Senate leader: Incumbent senator doesn’t ‘deserve’ a primary; Says harassment saga could hurt Democrats

09/08/2013 04:31 PM

Now that the new state legislative redistricting maps are done, the first primary election fights are beginning to take shape as a result, but one Senate leader says incumbents don’t “deserve” that.

Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown said he plans to support new Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, in a GOP primary against Campbellsville University professor Max Wise. Wise confirmed to Pure Politics on Aug. 30 that he would challenge Gregory in the 16th District, which added three new counties that account for roughly half of the district’s 52,000 Republican voters.

“I’m strongly for Sara Beth Gregory. I don’t think she deserves a primary. I think she does an excellent job,” Thayer told Pure Politics in an interview last week. “If an incumbent has done a good job and reflects the values of the Republicans in the district, that they don’t deserve a primary,” he said.

He said none of the 14 Republicans – out of 19 senators — up for re-election next year fall into the other category of deserving a primary challenge.

As for the maps themselves, Thayer praised his fellow Senate leaders for crafting a map that didn’t pit any incumbents against each other. The House map, he said, is another story. But as much as he isn’t happy with how the House map carves up certain counties — such as his home county of Scott — he would prefer if the issue didn’t drag on with another court case.

“I would like to move on from redistricting,” Thayer said, although he said it’s “not for me to say” about whether citizens in Scott County or others, such as Laurel, should challenge the House map. The interview begins with Thayer outlining his frustration with what the House map does to Scott County.

The counties that are most chopped up, such as Scott, Laurel and Hardin, all have more residents than the ideal House district of roughly 43,000 people. So they can be legally divided up. The objection lawmakers from those counties raised is that those counties are so carved up that it dilutes the counties’ chances of having representatives who live in that county being elected to those seats.

Thayer said it’s too soon to see how the new House map will affect the balance of power in the House, which Democrats control 55-45.

But he said the brewing controversy over staff members raising allegations of sexually harassment against Democratic Rep. John Arnold “probably” would hurt Democrats in the 2014 elections. “But that will be up to the voters,” he added.

Thayer was among 10 legislative leaders who remained in a closed executive session last week in which they asked questions of Legislative Research Director Bobby Sherman and LRC lawyers about their handling of the allegations, which were brought to them on Feb. 19.

House Democratic leaders called for that part of the meeting to be open, but lawyers objected saying that they could answer few questions lest they leave the legislative branch vulnerable if the staff members brought a lawsuit .

Thayer called House Democrats’ decision to leave the meeting before it went into executive session “the wrong decision.”

As for Arnold, Thayer said “he probably should” resign amid the allegations. House Speaker Greg Stumbo has begun the process of laying the groundwork for the House to censure or expel Arnold when the General Assembly reconvenes in January2014.

Thayer said it’s too soon to revisit LRC policies, including implementing a rule to explicitly forbid lawmakers from engaging in relationships with legislative staff members — allegations that have been raised about other lawmakers as part of the complaints against Arnold.

“We haven’t gotten to that yet,” Thayer said. “We had no idea this type of alleged behavior was happening up on the third floor until that day Representative (Tom) Riner gave his speech” on the floor of the state House on Aug. 21 — the third day of the special session last month to pass the new district maps.

Overall, Thayer said, it has exposed a troubling saga.

“It casts a pall on the entire General Assembly,” Thayer said. “And for that I’m saddened.”

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