Politics & Government

Lexington lawmaker seeks to stop candidates from switching parties before special elections

Reggie Thomas
won his state Senate seat in a special election.
Reggie Thomas won his state Senate seat in a special election. Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — State Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, wants to make sure candidates in special elections don't switch political parties at the last minute.

Thomas, who was elected in a December special election, faced two challengers who had changed their party registrations in September to enter the contest.

After taking office earlier this month, Thomas filed Senate Bill 79, which would require candidates in special elections to run with the same political affiliation they had on the preceding Jan. 1. A similar rule already exists for November general elections.

Thomas, an attorney and Kentucky State University professor, said Friday that his proposed legislation "closes a loophole in special elections."

"There are no such restrictions now for special elections, and I just thought that was an oversight that needs to be corrected," Thomas said.

Thomas emerged from a three-man race last Dec. 10 to replace Democrat Kathy Stein in the state Senate's 13th District, which covers most of downtown Lexington and the University of Kentucky. Stein left the Senate to take an appointment by Gov. Steve Beshear to a Fayette circuit court judgeship.

Thomas won 54 percent of the special election vote to 35 percent for independent candidate Richard Moloney and 11 percent for Republican candidate Michael E. Johnson.

Both Moloney, a former city and state official, and Johnson, a minister, were Democrats before changing their party registrations to enter the race.

Moloney said he changed his political registration when he realized Thomas would get the Democratic Party's nomination for the special election.

On Friday, he dismissed Thomas' proposal as self-serving.

"I don't know if that benefits Lexington. It benefits himself," Moloney said. "To me, there are a lot more important issues to consider in the Kentucky Senate."

Thomas said his bill was not directed in any way at Moloney or Johnson.

"No, no, it just corrects a loophole," he said.

Johnson, who works as a part-time doorkeeper for the Senate, said he had no reaction to Thomas' bill.

Johnson said he had already been planning to switch political parties last year "and I thought the special election was the perfect timing to do so."