Meeting the Freshmen: New state senators trying to sort out their roles

11/04/2010 03:18 PM

For 14 years, not a single challenger unseated an incumbent state senator.

On Nov. 2, three challengers (two Republican, one Democrat) accomplished the feat in the same night. Republicans Joe Bowen and and Mike Wilson sent home Democratic Sens. David Boswell of Owensboro and Mike Reynolds of Bowling Green, respectively. And Democrat Dennis Parrett unseated Republican Sen. Elizabeth Tori of Radcliffe.

Those three new senators will be joined in their freshman class by Jared Carpenter, who won the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Ed Worley of Richmond. In addition, Republican Paul Hornback cruised to a win to keep the 20th state Senate district in the GOP column.

The most experienced of the new senators is Bowen, who previously served as a representative in the state House for two years in 2005 and 2006. He said tort reform is his biggest priority.

Bowen, who was part of the minority party in the House, will find himself in the majority in the Senate. Bowen said that State Senate President David Williams told Bowen could be placed on the powerful appropriations and revenue committee, but called those conversations “informal.”

“I know this may sound odd, but I’d like to be on the licensing, occupations and administrative regulations (committee),” Bowen said in a telephone interview. He also mentioned the education, transportation and natural resources committees as other possible choices.

The quickest riser could be Carpenter, who has been told multiple times by Williams, including in front of voters on the campaign trail, that Carpenter will be placed on the appropriations committee. Carpenter said that promise was “huge” in his election.

“We campaigned on that, I sure don’t think it hurt,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter, a banker in Richmond and a former basketball player for Eastern Kentucky University, said he has no “official gameplan,” heading in as a freshman senator. Job number one, he said is just to “learn the business” of the legislature.

He also said that he wants to be on the education and the banking and insurance committees.

Wilson, who runs a Christian radio station in Bowling Green, said he doesn’t know which committees he’ll be assigned to come January. Wilson mentioned appropriations, transportation and education committees as possibilities.

Getting a seat on the appropriations and revenue committee is a plum assignment. Two members on that committee, which sets the state budget and handles bills related to the taxes, won’t be returning to Frankfort — Republican Tori and Democrat Boswell.

The only freshman Democratic senator-elect, Parrett, will be entering a shrinking Democratic minority that will be electing a new minority leader after Worley’s retirement.

Parrett called any talk of Democratic leadership “premature” two days from election day. But he did say that his experience in

agriculture, Parrett owns a farming feed and supply store, has him interested in joining the agricultural committee.

He also cited the military and veterans’ affairs committee (Parrett’s district includes Fort Knox) and education as other potential placements.

“I would love to be on (the education committee),” Parrett said. “It’s very powerful.”

The five freshmen won’t know their exact committee placements or role as a senator in their respective parties until the 2011 regular session convenes on January 4. In the meantime, the new senators will concentrate on learning the ropes.

“This will be an educational process for the whole family,” Carpenter said.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston

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