Kentucky Democrats huddle after losing state House, talk about regrouping for 2018 cycle

11/19/2016 09:26 PM

FRANKFORT — There was a lot of soul-searching on Democrat Drive on Saturday as the Kentucky Democratic Party’s State Central Executive Committee discussed the party’s messaging, tactics and personnel in the wake of a brutal election cycle.

Democrats entered Nov. 8 with a 53-47 majority in the state’s House of Representatives only to lose 17 seats as Republicans head into January’s 30-day session with a 64-36 supermajority.

The GOP took the House for the first time in 95 years and, with that, the last major pillar of influence for Democrats in the Capitol. Last year, Democrats lost their second gubernatorial election since 1967.

KDP Chairwoman Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat who ran on that ticket as former Attorney General Jack Conway’s running mate, said the party can begin chipping away at the GOP’s supermajority in 2018.

Until then, she said KDP should begin regrouping, recruiting candidates and holding Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and President-elect Donald Trump accountable. She joked that “the best thing that can be said about 2017 from my perspective is that there are no races on the ballot in November.”

“When we can run races talking about local issues, talking about candidates that they know because they know them from church or school or work, we can can win with our Democratic message,” Overly said. “I think 2018 has an enormous upside for the Kentucky Democratic Party.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear said 33,030 votes tilted the House in the Republican’s favor, 1.7 percent of votes cast in this year’s presidential contest at the top of the ballot that drew scores of straight-Republican-ticket votes.

Beshear suggested that the party institute a political boot camp for newly recruited candidates and rethink its messaging.

“Two years and four years from now they (voters) need to understand what promises have been made and what promises haven’t been kept,” he said. “We’ve got to talk about the core issues of this party or what is going to determine whether we’re successful as a state economically.

“What am I talking about? I’m talking about education, whether it’s an adequately funded K-12 or a good higher education program. The states that we see succeed economically the way we want to do a better job and put more dollars into educating their populace. That is an issue we believe in. The health of our people. If you look at one of the number impediments that we have towards growing jobs and bringing in new businesses, it’s the health of the folks in our economy.”

Both Overly and Beshear said KDP needs to hire a full-time executive director, and Overly said she expects to have a job description soon for the post, which will be filled after a national search.

She said the party also plans to hire a digital coordinator and fundraiser.

“That kind of staff pays for itself in the work they do and the communications they deliver and the fundraising they do, something we must do for the party,” Overly said.

Others offered their thoughts during Saturday’s three-and-a-half-hour meeting at party headquarters and said the Democratic Party needs to improve its ground game in rural parts of the state.

“It comes down to the face-to-face contacts, knocking on doors, putting miles on your car, wearing out a pair of shoes to win these elections here in these rural districts,” said Scott Sykes, of Pikeville. “We do need to focus on the rural areas as we move forward if we are to regain the House. If we can develop a message that resonates within eastern Kentucky and drive that message from east to west, we win.”

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said while television advertising is important in delivering campaign messages, retail politics are equally vital to winning elections.

“You also have to follow up with being a people person who goes out and campaigns at the little events in Clark County or Elliott County or those areas so that you can connect with those working-class people that we’re not connecting with,” he said.

The committee also discussed future plans for KDP headquarters.

Overly says overhead for the building costs the party about 10 percent of its budget, and a needed new HVAC system will cost $70,000.

She’s looking for additional guidance on how to proceed.

“I think that this is a facility that is dated, that needs some work, and so we need to take a top-to-bottom look at the deferred maintenance that has been put off and to see what it is we want to do with this asset moving forward,” she said.

Overly, who also serves as House majority caucus chair, told Pure Politics that she has not decided whether she will seek a leadership post in the minority caucus.

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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