Congressman-elect Andy Barr successfully urged several state Republican senators to vote Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, into leadership but said his involvement had nothing to do with promoting expanded gambling.
But Larry Forgy, a Lexington attorney and Republican consultant, said Saturday that Barr, a fellow Republican, "made a serious mistake" in getting involved in Thayer's leadership race in the Kentucky Senate.
"What's a U.S. congressman doing in state legislative leadership races? I think Andy has hurt himself with conservatives," Forgy said.
Forgy, a vocal critic of expanded gambling in Kentucky, and several anti-gambling Republican state senators dislike that Thayer, a Georgetown Republican, worked with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in this year's legislative session on a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling.
Beshear is expected to tackle the issue again in the 2013 General Assembly that begins in January.
Barr, who is to be sworn into office Jan. 3 as the new U.S. representative from Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, said in a telephone interview Friday that he made phone calls to several state GOP senators on behalf of Thayer's bid to become Senate majority leader.
Thayer won that position over state Sen. David Givens of Greensburg last week after Senate GOP members conducted three votes.
Barr said he campaigned for Thayer because "he is a friend and I thought it would be good to have someone from Central Kentucky in leadership in the state Senate."
No one asked or directed him to lobby for Thayer, Barr said. "It had nothing to do with gambling," Barr said. "Damon Thayer represents Toyota in the state Senate, and I will in Congress. We have mutual concerns."
But Forgy, who is the brother of state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, said Barr "has managed to put the governor's pawn in as majority floor leader of the Kentucky Senate.
"Barr should not have gotten involved. It's hard for anyone to believe that he did it just for Central Kentucky's sake." Alice Forgy Kerr could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Forgy, who supported Thayer's opponent in the May primary election for the Senate district, added, "If Kentucky winds up with nine gambling dens that take $800 million a year from the relatively poor people of this state, one of them should be named for Barr."
Thayer dismissed Forgy's comments as "ridiculous."
"I'm proud that Andy Barr, our next congressman, was willing to go to bat for me and Central Kentucky in the Senate leadership race," he said.
Thayer said he was aware that Barr was making calls on his behalf but could not immediately recall if he had asked him to do so or if Barr had volunteered.
"Not everything that happens in Frankfort these days is because of gambling," Thayer said. "Those who are obsessed with it — either for or against gambling — should understand that."
Thayer said that since he now is in legislative leadership, he will not sponsor a constitutional amendment on gambling in 2013 as he did this year, "but my position on the issue has not changed."