Politics & Government

Democratic control of Kentucky House weakens further after another lawmaker's defection

Jim Gooch
Jim Gooch LRC

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Another Kentucky state lawmaker is switching from the Democratic Party to the GOP, further boosting the Republican Party’s mission to take control of the only Southern legislative chamber still run by Democrats.

State Rep. Jim Gooch chairs the Natural Resources and Environment Committee. He said Monday he will seek re-election as a Republican. He attributed his decision to President Barack Obama’s “radical agenda,” including environmental regulations and a push for gun control.

He is the second House Democrat to switch parties since Gov. Matt Bevin was elected in November, highlighting state voters’ drastic Republican turn. Rep. Denver Butler, a longtime Louisville Democrat, is seeking re-election as a Republican.

In addition, two other Democrats accepted appointments from Bevin’s administration, reducing the edge Democrats have held in the chamber for decades.

However, two House Republicans, Mike Harmon and Ryan Quarles, won election to statewide posts in November and will be sworn in next week. Harmon will become auditor and Quarles agriculture commissioner.

That means the House will have 50 Democrats and 46 Republicans when the legislature convenes next month.

Hoover said there will be special elections in late February or early March to fill the vacant seats.

Greg Stumbo, the Democratic Speaker of the House, said only: "We'll see them on Election Day."

Hoover said Gooch was deeply frustrated with the policies of the national Democratic Party. Other Democrats also have expressed frustration, Hoover said.

The unpopularity of President Barack Obama and statewide GOP wins in recent years have raised optimism about the party’s chances of taking control of the House.

“Certainly, the trend and the climate are headed in our direction,” Hoover said.

Matt Bevin’s win in the governor’s race in November made him only the third Republican to hold the office since World War II, and Republicans won three of the other five statewide offices.