Session begins, leadership races take top billing

With the bang of gavels at either end of the state Capitol in Frankfort Tuesday, the 2009 session of the Kentucky General Assembly got under way at noon. 

Even before the official start of the session, most of the talk around the Capitol grounds centered on the leadership races in the House, which should be decided when the House Democratic Caucus goes into a closed-door meeting at 3 p.m. EST.

House Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green is facing only the second challenge to the post he has held since 1995. Rep. Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg is challenging Richards, who he served under as majority floor leader before leaving the legislature for a term as attorney general. 

Both men appeared confident of victory in the caucus vote as they worked the House chamber, shaking hands and leaning close to make comments to their fellow lawmakers. 

“I’m very optimistic,” Richards said after the House adjourned for the day. “I received several calls last night, and I feel very comfortable. I think I have far more than enough to win.”

Stumbo also claimed to have the votes to make him the chamber’s leader only a year after rejoining the legislature. 

“I feel good about it,” Stumbo said. “I think change is in the air. It’s a pretty clear choice between whether the members want to keep the status quo or do they want to change the way we do business.”

According to tradition, the minority Republicans in the House typically vote to elect the selections by the Democratic caucus, which is in the majority with 65 of the chamber’s 100 members. 

Both Richards and Stumbo discounted any speculation that this year’s leadership elections would be put to the entire House.

Another House leadership race – majority whip – features Rep. Tommy Thompson of Philpot who is facing Rep. John Will Stacy of West Liberty and Rep. Arnold Simpson of Covington. That race had as many as five candidates at one point, and there was some speculation that it would be narrowed to two – Thompson and Stacy – by caucus time. 

As was typical of any candidate for a leadership post on Tuesday, Thompson felt confident with two hours left before the caucus meeting. 

“I’m still working up to the last minute,” Thompson said. “I really feel good about the commitments I’ve received and the expressions of support. I just hope those will translate into a win.”

When asked about the speaker’s race, Thompson remained noncommittal, but said he thought most members were looking for “a new direction.”

Stacy said that like many candidates, he was campaigning on a platform of more cohesion within the Democratic caucus and better cooperation with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and the Senate. 

“We need to set our differences aside if we can and work with persistence and goodwill toward all sides,” Stacy said. 

Stay tuned for more from the leadership elections this afternoon.


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