Republicans take control of the Kentucky House for the first time in nearly a century

11/08/2016 09:39 PM

LOUISVILLE — Republicans rode a heavy wave led by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, netting 17 seats en route to a 64-seat supermajority after Tuesday’s elections.

It marks the first time Republicans have held the state’s House of Representatives since 1921, claiming the final Southern legislative chamber held by Democrats. The donned red caps reminiscent of those worn by Trump on the campaign trail and emblazoned with #newmajority across the front.

Tuesday’s results also give Republicans supermajorities in both houses of the General Assembly on top of the governor’s office and four other constitutional offices, an unprecedented amount of power for the state GOP in modern history.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo was among numerous Democrats swept out of office, the announcement of which drew cheers from the Republican crowd gathered at the Galt House to watch election returns.

Gov. Matt Bevin, reminiscing on his win in last year’s gubernatorial election, said Tuesday’s results “pales by comparison, in some measure, to the powerful message that you all and so many others including those that are watching tonight sent to the world.”

“The voters of Kentucky have been heard, and they want a new direction for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said.

Many focused on eastern Kentucky in the weeks leading up to Election Day, but Republicans gained seats across the map as they assumed control of the lower chamber.

The result mirrors a GOP takeover of West Virginia’s House of Delegates in 2014, when Democrats fell from a 53-seat majority to a 36-seat minority. Democrats held a 53-47 majority in the Kentucky House, which was whittled to a 36-member minority after Tuesday.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, the likely pick for speaker under a Republican majority, said he felt comfortable predicting wins in “10 or 11 races.”

“I never did think we’d get above 60,” Hoover, R-Jamestown, told reporters after the results.

He said he had not spoken with Stumbo, who lost to Rep.-elect Larry Brown by 6 points in the 95th House District that covers Floyd and part of Pike counties.

The loss seemingly ends Stumbo’s lengthy political career that includes decades in the legislature and a four-year term as attorney general.

“The voters have spoken, so I want to congratulate Larry Brown for his win tonight, and I want to thank the people of the 95th House District for a great career,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement. “I hope only the best for the district, my county, my commonwealth, and my country.”

Bevin singled out the 95th district in his speech and, speaking with the media, agreed with Stumbo’s assessment that this year’s elections represented a referendum on the first-year governor’s short time in office. He called Stumbo, who has served as speaker since 2009, “a thorn in the side of any number of good people for many years for purely political reasons.”

“I think the people like what they’ve seen,” he said. “Nothing’s perfect, including anything that we’ve done. There is no perfect approach to things, but people appreciate the general direction. People appreciate the fact things are being done, and I think they want more of it.”

Kentucky Democratic Party Chairwoman Sannie Overly, who also chairs the House Democratic caucus, pegged Democrats’ losses on “the Trump tide at the top of the ticket” and “an intense barrage of negative advertising from out-of-state millionaires contributing large sums of cash.” The lone bright spot for Democrats came in the 38th House District, where Rep.-elect McKenzie Cantrell topped Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Denny Butler by 259 votes.

“No matter what, Democrats will continue to fight for Kentucky families; specifically education, health care and jobs,” she said in a statement.

Republicans were eager to spread credit for their party’s gains, but none received more praise than U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Rep. Jonathan Shell, a Lancaster Republican who led the caucus’ political efforts, said McConnell had a “huge” impact on the fundraising and recruiting fronts.

“He met with candidates in his personal home,” he said, also crediting Terry Carmack, McConnell’s state director, in getting Republicans to file for office. “We’re talking the majority leader of the United States Senate meeting with individual candidates in his home. … I can’t thank Sen. McConnell enough.”

McConnell called Tuesday’s results “historic.”

“Until tonight, Kentucky was the last state in the South with at least one legislative chamber under Democratic control. No longer,” he said in a statement.

“By winning the state House, and holding onto the state Senate, a Republican state legislature can work with Governor Bevin to truly move our state forward and enact many long-needed, common-sense reforms that will greatly benefit all Kentuckians.”

Scott Jennings, chief strategist for the Republican super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership and a former McConnell aide, praised the Senate majority leader for his efforts in helping Republican House candidates to victory.

McConnell’s Senate Leadership PAC contributed $150,000 to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, part of the roughly $2 million blitz from the group in its push to put the state House in GOP hands, he said.

“Flipping the State House is hugely significant for Kentucky and nationally, marking the culmination of McConnell’s years long effort to turn Kentucky Red,” Jennings said in a statement. “With Governor Matt Bevin doing a terrific job in Frankfort in his first year, the floodgates for conservative reform will soon open when the General Assembly convenes in Frankfort.”

For now, House Republicans aren’t ready to say what will or will not get passed in the upcoming legislative session. Issues like right-to-work, charter schools, anti-abortion measures, repealing prevailing wage and tort reform have long been on the GOP agenda.

“We’ve got a lot of things on our plate,” Hoover told reporters. “We’ve got a monumental task in front of us to take over the reins of power in the House for the first time in almost 100 years. There are a lot of things we will have to do. We’re going to have a caucus meeting on Thursday” to discuss organization.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said there will inevitably be differences in the chambers’ legislative priorities, just as there are disagreements within legislative caucuses on which issues to pursue.

“But there will be more commonality than there are differences,” he said.

Republican gains

8th House District: Walker Thomas 51.9 percent, Jeffery Taylor 48.1 percent

11th House District: Robert “Robby” Mills 51.6 percent, David Watkins 48.4 percent

13th House District: D.J. Johnson 50.8 percent, Jim Glenn 49.2 percent

14th House District: Matt Castlen 63.6 percent, Tommy Thompson 36.5 percent

15th House District: Melinda Prunty 57.1 percent, Brent Yonts 42.9 percent

16th House District: Jason Petrie 65.4 percent, Martha Jane King 34.6 percent

23rd House District (open): Steve Riley 61.5 percent, Danny Basil 38.5 percent

24th House District: William Reeds 54.1 percent, Terry Mills 45.9 percent

49th House District: Dan Johnson 50.4 percent, Linda Belcher 49.6 percent

62nd House District: Phillip Pratt 57.7 percent, Chuck Tackett 42.3 percent

78th House District: Mark Hart 54.4 percent, Tom McKee 45.6 percent

81st House District: C. Wesley Morgan 50.2 percent, Rita Smart 49.8 percent

84th House District: Chris Fugate 63.1 percent, Fitz Steele 36.9 percent

91st House District: Toby Herald 55.2 percent, Cluster Howard 44.8 percent

92nd House District: John Blanton 51.5 percent, John Short 48.5 percent

95th House District: Larry Brown 52.95 percent, Greg Stumbo 47.05 percent

97th House District: William Wells 57.7 percent, Hubert Collins 42.3 percent

98th House District: Danny Bentley 54.1 percent, Lew Nicholls 45.9 percent

Democratic gains

38th House Ditrict: McKenzie Cantrell 50.9 percent, Denny Butler 49.1 percent

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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