Larry Saunders, a Louisville businessman and former legislator who became state Senate president after a political coup in Frankfort, died Sunday morning. He was 71.
Mr. Saunders was an attorney and real estate agent who was first elected to state Senate in 1986 as a Democrat from Louisville. He is best known for being part of a group of five Democrats and minority Republican lawmakers who joined together in 1997 to oust then-Senate President John "Eck" Rose. Mr. Saunders then became Senate president.
However, Mr. Saunders lost that post two years later after two Democrats switched parties, putting Republicans in a majority that has remained in place.
"He is likely to be remembered as a Democrat who set the stage for a Republican takeover of the Senate," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, who as a reporter covered Mr. Saunders in the Senate.
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Mr. Saunders decided not to run for re-election in 2004, and returned to his business in Louisville.
David Karem, a Louisville Democrat who served in the state Senate with Mr. Saunders, said he and Mr. Saunders were not always on the same side. "But we always got on when we talked about his family," Karem said. "He was a good family guy; he was crazy about his daughter and his grandkids."
Former state Sen. Ed Worley, D-Richmond, said Mr. Saunders helped him greatly when Worley was first elected to the state Senate in 1998.
"He was very, very kind to me," Worley said. "He spent a great deal of time with me, he helped me pick my office, he talked to me about committees, where I best could serve. He was a great initial mentor to me."
Worley said the 1997 coup and Mr. Saunders' subsequent defeat as Senate president were "political times in the Kentucky state Senate that was unlike anything that had happened before."
Mr. Saunders is survived by his wife, JoAnn Saunders, and a daughter, Terry Cardwell.
Joseph E. Ratterman & Son Funeral Home on Southside Drive in Louisville is in charge of arrangements.