Legislative session provides plenty of political fodder as Republicans look to defend newly won House supermajority in 2018

03/31/2017 06:00 PM

With the 2017 General Assembly in the books, politicos from both parties have undoubtedly pored over vote counts looking for ways to boost their political prospects in the next year’s midterm election cycle.

How incumbents vote – or don’t vote – on hot-button issues are crucial topics in legislative races, filling TV and radio air time as well as direct-mail pieces as candidates and parties try to persuade voters that their preferred candidates will make better representatives in Frankfort.

Republicans will find themselves in an unfamiliar position in 2018, defending their 64-member supermajority in the Kentucky House of Representatives after wresting control from Democrats for the first time since 1921 last year.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said House Republicans are poised to “build upon the success that we had this session” with longtime GOP priorities like right-to-work, prevailing wage repeal, abortion restrictions and charter schools now law.

“Our guys are very excited,” he told reporters after adjourning sine die Thursday. “They’ve motivated. They’re appreciative of what we were able to get done this session, and there’s a lot of momentum moving forward.

“I have told them that the biggest thing we have now is addressing the state’s budget, and we will begin work on that as a caucus within the next couple of weeks, and I’ve told them we will do that because come January that is the biggest obstacle, obviously, and our biggest task that we have in front of us.”

But House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins says hotly debated bills like right-to-work, prevailing wage repeal and charter schools have served as a wake-up call to voters, and he hopes Democrats can tap into that anger as they look to regain majority control of the House.

“I see those on the ground that are energized more than I’ve ever seen them before, whether it be right-to-work or repeal of prevailing wage that has, again, hurt working families of Kentucky,” said Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. “It’s going to drive down wages. It’s going to hurt middle-class Kentuckians who I believe are the heart and soul and the strength of having a strong economy.”

“I have never seen people more energized in my time here, in my 30 years here, than I have with the passage of the charter school legislation,” he added. “Everybody from superintendents to school board members to school teachers to principles to parents do not like that legislation because they feel like you’re messing with the education of their children in a negative way, so I am optimistic as we move forward.”

The Republican Party of Kentucky has already hit the warpath, attacking a pair of House Democrats earlier this month for missing floors votes on a range of subjects, and RPK spokesman Tres Watson says more hits are on the horizon.

This year was the first time that Democrats voted on issues like limiting abortions to 20 weeks after conception, he said. State Republicans have more monetary gunpowder at their disposal, $931,563 to the Kentucky Democratic Party’s $3,603, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

“There are votes that were made that will be used in political campaigns in ’18,” Watson told Pure Politics by phone Friday. “Those were votes that had been blocked and hadn’t been allowed to occur in the past because they would be politically damaging to Democrats.”

“We have been and we will continue to be aggressive in reminding people of the votes that were taken so that it’s not just some sort of new evidence that’s been presented to them when the next election cycle rolls around,” he continued. “It’s something that they were informed about a while ago and had the chance to sink in.”

Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Daniel Lowry could not be reached for comment Friday.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said House Republicans did well to ensure freshmen members of the GOP caucus had leading roles in pieces of legislation that affect their districts, pointing to Reps. Chris Fugate’s and John Blanton’s work on House Bill 156 that created the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority and the Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority and House Bill 377 that provides financial relief for coal companies in black lung cases.

Those issues will play well back in their eastern Kentucky districts “because of everything that they were able to accomplish and the fact that they were relevant as a supermajority in their first sessions as freshmen legislators,” Stivers said during a Capitol news conference broadcast on the Senate Republicans’ Facebook page.

Yet Stivers doesn’t expect a major political windfall for the House GOP in 2018, save for possibly a few seats won or lost.

“My basic assumption would be that they will stay right in the range of where they are – one up, one down, somewhere in that range, maybe two or three – until you get a national election in,” he said. “I think generally the dynamics stay very similar to where they were, then national policies and national politics get involved and you see something like you saw in last year’s election, that the top of the ticket had tremendous coattails on the bottom of the ticket.”

Watson, however, sees Democratic seats that Republicans left on the table in 2016 that will be in the GOP’s crosshair’s in next year’s midterms.

“We’re certainly not going to let our foot off the gas where we can be on the offensive,” he said.

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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