FRANKFORT — In a Tuesday floor speech honoring outgoing Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, state House Speaker Greg Stumbo correctly told his 99 colleagues that opening day of the 2015 General Assembly session would be their best day of the session.
On opening day of odd-year sessions, lawmakers get sworn in, whether for their first term or their umpteenth term, often in front of family and friends. Pictures get taken. Lots and lots of pictures get taken. So many pictures got taken in the House Tuesday, I’m surprised Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.’s right arm didn’t permanently lock in “raise your right hand” position. Talk about graciousness. Not to mention endurance.
On opening day, too, the feuding and fussing haven’t begun. They come later. But they will come. They always do.
Really, though, the whole first week of odd-year sessions could qualify under Stumbo’s definition of “best day,” because the week is dedicated mostly to formalities. Getting sworn in. Electing leaders, or at least formalizing the election of leaders selected previously. Ethics training. And for newcomers, finding the bathrooms.
Sure, the Senate passed a few bills this past week, including a measure addressing the heroin epidemic in Kentucky. Some form of this bill or something akin to it is expected to pass this year.
On the other hand, the “right to work” measure pushed through by the Senate Republican majority immediately found a home in a hearse headed for the nearest cemetery because the Democratic-controlled House won’t go there.
But approving stuff early, which tends to restrict debate significantly, has become a tradition since Republicans took control of the Senate. It’s a “we hit the ground running” message thing that doesn’t mean diddly because nothing the Senate passes quickly moves through the House any faster than bills the Senate passes later in the session. So, despite the Senate activity, the first week of the 2015 General Assembly session basically consisted of lawmakers showing up, taking care of the formalities and then going home for a long (three-plus weeks long) winter’s nap before returning Feb. 3 to get down to real work.
Just kidding about the nap. I’m sure all 137 legislators (one Senate seat is vacant) will spend those three-plus weeks finding creative ways to solve all of Kentucky’s ills. But what do political junkies do during this downtime? We man the vigil, of course. The vigil outside the secretary of state’s office as we wait to see who joins the 2015 gubernatorial circus before the Jan. 27 filing deadline.
With former Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott declaring his intentions to challenge Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Louisville businessman Hal Heiner for his party’s nomination, Republicans have a trio of competitors on the high wire. But no prominent Democrat has stepped up to challenge Attorney General Jack Conway.
Despite Conway’s two statewide wins in attorney general elections (60.5 percent of the vote in 2007, 55 percent in 2011), some prominent Democrats fear he can’t win a gubernatorial race. Perhaps because of his bad loss (44 percent of the vote) to Rand Paul in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. Perhaps because Louisvillians have never fared well in gubernatorial elections. Perhaps because Conway is not the best of retail politicians. These same Democrats fear a Republican in the governor’s office will lead to a GOP takeover of the state House in 2016.
They have spent the past several months desperately searching for an “ABC” (anyone but Conway) candidate. Names in play include Stumbo, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (whose surprisingly overwhelming loss to now-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t seem to worry these Democrats as much as Conway’s loss to Paul), state House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, former Lt. Gov . Daniel Mongiardo and, most recently, Lexington banker Luther Deaton.
But 16 days shy of the filing deadline, Conway has only token opposition from Lexington activist Geoff Young and has raised $1.3 million for his campaign.
And none of the “ABC” crowd has stepped up to challenge him. Makes you wonder if any of them really want to lead a state with huge revenue and public pension problems and divided legislative power that makes it impossible for a governor to get much of anything accomplished.
Reach Larry Dale Keeling at firstname.lastname@example.org .