FRANKFORT — Republican Senator Dan Kelly is one of three lawyers nominated for an open circuit court position, which could pave the way for a special election in Kelly’s senate district.
A seven-member judicial nominating commission on Friday named Kelly and lawyers Bryan Bennett of Campbellsville and Samuel Todd Spalding of Lebanon as nominees for the position in the 11th Judicial District that has been vacant since Jan. 31.
The three names will now go to Gov. Steve Beshear.
Jay Blanton, a spokesman for Beshear, said Beshear will likely take a few days before making an appointment. According to the Constitution, Beshear has up to 60 days to make an appointment after he receives the nominations.
If Beshear chooses Kelly, as expected, a special election for the Springfield Republican’s senate seat will have to be called. Rep. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, and former Democrat State Representative Jodie Haydon have already filed paperwork with the Registry of Election Finance saying they intend to run for Kelly’s seat. Higdon has said he filed with the expectation that Kelly would be nominated for the open judgeship.
Senate President David Williams has also said he expects Kelly to be picked for the job as Beshear tries to thin the Republican ranks in the Senate. Beshear’s efforts to expand gambling at the state’s race tracks have been stymied in the Republican-controlled Senate. Earlier this year, Beshear appointed Republican Senator Charlie Borders to the Public Service Commission. Democrat Robin Webb, a former state representative, won the seat in a special election in August.
The Republicans now have a 20-17 edge over the Democrats with one independent caucusing with the Republicans.
Earlier on Friday, Senate Republicans named Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, as Senate Majority Leader, a position that Kelly resigned from two weeks ago after he threw his hat in the ring for the open judgeship. Kelly, who was first elected in 1991, has not resigned his state senate seat.
Five people applied for the open seat that was created when Circuit Court Judge Doughlas M. George retired on Jan. 31. However, the names of the other two applicants were not released. The 11th Judicial District includes Green, Marion, Taylor and Washington counties.
Thanks to a change in the state retirement rules, if Kelly is appointed to the $123,000 a year job, he will likely more than double his state retirement pay when he retires from the bench. The 2005 change made it possible for state legislators to substitute the highest three years of their salary if they get a different job in state government after they leave the legislature. Kelly typically averages about $50,000 a year as a state lawmaker.
Kelly could not be reached for comment on Friday.
But many of Kelly’s colleagues said they expected the nomination soon.
Stivers said Friday that Kelly would make a good judge, noting that the sometimes soft-spoken senator has the experience, knowledge and temperament for the job.
“Hopefully he will be appointed as a judge,” Stivers said. “If he is, he has the appropriate mentality, intellect, and most importantly the appropriate disposition to be a judge.”
Stivers declined to comment on whether Beshear was doing the right thing by trying to remove Republican senators by offering them lucrative positions in the executive or judicial branches.
“The governor is political,” Stivers said. “He has his agenda…the methods and manner in which he tries to promote his agenda is what he has to live with, not me.”
Stivers beat Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, for the number two position, a position that Kelly has held since 1994. Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville and the majority caucus chair, would not say by how many votes Stivers beat Thayer. As Senate Majority Leader, Stivers manages the flow of legislation on the Senate floor.
“Senator Stivers got the most votes,” Seum said. The meeting was conducted behind closed doors. Senators voted in person and via the telephone.
Stivers said that his leadership style is different than Kelly’s. There will be some changes, Stivers said.
“Dan is much more stern and serious than I am,” Stivers admitted. “I may have a little more humor — a little more Eastern Kentucky humor than Sen. Kelly would. But we all have different leadership styles.”
The senate Democrats said Stivers was the ideal person for the job.
“Robert is very, very knowledgeable and Robert is a very fair guy,” said Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley, D-Richmond. “Robert will be a whole lot less partisan than the former floor leader.”