House Democratic leadership position opens as speaker pro tem decides to step aside in what could be last term

11/12/2014 05:33 PM

After retaining their 54-46 majority last week, House Democrats will elect a new member of leadership after House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark announced Wednesday he would not seek reelection to the post he’s held since 1993.

Clark, D-Louisville, penned a letter to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, which was distributed to media outlets after a Legislative Research Committee meeting. In an interview with Pure Politics, Clark said his 16th term in the chamber will likely be his last.

He said he hopes to help the next speaker pro tem transition into the role.

“I thought about the institution and what was best for the Kentucky General Assembly and also our Democrat House caucus, reflected back when I first got elected to leadership,” Clark said. “You were elected, the next day you had to go to work, and I thought about the transition period.

“… I thought by me stepping down would give the new person in leadership one year to work with Gov. (Steve) Beshear, which is a very good governor to work with and really worked closely with him, and give them one year under the belt to meet with the new administration in 2016. We’ll have a very difficult session.”

Clark’s decision opens a prominent position in House Democratic leadership, and at least three contenders have already emerged.

Clark told Pure Politics he expects Rep. Dennis Keene, a Wilder Democrat and chairman of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee, and Rep. Denny Butler, D-Louisville, to seek the post.

“I told them both they ought to sit down and talk, but hopefully we’ll get somebody elected that can do the job better than I or as well as I did the last 21 years that I had this position,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg and the House Banking and Insurance Committee chairman, told Pure Politics he’s in the process of lining up commitments within the caucus. He said he’s been eying a run for leadership since soon after being elected in 2006 and plans to send letters to the caucus Friday.

He also pointed to the current political climate, which requires more and more money for electoral success. That’s an area in which he believes he can contribute since he can rely on staff at his insurance office to handle business there while he focuses on fundraising.

“I think I can handle the gavel and give our speaker some time,” he said. “We need his mind in the game instead of listening to schools singing and things like that.”

In the meantime, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he expects to rely on Clark regardless of whether he holds a position in leadership.

“He may not be a member of leadership, but if I’m speaker, I’ll certainly utilize his wealth of knowledge and background often,” Stumbo said.

There will be plenty of issues for the General Assembly to consider in the next two years if Clark doesn’t seek another term.

He listed tax modernization and job creation as two key areas of focus, which lead into funding for education and public pensions, in potentially his last term in the House.

“We have our plate full regardless who’s in leadership,” Clark said.

Mending fences that may have been broken in a particularly contentious House election cycle will also be key, he said.

“We just went through the most vicious election cycle I’ve ever witnessed, and there’s a lot of scar, a lot of deep wounds,” Clark said. “How do we bring people back together for the good of the whole, for the Kentucky General Assembly to move this state forward. If I can play a role in that I’d like to do it.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, expressed “a great deal of respect” for Clark as a member of House leadership. After all, it wasn’t hard to figure out where Clark stood on any issue, Stivers said.

“Whether an ally or an adversary, he was always worthy in either position he held,” Stivers said.

Ryan Alessi contributed to this report.

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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