Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Jensen drops out of re-election race

bestep@herald-leader.comAugust 7, 2012 

State Sen. Tom Jensen, a Republican from London who served several years in the House before winning election to the Senate in 2004, plans to drop out of his race for another term.

Jensen, a lawyer, said Tuesday he plans to instead run for circuit judge in Laurel and Knox counties.

Jensen, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is unopposed for another term representing the 21st Senate District. It is made up of Laurel, Estill, Jackson, Menifee and Powell counties.

Jensen had planned to run in 2014 for a term as circuit judge, but the seat came open with the resignation of Judge John Knox Mills.

Mills' resignation was effective Aug. 1. He had notified Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. in May of his intent to resign and teach at the University of the Cumberlands this fall.

With the vacant judgeship, Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, can appoint someone to immediately fill the vacancy.

Asked whether Beshear plans to appoint Jensen to fill the vacancy, Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said Tuesday that the governor was inaccessible as he traveled in Germany and France on an economic development trip.

Jensen said he plans to file this week or early next week to run in the Nov. 6 general election for the remaining two years of Mills' term. That will require dropping out of the Senate race, he said.

Jensen said Republican and Democratic leaders in the district will nominate candidates to run for his Senate seat.

One Republican immediately stepped forward to replace Jensen in the Senate.

Albert Robinson, a London real estate broker and auctioneer, said he is "very interested in returning to the Senate and will pursue it."

Robinson, 73, was knocked out of the Senate in 2004 by Jensen in a tough, bitter contest. He was a member of the state House from 1972 to 1974 and 1986 to 1988. He joined the Senate in 1994.

Robinson and Jensen each beat the other once in House races in the 1980s.

During his tenure in the legislature, Robinson was chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. He was known for his conservative stances on social issues and for pushing a pension increase for himself and other lawmakers.

He took a position as legislative cloakroom attendant for $1 a year when he was out of office for several years in order to add to his legislative pension.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said Jensen's departure "will be a huge loss for the Senate. I had a great talk with him, and I am confident he will be an exemplary judge."

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, called Jensen a compassionate, hard-working lawmaker who has brought a wealth of information and a lot of common sense to issues, including revisions to the state penal code.

"There's no one in the 12 years I've worked in the legislature that is a finer gentleman than Tom Jensen," Jones said.

Jensen, 63, was in the state House from 1985 to 1986 and 1989 to 1996. From 1992 to 1994, he was House minority floor leader. In 1996, he was chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in recent years, Jensen played key roles in legislation to curb methamphetamine and enact prison reforms.

His committee did not take up a measure this year to extend domestic violence protections to dating couples, but he said he would be willing to consider the issue in the 2013 General Assembly.

Jensen said he loved being in the Senate, but he had gotten tired of the drive to Frankfort and the time away from home during legislative sessions.

He said he is not leaving the Senate because he was unhappy there, but rather to pursue another goal.

"It's just about trying something new," he said.

The position of circuit judge pays about $124,620 a year. With it, Jensen would substantially increase his legislative pension.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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