A revised bill that would allow U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to run for re-election and the presidency on the same Kentucky ballot in 2016 was cleared by a state Senate committee Wednesday, picking up one Democratic vote along the way.
State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, joined Republicans on the Senate State and Local Government Committee in voting to send the proposal to the full Senate after it was changed to specify that the bill applies only to candidates running for president or vice president of the United States.
State law now says no candidate can appear on the same ballot twice in a general election. Primary elections appear to be excluded from the current law.
"What this simply does is clarifies that when you have a candidate in the federal delegation who is either seeking the presidency or is chosen to run for the vice presidential seat, that person can also run at the same time for their seat in the United States Senate or the United States Congress," Sen. Damon Thayer said of his revised bill.
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Thayer, R-Georgetown, told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday morning that his committee substitute to Senate Bill 205 was modeled after a Wisconsin statute that allowed 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan to run for both seats at the same time.
The original version of the bill, which Thayer filed last week, said a candidate could appear on a ballot twice if one or both of the offices was federal. That raised concerns among some Republicans that the door would swing open for state lawmakers to run for re-election and for U.S. Congress at the same time.
Adopting the Wisconsin statute, Thayer said, would eliminate that concern.
The bill appears to have little chance of passing the Democratic-led House, with Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, saying last week that "we kind of take the position over here that a man (who) can't decide which office he wants to run for isn't fit to hold either office."
Thayer has repeatedly cast the bill as a bipartisan measure that could affect a Democrat down the road, citing Vice President Joe Biden as a Democrat who has benefited from similar election rules elsewhere.
McGarvey shared that thinking, for now, saying that if there are no changes to the substitute bill that passed Wednesday, he would vote for it on the Senate floor.
"At the end of the day, I read the bill, I studied the legislation, just as a policy perspective I support it," McGarvey said. "One thing about this bill that I think is important to point out is it only allows federal officeholders in Kentucky to run for president or vice president. I support that, but if this bill goes back to its original format where it clogs up ballot access by potentially allowing state officeholders to run for federal offices while maintaining both, I'm not in favor of that."
Thayer said he appreciated McGarvey's "reasoned vote to allow Kentuckians a chance to see one of their own on the ballot for president of the United States should Sen. Paul seek that office."
Other Democrats were steadfast in their opposition.
State Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, said the measure "defies common sense."
"It seems to me if you want to vote for somebody for office, then you expect them to serve that office," Thomas said. "Why would anyone go and cast their vote for a person who may not fill that position?"
Paul has said he is considering a bid for the White House in 2016, but he has been clear that he intends to run for re-election to the Senate that year no matter what he decides about running for president.
Kentucky's junior senator and his allies continue to say that Kentucky's existing law would not prevent him from running for both offices because, they said, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law supersedes state law when it comes to federal elections.
The goal from the beginning, Thayer and others have said, is to provide clarity with the proposed legislation so a protracted court battle can be avoided.