Gov.-elect Bevin says Election Day results "a cry for help" from Kentuckians as GOP celebrates wins, looks ahead to 2016

11/14/2015 06:40 PM

With 106 of the state’s 120 counties in his column, Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin said the state’s electoral map last week represented “a cry for help from the people of Kentucky” during his remarks to the Republican Party of Kentucky’s state central committee on Saturday.

The meeting of top GOP officials doubled as a rallying cry ahead of next year’s legislative races, with Republicans vying for control of the state’s House of Representatives for the first time since 1921.

The celebratory mood at the Ramada Plaza in Louisville on Saturday offered a stark contrast with the feeling among Democratic leaders, who huddled behind closed doors at party headquarters on Friday to discuss retaining their four-seat majority in the House after Republicans won five of the state’s seven constitutional offices Nov. 3.

Bevin recognized the scrutiny he will face from state Democrats, who have held the reins of power in Kentucky’s executive branch for all but one four-year term since 1971.

The last Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher, limped out of office in 2007 following an investigation led by then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who ran unsuccessfully as a lieutenant governor candidate that year, into merit system abuses by the administration.

“How dare we think that we get to go to Frankfort and lead with a conservative perspective,” Bevin said. “How dare those in this room think we have a seat at the table, and there are those who quite literally are looking forward to us making mistakes — perhaps those that have been made in the past, perhaps new mistakes.

“There are people who want to see us fail, and our primary task is not only to do the job before us, but to ensure that we do it in a way that represents the will of the people.”

Bevin then pivoted to a post-election visit to Perry County, where he stopped by a business he campaigned at during the gubernatorial race.

The chief executive officer of the company told Bevin he was the first gubernatorial candidate who had returned after the election, Bevin said.

“That’s a sad commentary on the political process, on us, on our compatriots on the other side,” he said. “… Let us be the ones who always go back. Let us be the ones, each of us individual, let us be the party that goes back again and again because that map is a cry for help.”

Republicans also stumped on taking a majority in the state House, where Democrats currently hold a 54-46 lead. Two of those elected to constitutional offices last week — Auditor-elect Mike Harmon and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Ryan Quarles — will vacate their seats in January, paving the way for special elections.

Both state representatives said keeping their seats in Republican hands will be key in the party’s hopes to take the chamber’s gavel from Stumbo, the House speaker.

Quarles said winning both special elections next year would help “build momentum” into the fall.

“We’ve got to win the two seats we’ve vacating, and then we’ve got to take the House,” Harmon said, drawing applause. “… We can do a lot with what we have done, but until we take the House, we really can’t fully change the rudder out on this ship.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, Bevin predicted the state House would be won by Republicans in 2016.

He did not, however, say when he would call special elections to fill the 54th and 62nd House districts. If Harmon and Quarles remain in their legislative seats until they take office Jan. 4, Bevin would have to issue writs for special elections that day or just before lawmakers return to Frankfort for the 60-day session. Once the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 5, that duty would fall to Stumbo, the presiding officer of the House, according to state law.

“I hope what you’ve seen is we’re using a thoughtful, logical, methodical approach to governing,” Bevin told reporters.

“There’s no rush. We’re not going to trip over ourselves to get ahead of anything. We’re going to do things in a thoughtful and intentional fashion. It’ll be no different for these elections themselves.”

As reported by CNHI News, Democratic leaders like Gov. Steve Beshear, Attorney General-elect Andy Beshear, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Patrick Hughes, former KDP Chairman Jerry Lundergan and Stumbo met at KDP headquarters Friday afternoon.

The younger Beshear and Hughes told CNHI that retention of the Democrat-led House was the focus of the meeting, and Hughes declined to speculate on his future as KDP chairman. Others in attendance quickly left after the meeting, according to the report.

After a Capitol news conference Friday, Beshear acknowledged that he and other Democrats planned to “start the conversation about where do we go next in terms of the organization of the party” that day and in the days ahead.

“There’s a whole lot of people that have to be included in terms of thinking about who the next chair might be or how you staff the party, but what we’ve got to focus on are the House races next year,” the Democratic governor told reporters.

“We’ve got to zero in on those and make sure that we maintain a majority in the House, and I think we will.”

Beshear said he had no “preconceived notions” about who should be the next KDP chairman if a change is made, saying such a decision would require input from the party’s executive committee and elected leaders.

“We’ll come up with somebody that’ll be good and that’ll lead the charge next year,” he said.

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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