Politics & Government

Democrats maintain control of Kentucky House of Representatives

Greg Stumbo
Greg Stumbo

Democrats will keep control of the Kentucky House of Representatives following Tuesday's election, turning back a push by Republicans to lead the chamber for the first time since 1921.

Democrats kept 54 of the 100 House seats, the same number they had going into the election.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Democrats "are very lucky and blessed" to keep control of the House.

Stumbo said he will ask the Democratic majority to re-elect him speaker, the House's No. 1 leadership position.

"I have spent a lot of time and effort with these candidates and would be honored to serve as their speaker," he said.

Asked if that means he will not run for governor next year, Stumbo said, "you never say never in this business."

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, described the results as "a step in the right direction."

Like Stumbo, Hoover said he will run again for his leadership position.

Three incumbents — two Democrats and one Republican — lost to challengers Tuesday.

The Democrats were veteran state lawmaker Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown and Richard Henderson of Mt. Sterling.

Lee, who has been in the state House since 1993, and was one of the legislature's top experts in health issues, lost to Republican Jim DuPlussis of Elizabethtown.

Lee worked closely with the budgets of various health organizations.

Stumbo said Lee's 25th House District has been trending Republican.

"I don't think the vote was against Jimmie Lee," Stumbo said. "He was dedicated to health issues but I believe someone will step up to the plate to address those issues."

In the 74th House District in Eastern Kentucky, Henderson, a member of the House since 2007, lost to Republican David Hale of Wellington.

Henderson made headlines last spring when he said he bet on cockfighting. "I must admit I've been to more than a few chicken fights. I must admit I liked them," he said.

The only Republican incumbent to lose was one-term representative Toby Herald of Beattyville. Democrat Cluster Howard of Jackson held a 14-vote lead out of 13,860 cast in unofficial results.

Democrats also picked up the open 49th House District seat, which had been in Republican hands. In that district, Democrat Linda Belcher defeated Republican Mike Nemes. Both of the candidates were from Shepherdsville and had previously served in the state House.

Democrats also gave a sigh of relief in Western Kentucky, where Democrat Will Coursey of Symsonia held on to the 6th House District seat by beating Republican Keith Travis of Benton.

Coursey had been the subject of headlines no politician would want. Nicole Cusic, a legislative staff member, has filed a lawsuit against Coursey in Franklin Circuit Court, alleging that he took steps that led to her transfer after she accused him of "inappropriate conduct" toward female staffers and interns in 2012.

Coursey, who has represented the district that includes Lyon and Marshall counties and part of McCracken County since 2008, has denied any wrongdoing and has filed a defamation lawsuit against Cusic in Marshall Circuit Court.

Democrats and Republicans have brawled for months over who will control the Kentucky House for the next two years.

In Lexington, Democrats Ruth Ann Palumbo and Susan Westrom, and Republican Robert Benvenuti easily held on to their seats.

Palumbo turned back Republican Richard Marrs in the 76th House District, in east-central Lexington, for the third time. Marrs, a small-business owner, got 40 percent of the vote in the 2010 race and 46 percent in the 2012 contest, and he said he thought he could overtake Palumbo this year. Palumbo, a community volunteer, has represented the district since 1991.

Westrom, a Realtor who has represented the 79th House District in south-central Lexington since 1999, was challenged by Republican Ken Kearns, who ran a limited campaign.

Benvenuti, an attorney, has represented the 88th House District in south Lexington since 2013. His Democratic opponent, Creasa Reed, recently said she could not win the race but planned to run again in two years.

In the 39th House District, which includes part of Jessamine County and six precincts in Fayette County near Nicholasville Road, Democrat Russ Meyer defeated Republican Jonah Mitchell. Both are from Nicholasville. Incumbent Democrat Bob Damron of Nicholasville decided to run for judge-executive of Jessamine County this fall rather than for the state House.

Meyer is a former mayor of Nicholasville. Mitchell is a Realtor and adjunct teacher at the University of Kentucky's Gatton School of Business.

In Jefferson County's 36th House District, Republican Jerry Miller won over Democrat Debbie Barber. It was an open contest in a district that had been in Republican hands.

Republican Phil Moffett of Louisville, who lost the 2011 GOP primary election for governor, won the 32nd House District in Jefferson County in an open race. Republicans have controlled it.

In the 26th House District, Republican Russell Webber of Shepherdsville kept the GOP in control. He defeated Democrat J. Scott Wartland of Shepherdsville.