FRANKFORT — Senate Democrats decided Tuesday to go with a self-described "mild-mannered" lawmaker as their new leader instead of one who has been a strong critic of Senate President David Williams.
Sen. Julian Carroll of Frankfort, who was governor in the 1970s, described his loss to Sen. R.J. Palmer of Winchester in the race for the Senate Democrats' floor leader as tantamount to a victory for Williams, a Burkesville Republican who is running for governor this year.
The race to replace Democrat Ed Worley, who retired from the Senate last year, as the chamber's minority leader was one of a few changes in legislative leadership on the first day of this year's General Assembly.
Besides electing leaders who determine the flow of legislation, the first day of the lawmaking session produced a tense atmosphere in the Senate over Republican leaders' removal of Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, from the Senate Education Committee and the official unveiling of GOP-backed bills dealing with topics ranging from taxes to immigration that the Senate is expected to approve this week.
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Palmer, a banker who joined the Senate in 2001 following one term in the House, said he will "work in a bipartisan manner" for his district and the state as Senate Democratic leader.
He noted that Carroll nominated him for the position in the closed-door caucus.
Carroll said his bid for the leadership position was hampered by his "long history of not getting along with David Williams."
He said he was told by an unnamed colleague that Williams would not meet with him if he were elected Democratic leader.
Carroll also said some Democratic senators were concerned about their committee appointments and redrawing of their districts' boundaries in next year's session if they chose Carroll as their leader.
Williams later said he was not involved in the Democratic senators' leadership elections and never said he would not work with Carroll.
Senate Democrats also retained Johnny Ray Turner of Drift as minority caucus chairman and Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville as minority whip.
Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, already had re-elected their leadership team of Williams as president, President Pro Tem Katie Kratz Stine of Southgate, Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers of Manchester, Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum of Fairdale and Majority Whip Carroll Gibson of Leitchfield.
In the House, there was one change in the Democratic leadership. Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, replaced Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, as House majority whip. Thompson is the only Western Kentucky state representative in leadership.
Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, held off a challenge by former House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, for the position of speaker pro tem, the second most powerful position in the House.
The vote was taken in secret, and the tallies were not released afterward.
The 58 Democrats in the 100-member House caucus also voted unanimously to support the re-election of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear for governor, said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
Beshear said in a statement he appreciates their support and looks forward to continuing to work with them to help Kentucky families.
Stumbo, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, had no opposition.
The 42 House Republicans re-elected Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown for a record sixth consecutive term.
Bob DeWeese of Louisville defeated Jim DeCesare of Rockfield for minority caucus chairman. Brad Montell of Shelbyville withdrew from that race and ran instead for minority whip, where he lost to Danny Ford of Mount Vernon.
The current minority whip, David Floyd of Bardstown, withdrew from the race to back Montell.
The legislative session's first day brought the traditional swearing-in of new members, with family members and friends in attendance. But the calm was broken when Shaughnessy, a member of the Senate, learned that he had been removed by GOP leadership from the Education Committee.
He said he thinks his ouster from the panel was due to his criticism of a bill pushed by Williams and Seum that requires school districts to assign students to the school closest to their homes.
In a floor speech, Shaughnessy said there is a difference between leadership and arrogance and that there was an attempt to "squash serious discussion" on the busing issue.