Top developments in Kentucky politics this year set the stage for the future

12/31/2013 04:00 PM

This was supposed to be an easy, slow year in Kentucky politics, what with there being no scheduled elections and all.

It never happens that way. And 2013 was no exception.

It was a blur of burgeoning campaigns, national attention and spillover from Washington with a government shutdown and the effects of the Affordable Care Act.

In Frankfort, lawmakers generated their own drama with last-hour deals on bills in the regular General Assembly session. And even when lawmakers seemed to have figured out the controversial redistricting maps (finally), the special session to pass them was marred by allegations against Democratic Rep. John Arnold that he sexually harassed legislative staffers. Here’s a look back at the biggest developments out of the Kentucky General Assembly in 2013:

And here are the top five themes from all of Kentucky politics in 2013:

5. Special Elections

Even though no elections were planned in Kentucky for 2013, three legislative seats went up for grabs in special elections. Democratic Rep. Carl Rollins’ departure from the 56th House District led to a June 25 special election that went down as one of the most expensive House contests in Kentucky history thanks to super PACs. And on Dec. 10, Democrats held a Senate seat in Lexington while Republicans picked up Arnold’s seat in western Kentucky.

4. Shutdown’s Political Spillover

Not only did the 16-day stalemate over a federal spending bill affect programs and parks in Kentucky like it did in the 49 other states, but Kentuckians played key roles in the debate:

3. Rise of Rand

Kentucky’s Junior Senator might already have been a household name before 2013 began. But there’s no denying Rand Paul raised his profile even further — a marathon filibuster on U.S. drone policy in March, a tour through presidential primary states starting in May, a spat with Chris Christie, accusations of lifting material for speeches and infinite appearances on cable political shows.

2. Health Exchange Attention

The national media also discovered who Kentucky’s governor is this fall.

Gov. Steve Beshear was almost booked on as many political talk shows as Paul as Beshear touted the relatively smooth launch of the state’s health exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act:

1. The Prelude to 2014

And the biggest development of 2013 is one that will play itself out in 2014: the biggest. most expensive and potentially nastiest U.S. Senate race in the country — and potentially in history. As 2013 began, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell correctly predicted that he would have a bulls-eye on him.

It’s got a Senate Republican leader seeking at sixth term, a big-name Democratic contender half McConnell’s age, and a Republican challenger throwing political grenates at McConnell from the right. Plus, this year, it featured a cameo by Ashley Judd, a secret tape recording, an unusual announcement of a candidacy, lots of fundraising, plenty of ads and few questions answered:

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