Rep. Dennis Keene throws his hat in ring for House speaker pro tem

11/13/2014 02:28 PM

Some Democrats in the Kentucky House of Representatives are weighing their future options now that House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark announced Wednesday that he would not seek reelection to the post he’s held since 1993.

Clark’s decision opens the door for a number of Democrats to replace him, including Rep. Dennis Kenne, D-Wilder.

The 67th district representative, who has served in the House since 2005, currently serves on four committees:

  • Chairman of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee
  • Vice Chairman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation
  • Vice Chairman of the House Economic Development Committee
  • Member of the House Banking and Insurance Committee

Keene says many of his House colleagues have already pledged their support. He told Pure Politics he has spoken with about 27 House Democrats, with about 20 of those backing his candidacy.

“You think people like you, you work with them every day, but when you talk to them and they say, you know, listen, I’m for you, that’s overwhelming,” Keene said.

Keene expects other Democratic members to announce their intentions to run for the position as well.

“I expect a very big election with all of us fighting to get the votes, but at the end of the day whoever it is, you know, we all have respect for each other and at the end of the day we’ll all remain friends,” Keene said.

Keene believes his 10 years of experience in the House will give him an advantage in the leadership election and help him be a strong speaker pro tem. He said he mounted an early challenge to former state Rep. Rob Wilkey of Scottsville for House majority whip in 2007, but he eventually backed Wilkey because he felt he was too inexperienced at the time as a representative beginning his second term in the General Assembly.

“It really is a craft that you’re doing. It’s a political craft, but, nonetheless, it takes a little time and I’ve had opportunities to chair committees, especially the committee that I chair right now, licensing and occupations,” Keene said.

Keene is trying to become the first northern Kentuckian in House leadership since the late Jim Callahan, who served four terms as House majority caucus chair.

Keene replaced Callahan as 67th district representative after the Southgate Democrat did not seek reelection in 2004 after serving for 16 years.

Having a northern Kentuckian in a leadership position would be beneficial to the region, according to Keene.

“It is very important to have a seat at the table,” Keene said. “We are part of the economic engine of Kentucky. We’re not the sole economic engine, but we are a big part and our tax dollars help fund a lot of things in rural Kentucky which is much needed.”

Keene told Pure Politics he expects heroin legislation to be a top priority during the upcoming 2015 session.

“I think that we’re going to have a lot of different bills on the heroin issue and in the end they’ll all kind of melt together and we’ll take the good and bad of each one, and hopefully we’ll come out with a success story and improve on what Sen. Stine had already done,” said Keene.

Keene admitted that Clark has been one of his closest friends in the House and has appreciated the mentoring that Clark has done from him over the years.


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