Rep. Darryl Owens is Jefferson County House Democrats' pick for speaker pro tem

12/03/2014 10:07 AM

After a secret ballot Tuesday night, Jefferson County House Democrats tabbed state Rep. Darryl Owens as their choice for speaker pro tem.

Owens was one of three Louisville Democrats in the running for the vacancy in House leadership, with Reps. Denny Butler and Steve Riggs vying for the opening in next month’s leadership elections.

Owens, chairman of the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and vice chairman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources and the House Judiciary Committee, said he was “pleased” with the result. While he’s made his intent known to other Democrats in the House, he’s ready to put his internal campaign “in second gear now, heading to overdrive.”

In his pitch to the caucus, Owens say he highlighted his experience and ability to work with others.

“As you know I’m going to be part of a leadership team, so it’s going to be important I be able to convey to the leadership team interests and concerns of the community,” Owens told Pure Politics in a phone interview Wednesday.

He’ll walk into the early January balloting with at least 12 votes in his pocket after his caucus offered its near unanimous support. Owens, who said he hasn’t counted votes in the Democratic caucus at large, said 12 out of 13 members of the delegation attended Tuesday’s meeting, with current House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark absent. Clark announced in November he would not seek re-election to the leadership position he’s held since 1993.

Riggs, who’s participated in 12 leadership elections in his time in the legislature, told Pure Politics late Tuesday it’s the first time the Jefferson County Democratic delegation will be united behind one candidate.

He ultimately withdrew his candidacy after speaking with Owens and Butler while other members of the caucus cast their votes. His decision to withdraw centered on the amount of time necessary to serve in leadership as well as the “refreshing” attitude of unity among the caucus.

“We’re not going to be divided any longer,” Riggs said. “We’re going to come out of there with a block, a large block, and we’re going to go to the rest of the state and say we deserve one of the five (leadership posts) because we are the golden goose, we lay the golden eggs for the state. We’re the engine, the economic engine.”

Added Owens, “They thought it was important that we come together, and I think the fact that 12 of the 13 were there is a pretty strong sign.”

After state Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville became the first African-American elected to leadership in the General Assembly, Owens may not be far behind as the second if his bid is successful next month.

“I think it would mean something being the first African-American to serve in that role, but you know, again, as important as me being African-American is the fact that I think I’m qualified for the position, so when you marry those two it’s a good day,” Owens said.

Others in the speaker pro tem race include Rep. Dennis Keene of Wilder, Rep. Jeff Greer of Brandenburg and Rep. Jody Richards of Bowling Green.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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