Honored lawmaker jokes with former House speaker

Rep. Eddie Ballard, a Madisonville Democrat, had some thoughts about why Rep. Jody Richards might have chosen to file House Joint Resolution 9 honoring Ballard for his work for veterans. 

The resolution passed the House Monday by a vote of 97 to 0, and if approved by the Senate would direct the Kentucky Department of Veterans’ Affairs to name the veterans’ nursing home in Hanson the “Joseph ‘Eddie’ Ballard Western Kentucky Veterans’ Center” in honor of Ballard, who worked for its creation.

In explaining why he was abstaining from the vote (because the measure pertained to him), Ballard questioned whether Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat who until last month was House speaker, might have too much time on his hands and was just looking for something to do by honoring Ballard. 

“Now that he’s not speaker, he doesn’t have anything else to do,” Ballard said with a laugh to the chamber, which responded with laughter and applause. 

Richards assured Ballard that he was working on the resolution even before January’s leadership elections.

Bits and pieces from Wednesday night

Here are a couple of quick observations and notes about Gov. Steve Beshear‘s address Wednesday night –

  • By my count, the audience broke out in applause 15 times during Beshear’s speech which ran just under 33 minutes. 
  • After the speech, Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican, paid tribute to former House Speaker Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat, for his service leading the House. Richards was unseated by Rep. Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, this year. Williams and Richards were at odds in recent years, but Williams thanked Richards for his service as the longest-serving House speaker in Kentucky’s history. The comments drew a standing ovation that lasted close to a minute. 
  • Planners for the speech seated next to each other at the front of the House chamber Wednesday state Auditor Crit Luallen and Attorney General Jack Conway, who have both been mentioned as possible candidates for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010. 
  • The speech was followed by a joint press conference by Williams and Stumbo, a preview of a weekly press conference to two will hold each Friday during the session. This revives the weekly joint press conference Williams and Richards used to have but which was done away with several years ago. 

    Stumbo sworn in, says gambling bill is “a very high priority”

    Rep.  Greg Stumbo was sworn as the new speaker of the House this morning after outgoing speaker Rep. Jody Richards resumed his seat among his fellow lawmakers in the chamber. 

    Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, delivered a 7-minute speech to the body praising the work of former House speakers, including former Speaker Don Blandford of Philpot and Richards, who he said spent a “wonderful, wonderful 14 years” leading the body. 

    “You have done a wonderful job for your state and your consitituents and may God bless you,” Stumbo said to Richards. 

    Turning to the main issue confronting the state – an estimated $456.1 million budget shortfall this fiscal year – Stumbo said the state is in “a dire situation” and “the time for action is now.”

    That action will likely include a bill Stumbo plans to file in the near future that would allow video lottery terminals at the state’s licensed horse race tracks that he estimates could bring in as much as $700 million to the state once fully realized.

    The move could help shore up the state’s finances as well as offering a boost to the state’s horse racing industry, Stumbo said. 

    How much financial relief, if any, it could provide to the state this fiscal year isn’t known, Stumbo told reporters after the House adjourned. 

    “I’m convinced that if we don’t do something for our racing industry, our breeding industry, we will lose those,” Stumbo said. “We’re the only state of the Triple Crown (race) states that don’t have enhanced purses and enhanced breeders supplements supplied by revenue from racinos or other gaming sources. I think it tells us we’re behind.”

    While attorney general, Stumbo issued an opinion that slot machines could be approved for use at race tracks by the legislature without requiring an amendment to the state’s constitution.

    “It’s a very high priority with me,” Stumbo said of the bill, which could be filed this week. 

    The draft of the bill is “99.9 percent” complete, Stumbo said, and would likely require 60 votes in the House for approval because this is not a budget year and the bill deals with revenue.

    Stumbo wasn’t sure about the bill’s chances in the Senate, where Senate President David Williams has previously expressed his opposition to expanded gambling.

    “The interesting thing to me … is that they aren’t saying it’s dead on arrival, and to me that is a sign that the Senate is willing to at least take a look at it.”

    Stumbo wins speaker’s race

    Just a year after returning to the General Assembly, Rep. Greg Stumbo was elected speaker of the House by the Democratic Caucus Tuesday, unseating Rep. Jody Richards, who has held the post longer than anyone. 

    Stumbo reportedly topped Richards by three votes among his Democratic colleagues, and with Republicans in the House expected to go along with the Democratic Caucus on Wednesday, will become the top member in that chamber. 

    “I hope it’s a message of hope,” Stumbo said.  “I hope it’s a message that we can have disagreements, we can have disagreements on policy, but we don’t have to be disagreeable about that. I hope its a message of hope and change.”

    Stumbo had served as majority floor leader until he left the legislature in 2003 to mount a successful run for state attorney general. Ironically, when Stumbo was floor leader, he had be instrumental in urging Richards to seek the speaker’s post. 

    Rep. Larry Clark of Louisville retained his spot as speaker pro tempore and Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville was elected as majority caucuse chair, a position he held until two years ago. 

    Rep. Tommy Thompson of Philpot fell to Rep. John Will Stacy of West Liberty by one vote in the majority whip’s race, which had as many as five candidates running since the end of last year’s legislative session. 

    “I think by and large, the members voted for change and they wanted to go in a different direction,” Thompson said. 

    Until Tuesday’s election, western Kentucky had two of the five members of House leadership, but have none with the new team taking office. 

    “Now we have none,” Thompson said. “That’s a little disheartening.”

    Read more about the leadership race in Wednesday’s Messenger-Inquirer.

    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.

    All eyes on House leadership races

    Although the state’s $456.1 million budget shortfall will likely dominate the 2009 session of the Kentucky General Assembly that begins Tuesday, all eyes for now are on the leadership races in the House. 

    At the top of the ticket is the race for speaker, with Jody Richards of Bowling Green facing a challenge from Greg Stumbo, the Prestonsburg Democrat who rejoined the legislature last year after a stint at state attorney general. 

    Richards, who has held the top House post longer than any other, faced criticism following last year’s session while Stumbo has been considered a likely challeger to Richards since his first day back in the House, where he had previously been majority floor leader. 

    Check out the Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal for more on how the pair are gearing up for the elections, which will likely be held on the first day or two of the session.

    Senate president responds to governor’s plan

    Senate President David Williams issued the following statement after the governor’s press conference this morning about his plan to address the state’s budget shortfall. 

    “As of this date, we have only received a press release setting out any detail of the Governor’s proposal.  We look forward to viewing the proposed legislation as we continue our commitment to working together whenever possible for the benefit of all Kentuckians.”

    However, Gov. Steve Beshear said when asked this morning that he had “personally briefed” the Senate president this morning on his plan that includes spending cuts and tax increases. 

    “I find a willingness on a part of everybody to come together and find the common ground we need in order to move forward as a state,” Beshear said of his meetings with legislative leaders. 

    House Speaker Jody Richards has scheduled a 2 p.m. CST press conference in Frankfort to talk about the plan with reporters.