FRANKFORT — Senate Republican leaders named lieutenant governor candidate Chris McDaniel of Kenton County on Monday to head the chamber's powerful budget committee.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said gubernatorial politics played no role in the decision to give a high-profile appointment to McDaniel, the running mate of gubernatorial candidate James Comer.
McDaniel, who joined the Senate in 2013 and owns a concrete business, was chosen to replace independent Bob Leeper of Paducah as chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee. Leeper, who did not seek re-election this year, won the November race to be McCracken County's judge-executive.
Lawmakers aren't expected to craft another two-year state budget until 2016.
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McDaniel was not available Monday to talk about his committee appointment. Instead, the Senate GOP leadership office released a statement from McDaniel in which he said he was "honored" to have the confidence of Stivers and other leaders.
He said the committee was "uniquely positioned to address key issues such as the size and scope of government, long-term debt and the overall competitive environment in our state."
Stivers said McDaniel's candidacy for lieutenant governor had "absolutely nothing to do" with his being named budget committee chairman.
"This was a decision of looking at our roster and people's talents and trying to make the best appointments," Stivers said.
Asked why leaders picked a budget chairman who might leave office within a year, Stivers responded: "We can't predict the future. We want the best person at hand right now."
Stivers added that he would not endorse any candidate for governor next year until after the Republican primary election in May.
Louisville businessman Hal Heiner is challenging Comer, the state's commissioner of agriculture, for the GOP nomination for governor.
Thayer noted that leaders picked Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, to be vice chairman of the budget panel. He replaces David Givens of Greensburg, who is the Republicans' choice to be Senate president pro tem in place of the retiring Katie Stine of Southgate.
"If Sen. McDaniel is elected lieutenant governor next November, Sen. Humphries could jump in and be chairman of the A&R committee," Thayer said.
Thayer acknowledged that he backs Comer for governor but said that was not a factor in naming McDaniel budget chairman.
He said he did not know whom other Senate GOP leaders favor in the 2015 governor's race. Other members of the leadership team include Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum of Louisville and Majority Whip Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon.
Higdon defeated Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard for the leadership spot.
Stivers and Thayer also said none of the appointments were tied to votes in last month's leadership races.
New leaders also were named for two other committees. Sen.-elect Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, will replace retiring Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, as chairwoman of the Health and Welfare Committee. Its vice chair will be Sen.-elect Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who is a physician.
The Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Protection Committee will be chaired by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London. That position has been held by Hidgon. Robinson's vice chairman will be Sen.-elect C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown.