Sannie Overly named new Kentucky Democratic Party chair

01/30/2016 01:46 PM

UPDATED FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Democratic Party’s State Central Executive Committee unanimously voted state Rep. Sannie Overly as the Democrats’ new chairwoman in a meeting Saturday.

Overly, a Paris Democrat who chairs the House of Representatives’ majority caucus and ran as the running mate of former Attorney General Jack Conway in an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year, replaces Patrick Hughes as chair of the KDP.

Overly, an attorney and Emerge Kentucky board member, has served in the House since 2008 and ascended to leadership as majority caucus chairwoman in 2013, becoming the first female representative elected to a leadership post. She’s the first woman to chair the KDP since Louisville attorney Jennifer Moore stepped down in 2009.

Her appointment Saturday signals the KDP’s resolve in defending the party’s last pillar of power in the House’s Democratic majority, which has fallen to 50-46 with four special elections set for March 8.

“The priority of the Kentucky Democratic Party has to be to hold the majority in the state House,” Overly told reporters after Saturday’s meeting. “I’m very interested in making sure that this party works hand-in-hand with our caucus to ensure that we run professional, well-funded races, so I think it’s a natural partnership between the party and the caucus.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Overly’s appointment is good news for House Democrats as they prepare for this year’s round of legislative elections. He noted that Democrats retained their majority in a tough 2014 election cycle with Overly playing a major role in the caucus’s campaign strategy.

“We’re very pleased from our standpoint as Democrats in the House who serve with her,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

She inherits a party in need of a financial boost ahead of this fall’s presidential election cycle, but it lost a major fundraising element when Gov. Matt Bevin beat Conway in November, becoming the second Republican elected governor in Kentucky since 1967. KDP reported $26,564 cash on hand in its federal campaign account and $80,487 cash on hand in its state account, according to the party’s most recent filings.

Overly and Stumbo conceded that losing the governorship will affect the party’s ability to fill its coffers, but they say the loss isn’t a financial deathblow.

Overly says she’s fielded calls from donors ready to cut checks for the KDP after a strong fundraising year for the majority caucus in 2015. House Democrats reported nearly $550,000 in cash on hand to KREF compared to $57,000 in cash on hand for the GOP caucus.

“What we’re going to do is now fundraise into the party to be able to jointly work with the caucus to make sure that these races are well funded, and I’ve had a number of folks reach out to me over the past week to say, ‘This is something I hope you will entertain. I hope you’ll take it on, and I’ll be there to help you,’” she said.

“So certainly when you don’t have a sitting governor, it’s a different sort of fundraising environment, but there are people in this state who are committed to moving this state forward.”

Overly will face fundraising challenges “because she doesn’t have the things that a governor can do for people,” Stumbo said.

“But there’s a lot of good Democrats out there. You know, we saw a lot of money raised by Jack Conway, a lot of money raised by Alison Grimes, a lot of money raised by Andy Beshear, so those are Democratic donors who are willing to stand up for this party, and that’s who she’s going to have to tap into.”

One matter remains unsettled, however. When asked whether she would be compensated as KDP chair, Overly said that would be decided by the party’s finance committee as it drafts KDP’s budget.

“Historically the party chair has been paid, but you know, we’re in a different environment now because we don’t have the governor’s office, so I’ll look to guidance from the finance committee on that,” she said.

Overly says she’ll continue to serve as House majority caucus chair for now, and according to Stumbo, she’ll have some assistance.

Aside from House races, Overly says she’ll be involved in KDP business across the spectrum, from presidential politics to state and local races.

“She’ll have the time to do it,” Stumbo said when asked about Overly’s dual roles with the state party and the House caucus. “We’ll help her. We’re going to help her.”


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