Stumbo: "We're worried about the possibility of more defections," Rep. Owens named judiciary chairman

12/10/2015 04:24 PM

LOUISVILLE — House Speaker Greg Stumbo was speaking with members of the media in Louisville Thursday as official word came down that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley had accepted a role as the next Justice and Public Safety Cabinet secretary under Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

Tilley’s move to Bevin’s administration further wounds an already bleeding Democratic majority caucus in the House of Representatives. Democrats now have their slimmest majority since 1921 with a 52-47 lead in the chamber and three special elections to run in 2016.

Talking with reporters, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called the moves by Tilley and former Democratic Rep. Denny Butler who switched party affiliation to the GOP, as a “slap in the face” to constituents and the system.

“I think it’s a slap in the face of representative Democracy and a slap in the face to those who elected you, and I’m not going to judge because my Bible tells me not to judge lest I would be judged, but I do think it’s a slap in the face to the hard working men and women who voted for you,” Stumbo said. “I think you owe to them to serve out your term in the party you were elected to serve from.”

Six Democratic members have been targeted by the Republican Party in the House, Stumbo said, though he refused to elaborate on who has been approached.

Members, he said have been propositioned by the GOP with jobs in the administration, and other high level positions in government. Rich donors are also offering jobs to family members of those Democrats willing to turn their backs on the party mates, he said.

“There will be takers,” Stumbo said. “We’ve seen that. That’s true all throughout our society — there are those who don’t have the character. We see them everyday. I see them in the court of justice — they call them criminals.”

Stumbo went on to say that Butler, R-Louisville, and Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, are not criminals, but he said their choices reflect upon their character.

While those that make the jump are getting the cold shoulder and a tongue lashing via their former elected leader, Stumbo said he understands why someone may leave their House mates and accept a role as a cabinet secretary.

“It’s tempting,” he said. “If you’re a member of the General Assembly and you’re making, whatever we make now, 125 to 130 bucks a day, and somebody offers you $150,000 a year job or offers your wife a job, obviously that’s a temptation.”

Neither Tilley or Butler had phoned Stumbo to share the news of their departure from the House Democratic caucus — something he said was likely an indication of their wrongdoing.

“When I was raised up, Mommy always said, ‘Usually when you’re afraid to talk to somebody and tell ‘em what you have done — you done wrong,’” he said.

Tilley took offense to Stumbo’s remarks insinuating that he took the job for its higher salary, saying House Democrats offering him “certain things that might get me to reconsider.” As his name churned through the Frankfort rumor mill as a potential Bevin appointee in recent weeks, Tilley said Stumbo never called to broach the topic.

Tilley said he and the speaker exchanged text messages before the appointment went public Thursday, and he had a lengthy late-evening conversation with House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins.

While talking with Pure Politics on Thursday, Stumbo said he would be looking to Rep. Daryl Owens, D-Louisville, to take over for Tilley in his role as House Judiciary Committee chairman. That nod was made official on Thursday afternoon in a press release.

“I am grateful for House leaders’ confidence in my ability to lead this important committee and to help steer critical and complex bills through the legislative process,” Owens said in a statement. “The Judiciary Committee has passed groundbreaking legislation on issues that impact every Kentuckian, and I look forward to continuing that legacy of good stewardship in the coming years.”

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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