Rep. Jim Gooch becomes second Democrat to join House GOP, pushing Democrats to 50-48 majority

12/28/2015 01:19 PM

UPDATED WITH GOOCH STATEMENT: State Rep. Jim Gooch became the second member of the House Democratic caucus to change his party affiliation on Monday, informing leaders of both parties in the chamber of his decision to seek re-election as a Republican earlier in the day.

Gooch, of Providence, has served in the legislature since 1995, chairing the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.

In a lengthy statement, Gooch said he informed House Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of his decision in an email, calling his move “a personal one, free of any negotiation for personal benefit to me.”

He acknowledged that national politics played a role in his party switch, saying that he “cannot support any of the Democrats running for President.”

“At a recent political gathering Speaker Stumbo acknowledged that the Democrat party was the ‘Party of Barack Obama,’” Gooch said in a statement. “I deliberated that thought and I came to the conclusion that I could be a member of the party of Obama, but that I cannot be a member of the party that SUPPORTS BARRACK OBAMAS POLICIES! The majority of Democrats do support his radical agenda.”

His diatribe included criticisms of the federal Clean Power Plan, gun control and Middle Eastern immigration, saying Islamic State militants could use that as a way to enter the U.S.

“I acknowledge that most are issues associated with the national Democrat Party and not the State Party,” Gooch continued in his statement. “We have many fine honorable Kentucky Democrats. I agree that there is a difference between Kentucky Democrats and Washington Democrats. My remarks are not directed at them. They are my friends and colleagues.

“They may feel that they can distinguish themselves from the national party while at the same time support their national office holders. But for me, I cannot.”

Hoover welcomed Gooch to the GOP caucus, saying the two had “developed a strong friendship” while serving in the General Assembly.

“His extensive background in natural resources issues and unwavering support for our coal industry will be a tremendous benefit to our caucus and I know he will continue to serve the people of the 12th House District, as well as the Commonwealth as a whole, with integrity,” Hoover, R-Jamestown, said in a statement.

Stumbo, through his spokesman, offered a succinct statement: “We’ll see them on Election Day.”

Prominent Republicans praised Gooch’s move across the political aisle.

“As we continue our march toward a Republican majority in the State House, we are thrilled to add him to our ranks and look forward to supporting him,” Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown said in a statement.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Gooch “an outstanding lawmaker working hard for the people of his district.”

“I’ve long admired him and enjoyed working side-by-side in the fight against the Obama Administration’s anti-coal regulations,” McConnell said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing our efforts to protect Kentucky jobs. The wave of western Kentucky conservatives making the switch to the Republican Party is growing and I’m so pleased that Jim is now officially a Republican.”

Gooch’s change in party affiliation shows the former Democrat holds no ill will toward the GOP after a blistering 2014 re-election campaign.

The House Republican Caucus Campaign Committee contributed $30,000 to the campaign of his opponent, Dianne Mackey, and the Kentucky State Republican Executive Committee chipped in another $10,000, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Mackey, who lost to Gooch by 20 points last year, produced a television advertisement questioning Gooch’s actions at a Southern Legislative Conference meeting in 2013, when he displayed a pair of women’s underwear he said were put into his pocket by a random woman.

RPK also distributed a controversial mailer that year critical of Gooch’s vote on a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain a certificate to drive. The mail piece included pictures of one World Trade Center tower aflame and a hijacked airplane about to strike the second tower on Sept. 11, 2001, and a caravan of Islamic State militants.

Gooch is the second House Democrat to leave the party in the wake of Republican victories in this year’s election cycle. Rep. Denny Butler, R-Louisville, changed his party affiliation Nov. 19.

Gov. Matt Bevin has lent a hand in Republican efforts to assume control of the House for the first time since 1921. He appointed John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat representing the 8th House District, secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Dec. 10 and named Tanya Pullin, a South Shore Democrat in the 98th House District, an administrative law judge Dec. 16.

Democrats now hold a 50-48 majority in the chamber. GOP Reps. Mike Harmon, of Danville, and Ryan Quarles, of Georgetown, will vacate their seats before taking office as state auditor and agriculture commissioner, respectively, on Jan. 4.

That will leave four open House seats to be decided by special elections as the General Assembly gavels in for next year’s 60-day session Jan. 5.


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