R.J. Palmer seeking Democratic Senate leader post, Julian Carroll might too

12/09/2010 03:33 PM

Senate Democrats appear split and confused about which of their own they want to lead the group for the next two years.

The group will start the 2011 session with two fewer members because of losses in the November election and without the senator who was their floor leader for the last eight years, Ed Worley of Richmond. Worley decided not to seek a fourth term in the Senate.

Sen. R.J. Palmer of Winchester has emerged as a contender for the top spot. While Palmer declined to comment, other senators confirmed that Palmer is a candidate.

“I’m for R.J. Palmer. I think R.J. would be the best person,” said Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville. “He can articulate the issues. He’d do a good job in negotiating the budget.”

Jones said he briefly flirted with the idea of running for floor leader, himself, but decided against it. He also said he considered running for attorney general — but only if incumbent Jack Conway, a fellow Democrat, wasn’t going to be on the ballot next year. Conway announced his intent to seek another term, so Jones said he wouldn’t run.

One senator who is being mentioned as the chief rival to Palmer, is Sen. Julian Carroll, the former Democratic governor who now represents Anderson, Franklin, Woodford and part of Fayette counties in the chamber.

But Carroll said he’s not actively campaigning.

“All I can say is that I have not solicited a single vote, and I don’t intend to,” Carroll said. “I’ve had several members — in fact, I think I’ve had a total of 7 — call me. But I’ve made no decision yet.”

Carroll said he wanted to avoid a contentious campaign with one of his colleagues but would serve as minority leader for the caucus if a majority of the 15 members elected him.

“I don’t think anyone has a majority of the vote yet,” Carroll said. “I think there’s several uncommitted senators who are yet to admit their choice.”

One of those has been incoming freshman Sen. Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown, who unseated Republican Sen. Elizabeth Tori of Radcliff.

And only adding to the confusion has been the date of the vote on minority leader. Democratic senators had hoped to vote before the end of November but pushed it back to the middle of this month.

The vote is supposed to take place either Sunday, Dec. 12, or Monday, Dec. 13.

Sen. Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville, had been mentioned early as a candidate for minority leader. But instead, he will be running for re-election as the No. 2 leader, Democratic Senate whip. Sen. Joey Pendleton of Hopkinsville also is running for whip, a position he has held before.

The big issue the Democratic senators are wrestling with is what kind of leaders they want in relation to the Republican majority.

Jones said Palmer is “respected by the Republicans. He’s not confrontational but he understands there are sometimes going to philosophical differences.”

He said Palmer might be better in picking which battles to fight with Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who commands a constitutional majority of 23 members in the chamber.

“If we have the wrong person in there, it’s going to make it a very difficult session,” Jones said without naming Carroll specifically. “It’s important that we are part of the process.”

Carroll, however, said while the minority caucus needs to be “cooperative” on some policy issues, the Democrats must be ready to stand up to Williams, who also is a Republican candidate for governor.

“That changes the circumstances with respect to the legislative process,” Carroll said. “His political posturing and his political decisions … will always have consequences with them.”

- Ryan Alessi

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