Politics & Government

Mum’s the word on ‘historic day’ awaiting House

Kentucky House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.
Kentucky House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. File photo

If the Kentucky House is about to flip from Democratic to Republican control, either nobody’s talking or nobody knows.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, startled people Thursday night when he hinted about an imminent GOP takeover to an audience of 1,500 business leaders in Lexington. The House now has 50 Democrats, 46 Republicans and four vacant seats to be filled by special elections March 8. It’s the last Democratic-run legislative chamber in the South.

“It’s going to be an interesting weekend coming up,” Hoover said cryptically at a dinner sponsored by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “And next Monday could be an historic day in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

But Hoover and other House Republican leaders would not elaborate Friday.

“We’ll see,” is all a smiling Hoover would say before entering the House.

Have House Republicans persuaded more Democrats to switch parties, as two recently did? Will some Democrats keep their party registration but caucus with Republicans and force a leadership change in the chamber? Is Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, about to hire more House Democrats, as he has twice, opening their seats in a political environment that favors the GOP?

Or are the Republicans just going to announce their slate of candidates for the special House elections?

“I cannot add anything to what (Hoover) said,” said House Minority Whip Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, also smiling.

Elevating the intrigue, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, skipped his scheduled speaking engagement at Thursday’s Chamber dinner as well as Friday’s legislative session for a business trip to Orlando, Fla., at the request of his employer, the law firm Morgan & Morgan. He left Speaker Pro Tem Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, in charge.

Our House Democratic caucus is committed. We’re entrenched.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook

Richards told reporters he was perplexed by Hoover’s comments and assumed they were intended “to foster anxiety” among Democrats. No additional House Democrats plan to leave the caucus that he knows of, Richards said.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, echoed that, saying he had “no indication of anyone” leaving the caucus.

“Our House Democratic caucus is committed. We’re entrenched,” Adkins said.

The last time a Kentucky legislative chamber changed hands, it involved a messy coup in the Senate.

In 1997, Democrats ran the Senate, as they had most of state government for decades. Then five Senate Democrats aligned with their Republican colleagues on a rules change that removed Senate President John “Eck” Rose, D-Winchester. The new president, Larry Saunders, was a Louisville Democrat who sided with the GOP minority and the dissident Democrats.

This informal alliance gave Republicans more political clout, including committee leaderships, and conservative legislation began passing the chamber. After some party switches and good election returns, the GOP won formal control of the Senate in 2000. Today, the Senate has 27 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics