Ky. Senate faces chairmanship shuffle; Fewer question marks in the House

11/19/2012 02:12 PM

Not only are a quarter of the 12 state Senate committee chairmen retiring but four more are running for leadership positions, which would mean even more key vacancies if they win.

That’s laying the groundwork for the most turnover in the Senate’s leadership structure since the Republicans first took over the chamber in 2000. The House, by comparison, looks to return all but one committee chairman and one budget subcommittee chairman — unless there are changes in House Democratic leadership positions.

Here’s a look at the scenarios to fill in some of those key spots in the Senate:

Judiciary Committee Chairman — Whichever senator steps into the role will have big shoes to fill in replacing Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London. The most likely candidate for the job hasn’t been elected to the Senate. State Rep. Sara Beth Gregory of Monticello is running for the open 16th Senate District to replace former Senate President David Williams. She is favored to win in the heavily Republican district. And if she wins, she would have more legislative experience (two years in the House) than the other new Republican Senator with legal experience, Whitney Westerfield, a lawyer and former assistant prosecutor from Hopkinsville. The only other Republican lawyers in the Senate currently serve in leadership: President Pro Tem Katie Stine and Republican Floor Leader Robert Stivers. Stivers, who is running for Senate president, formerly led this committee and, theoretically, could again if he lost his bid for Senate president.

Education Committee Chairman — The spot to take over from retiring Sen. Ken Winters, the former Campbellsville University president, is perhaps more dependent on the outcome of the Republican leadership races than any other spot. If Sen. David Givens of Greensburg falls short in his bid for majority floor leader, he would be a favorite to lead the committee. If he joins the GOP leadership team, it could be one of the senators who loses the race for Republican whip: Sen. Mike Wilson of Bowling Green or Sen. Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon.

Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee Chairman — If Senate Republicans want to acknowledge the previous Senate experience of returning Sen. Albert Robinson of London without putting him in a position to cause trouble, this is the place. Robinson has been roundly criticized — even from some in his own party — for secretly slipping in a provision to raise legislators’ pensions in a 2000 bill using language that was so obtuse the courts threw it out three years later. Robinson, at the time, chaired the state and local government committee. He served from 1994 to 2004 in the Senate and seven terms in the House. Another contender might be Sen. Chris McDaniel, an incoming freshman from Taylor Mill. McDaniel has military experience and will represent the 23rd District, the home area of the panel’s retiring chairman, Jack Westwood.

Potential openings:
Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman — Current chairman, independent Sen. Bob Leeper, is running for Senate President. His rival, Stivers, told Pure Politics last week that if won, he didn’t see any reason to remove Leeper as A&R chairman, who leads the budget process. Leeper has held the job since the 2010 session. If Leeper wins, the leadership would have to pick a new chairman. Typically, newly-elected leaders reward key supporters with plum jobs. This one is at the top of that list. Or Leeper could propose to keep the caucus together by offering Stivers the post.

Agriculture Committee Chairman — Givens, of Greensburg, has been the committee chairman since joining the Senate in 2009. If he wins his bid for GOP majority floor leader, the Republican leadership could tap one of his freshman classmates, Sen. Paul Hornback, who is a farmer from Shelby County. Or if Sen. Carroll Gibson is defeated for GOP whip, Gibson could step into the chairmanship role. His district in southwest Kentucky is agriculture-heavy and he serves on the committee.

State and Local Government Committee Chairman — The incumbent, Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown is going up against Givens for GOP floor leader. If Thayer succeeds, that leaves a vacancy of a key committee chairmanship at a time when that panel will likely take up two of the big issues out there: reforming the Kentucky public pension systems and redistricting.

Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairman — Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard holds this post. He is also among four Republicans vying for GOP whip.

HOUSE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN VACANCIES

The picture in the House is much less complicated. The Kentucky Democratic House majority have two spots to fill because of legislative retirements:

State Government Committee — With the retirement of longtime Rep. Mike Cherry of Princeton, House Democratic leaders could elevate one of the committee’s vice chairmen, Rep. Jim Glenn of Owensboro. The promotion would give Glenn more visibility, which can only help after two straight elections with narrow victories. The other vice chairman of the committee, Rep. Derrick Graham of Frankfort, serves as a subcommittee chairman of primary and secondary schools on the appropriations and revenue committee. And House leaders don’t permit members to serve as both a committee chairman and a member of the powerful budget subcommittee.

Budget Subcommittee on General Government — This budget panel was led by Rep. Royce Adams of Dry Ridge. With his retirement, Rep. Wilson Stone of Scottsville could get bumped up from the vice chairmanship of the panel. His fellow vice chair, Rep. Leslie Combs of Pikeville, chairs the full Natural Resources committee.

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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