A conservative wave swept through Kentucky on election night, but the House Republican caucus that will soon take control of the Kentucky House of Representatives selected an ideologically moderate leadership team in a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
Members of the leadership team control the flow of legislation in the House, determining which bills get a vote and which ones die in committee.
Two of the new leaders are longstanding lawmakers from the Louisville area. State Rep. David Osborne, R-Prospect, was elected Speaker Pro-Tempore, and State Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, was chosen for Majority whip.
The other members bring relative youth to the leadership team. New Majority Caucus Chairman David Meade, R-Stanford, recently turned 40, and State Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, who celebrates his 29th birthday Thursday, was voted Majority Floor Leader.
State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, members of the most recent minority leadership team, got the boot. Lee and DeCesare are among the legislature’s most conservative members.
House Speaker-elect Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, did not release vote totals for the leadership races, which took two hours to decide, or the names of lawmakers who ran unsuccessfully for positions.
Shell and Meade were first elected to the House of Representatives in 2012. While both are new to leadership in the House, Shell is the House Republican campaign chairman and was in charge of recruiting candidates for the 2016 election, where Republicans won in a landslide.
Republicans will hold a 64-36 majority in the House when the General Assembly convenes in January, giving the GOP control of the chamber for the first time since 1921.
Shell and Hoover were the only two members to run unopposed for leadership positions.
“He has been someone who has been a consensus builder over the years,” Shell said of Hoover’s unanimous election.
Shell didn’t donate to many of the Republican House candidates, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, but he did travel the state to campaign for many of them.
“There’s no question that the work that Jonathan Shell did was greatly appreciated and valued in our caucus,” Hoover said.
Other new leaders did donate heavily to GOP House candidates.
Bratcher donated to 21 of his colleagues for a total of $3,100; Osborne donated $1,150 in 2016; Meade gave $900.
“I think our caucus recognized people who worked hard,” Hoover said.
Hoover acknowledged that the new leadership team doesn’t contain some of the more ideologically conservative members of the caucus, but said the election was based more on the work ethic of the individuals.
“There’s diversity in all caucuses,” Hoover said. “What I think the members do is look at the people who are committed.”
Throughout interviews since being elected speaker, Hoover has stressed that his main priority in the upcoming session is economic development, with hot-button social issues, such as which bathrooms transgender students may use, remaining on the sidelines.
“Our top priority as a caucus will be on policies that spur economic growth,” Hoover said.
Hoover also said there was no focus on the geographical areas that leaders represent.
Since 2009, the House has been led by a speaker and floor leader from Eastern Kentucky. Going forward, the majority are from Southern Kentucky, with a considerable Louisville influence.
“I’ve always said that we have to recognize the importance of Louisville in the state,” Hoover said. “Louisville is the economic driver.”
Hoover said the new leadership team, which he called the first all Republican House leadership team in history, will head to Lake Cumberland State Park for a retreat over the next two and a half days, where they’ll discuss some of his ideas for rule changes and restructuring committees.
“I could not be more excited to work with this outstanding group of individuals,” Hoover said.