R.J. Palmer is 'consensus' pick to lead KY Senate Democrats; Rhoads and Turner re-elected

01/04/2011 02:23 PM

After an arduous five-week process, the Senate Democrats selected Sen. R.J. Palmer of Winchester on Tuesday to be their floor leader who will set the tone for how the 15-member minority caucus will work with the Republican majority.

Palmer will take over from Ed Worley, who served as floor leader since 2003. Worley, of Richmond, decided not to seek re-election to the 34th Senate district last fall.

Palmer, 40, said he was the “consensus” pick as he exited from an hour-long closed door meeting Tuesday, the first day of the 2011 legislative session.

He said Sen. Julian Carroll, the former governor who has served in the Senate since 2005, nominated him for the post.

Carroll had been the alternative to Palmer even though Carroll told cn|2 Politics last month that he wasn’t actively campaigning for the post. Still he said he received calls of encouragement from about half of the caucus last month.

The caucus remained divided over who would be its next leader, twice delaying planned votes on the leadership posts.

At issue was what kind of tone and approach the 15-member caucus would take in working with the Republican majority, particularly with Senate President David Williams, now a candidate for governor.

Carroll said Tuesday that he ended up not being a factor in the minority leader race because too many of his Democratic colleagues were concerned that potential run-ins between Carroll and Williams would cause some of them to lose key committee positions, especially if they supported Carroll.

Other Democrats had been saying that the Democrats needed to have a strong voice in opposition to Williams at certain points.

“I think we need someone who is fully capable — in case Senator Williams decides to be bossy — to stand up for the Democratic principles,” said Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, in an interview last month. “We need a strong leader, someone who has been active in committees and on the floor of the Senate in standing up for the principles of the Democratic Party.”

While she wouldn’t say whom she would back, her comments pointed toward Carroll, who has often challenged Williams in floor speeches.

On the other hand, some Democratic senators were hoping for a more go-along-to-get-along approach closer to what Worley offered in recent years.

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, described it to cn|2 Politics last month in this way: “If we have the wrong person in there, it’s going to make it a very difficult session. It’s important that we are part of the process.”

Jones said at the time that he was backing Palmer.

Palmer was first elected to the Senate in 2001 after serving one term in the House. He narrowly won re-election to the 28th District that covers six central Kentucky counties with just shy of 53% of the vote.

The Senate Democrats shrunk from 17 members in the 38-person chamber to 15 after this fall’s elections. They lost Worley’s seat and two incumbents: Sen. David Boswell of Owensboro and Sen. Mike Reynolds of Bowling Green while Democratic candidate Dennis Parrett defeated Republican Sen. Elizabeth Tori of Radcliff.

Senate Democratic whip race

Democrats also re-elected Sen. Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville to the leadership position of whip. He defeated Sen. Joey Pendleton of Hopkinsville, who previously served as whip from 2005 to 2009 before Rhoads defeated him.

Also, Sen. Johnny Ray Turner of Drift returns as the third member of the Senate Democrats’ leadership team. He remains caucus chairman, a position he has held since 2003.

Republicans look to introduce key bills Tuesday

While the Senate recessed early Tuesday afternoon for the Democrats to elect their leaders, the Republican majority looked ahead to introducing their package of bills, which they hope to move through the Senate chamber this week.

The Republican caucus re-elected its leaders at a retreat in November with Williams and Katie Stine returning as their nominees for Senate president and Senate president pro tem, respectively. Those positions are officially approved by the full chamber.

Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, returns as Republican floor leader, while Sen. Dan Seum of Louisville won his third term as caucus chairman and Sen. Carroll Gibson was re-elected to his second term as Republican Senate whip.

- Ryan Alessi with reporting from Frankfort by Kenny Colston


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.