FRANKFORT — Widespread changes in the state House are expected in coming days after state Rep. Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg unseated Kentucky's longest serving speaker of the House.
Stumbo called his victory over Jody Richards of Bowling Green in the race to lead House Democrats "the pinnacle" of his long political career.
Stumbo defeated Richards by three votes during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats, according to state Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville.
Stumbo's win over Richards on the first day of the 2009 General Assembly could mean upheaval in House committee chairmanships, a boost for his proposal to allow video lottery terminals at racetracks and changes in House procedures.
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And the election of three Eastern Kentucky lawmakers to House Democratic leadership positions is expected to bode well for the region. Kentucky House Democrats re-elected Larry Clark of Louisville as speaker pro tem for his ninth term and Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook as majority leader.
Damron won the House Democratic race for caucus chairman over incumbent Charlie Hoffman of Georgetown and John Will Stacy of West Liberty was victorious in the contest for whip, a post left vacant by the retirement of Rob Wilkey of Scottsville.
Legislative leaders wield much of the power in Frankfort as they determine the flow of legislation and committee appointments.
House budget chairman Harry Moberly Jr., D-Richmond, said he is "expecting some shake-up" in important committee chairmanships. He supported Richards. Stumbo said Moberly has not been ruled out as budget chairman but said he would have to be willing to give up some control if he keeps the powerful post.
Rep. Jimmie Lee, an Elizabethtown Democrat who has chaired the budget subcommittee for health issues, also said his position is in doubt since he backed Richards. "I serve at the will of the leadership," Lee said.
However, several House Democrats said Tuesday's mandate for change does not justify a clean sweep across the committees, especially not in the name of political revenge.
Stumbo said the House Democratic leaders will work on committee appointments Wednesday and Thursday. He declined to say who will get committee chairmanships. Lawmakers are scheduled to meet for the rest of the week, then take a break until Feb. 3.
Newly elected Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, was one of the few House Democrats to publicly declare support for Stumbo well before Tuesday's vote. Flood said Democrats admired Richards personally and were sad to end his leadership career this way. Still, the past few legislative sessions — wracked by feuds between the Democratic House and Republican Senate — accomplished little, even as the state's problems worsened, she said.
Stumbo won votes by explaining how he would build alliances with Republicans and Gov. Steve Beshear to move Kentucky forward, she said.
Beshear, in a statement, pledged to work with Stumbo and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.
Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said the governor played no part in the leadership races. Richards, who has been House speaker for 14 years, would not comment when a reporter asked him whether Beshear meddled in the House race.
Despite the close race, Richards said he thinks House Democrats will not be a fractured political force. "I pledge my support to Greg," Richards said. "He's my speaker."
Richards also said he has "no interest" in seeking a vacant state Senate seat in his home area and will serve out the remainder of his two-year term in the legislature. A special election is to be held Feb. 10 for the Senate seat formerly held by Republican Brett Guthrie, who was elected in November to Congress.
Stumbo, who was majority leader in the House for 18 years before becoming attorney general from 2003 to 2007, said his victory means that his proposal to allow video lottery terminals at the tracks will "get a full hearing." He said he expects to file a bill on the issue this week.
Former Democratic Gov. Brereton Jones, a Woodford County Thoroughbred breeder who publicly has supported previous efforts to expand gambling, said he expects more legislative support for gambling with Stumbo leading the House. Jones said "the need for revenue is exceptionally strong right now" and few legislators want to raise taxes.
Stumbo said VLTs at tracks could raise $700 million a year for state coffers.
Stumbo also pledged to make changes in some internal House procedures that have made many rank-and-file members unhappy over the years.
For example, Stumbo promised that the House would never "stop the clock."
That controversial procedure, in which a chamber literally unplugs a clock to avoid going beyond constitutional deadlines for adjournment, was used in last year's legislative session on a chaotic last day of the session to give the chamber more time to consider legislation.
Stumbo also said he wants to involve more members in preparing the budget, avoid all-night meetings, iron out differences between the House and Senate on the budget and possibly start a legislative office of budget accountability to keep track of spending by various state agencies.
The new speaker said his staff would consist of Pierce Whites, who was his deputy attorney general, and longtime aide Charlotte Ellis Land.
He also said he would be willing to resume weekly news conferences with Senate President Williams, an event Richards canceled a few years ago.
In other legislative leadership races, House Republicans replaced Stan Lee of Lexington with David Floyd of Bardstown as House minority whip. The only change in Senate leadership was Sen. Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville. His colleagues elected him minority whip in an uncontested race. Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, decided not to run again for the position.