State Sen. Walter Blevins will likely resign at end of year, setting up mid-session special election

12/11/2014 09:56 AM

After winning the Rowan County judge-executive’s race by a 6 percent margin last month, state Sen. Walter Blevins has felt some pressure from the right to immediately resign his Senate seat so a special election could be held before the 30-day legislative session convenes in January.

Republicans have been ready for the possibility of Blevins’ election and hope to make the 27th Senate District their 27th pickup in the chamber after expanding their majority to 26-12 in the fall elections.

Blevins, D-Morehead, told Pure Politics he’s heard from those urging him to step down immediately and read statements from local GOP officials leaning on him to jumpstart the special election process.

Two weeks after Blevins’ election, Lewis County Republican Party Chairman Ben Harrison called on the lawmaker to step down so the district covering Rowan, Bourbon, Harrison, Fleming, Mason, Lewis, Nicholas and Robertson counties will have full representation when the General Assembly returns to Frankfort.

“It is disappointing that Senator Blevins is delaying his resignation,” the Lewis County GOP said in a statement to The Ledger Independent in Maysville in a story published Nov. 17. “More importantly, it is disheartening to contemplate the possibility that there will be an empty seat in the State Senate chamber where the Senator from the 27th District should be sitting.”

But Blevins, a dentist who has served in the legislature since 1982, has his reasons for staying in the General Assembly until later this month, when he will be sworn in as judge-executive. He said stepping down before he takes office in Rowan County Fiscal Court would affect his pension, and as a survivor of prostate cancer, he’s concerned with the cost of private health insurance.

Blevins said he’s confident his vacancy will be filled before the legislature takes up consequential votes.

Special elections must take place 56 days once a seat is vacated, so the district may not have a senator until the session’s waning days in late February. Next year’s session is scheduled to convene Jan. 6 for a four-day organizational period before reconvening Feb. 3 and adjourning March 24 following a 10-day veto break.

“I think they’ll be able to have some representation toward the end of that session,” Blevins said in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “The Republicans have a constitutional majority, whether we elect a Democrat or Republican, either one it’s not going to make much difference in the vote. They’ve got enough votes they can pass whatever they want out of the Senate.”

Republicans are bullish about their chances of picking up another seat in a special election, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said.

He noted that Senate Republicans have laid plans for a potential special election since Blevins announced his candidacy, knowing there was a chance the Democrat would become judge-executive. The GOP has met with “several” interested Republicans in representing the eight-county district, Thayer said, though he declined to identify them.

“We always thought in the back of our mind that there would be an opportunity for a special election, and so we’ve got money left in both of our campaign accounts that we planned on having available,” Thayer, R-Georgetown, said in a phone interview with Pure Politics.

“We just had another fundraiser last week, and I suspect we’ll be having more to make sure that we’ve got the resources to help our candidate. Of course, the candidate will be responsible for raising his or her own campaign funds, but we want to be in a position to help.”

In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 50,477 to 26,125, Thayer said recent voting trends make Republicans optimistic in winning a special election there, noting that U.S. Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell earned 55 percent of the district’s vote this year, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney collected 61 percent of the vote in 2012 and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul won 52 percent of the vote.

Blevins believes the district will remain in Democratic hands given voter registration statistics. He’s heard John “Skip” Holley, whom he bested by nearly 4 percent of the vote in the Rowan County judge-executive Democratic primary, is considering a run for the Senate seat.

But holding a special election in the winter months will be difficult for both parties, he said, noting he won such a contest when he began serving in the Senate in 1992.

Two special elections held in December of 2013 yielded low turnouts — Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, won when about 10 percent of voters hit the polls and Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, won after about 22 percent of voters cast ballots.

“It’s tough to get people even interested in an election like that,” Blevins said. “… You never know what’s going to happen during that time of year. You could have a daggone snowstorm and nobody’ll be able to hardly get a vote. You may have the lowest turnout ever, so the timing’s not real good for an election, any time during these few months here.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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