged to do what they could to move their party into the majority.

“I’m very honored and humbled to be elected to leadership,” Lee said. “I hope that I can play a role in helping us better define ourselves and to demonstrate to the commonwealth why we would be better stewards for the General Assembly, and hopefully they’ll come to that realization in 2016 and we’ll have even more leaders.”

Former speaker becomes pro tem, incumbent whip ousted

House Democrats had only one crowded field in Tuesday’s leadership elections, with the House speaker pro tem vacancy drawing public interest from at least four candidates.

Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat who served as speaker from 1995 to 2008, won the contest after a runoff with Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder. Other Democrats who had expressed interest in the position include Rep. Darryl Owens of Louisville and Rep. Jeff Greer of Brandenburg.

“Obviously I love this institution,” Richards said after the vote. “I’m going to give everything I have to work with this group and with the members of the House of Representatives to pass good legislation, to stop bad legislation and move this state forward.”

Bell, who lost a bid for majority whip in 2013, said he feels he has “a lot to offer the caucus and to the state” as a newly christened member of Democratic leadership.

“I’m going to work hard and do the best I can to support other members of leadership and our Democratic caucus,” he said.

Retiring leader honored before new ones elected

Before the House adjourned for caucus elections Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Greg Stumbo took a moment to recognize one member of his leadership team who would not remain in power once Democrats emerged from closed doors.

House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark swung the gavel for a final time, ending a 22-year leadership career as he announced plans to step aside when the party elects a new crop of leaders. This year may also mark the final legislative session for Clark, a Louisville Democrat who has said he may not run for a 17th term in office.

Stumbo, who noted Clark had never missed a floor vote in the House and hinted at the lawmaker’s pugnaciousness, offered a resolution honoring Clark for his service as one of the chamber’s top Democrats for more than two decades.

“We’re a lot better body and a lot better people, in my judgement, because of people like the gentleman for Jefferson 46 (Clark) who weren’t afraid to stand up and get in your face and debate these issues and talk about them in a very emotional manner sometimes, but we’re better for that. We’re better for that because we understand that we can disagree, we can be heated, we can be passionate, but we don’t have to be disrespectful.”

Ninety-seven lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Clark, from the speaker’s chair, thanked his colleagues and joked that he reconsidered his decision to step down from leadership after listening to Stumbo’s floor speech.

“After that speech I may run again,” he quipped.

Videos from the House Democratic caucus elections by Pure Politics reporter Don Weber.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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