By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Eastern Kentucky is well represented in key positions in the state House, thanks to committee assignments announced Thursday by House Democratic leadership.
Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, is the new chairwoman of the influential House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, which helps develop the state’s road-building plan.
Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, will replace Combs as chairman of the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee, giving him an opportunity to work on coal issues.
Meanwhile, Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, is the new chairman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance and Public Protection, a panel that holds the purse strings for several key areas in government.
Their appointments come from the five-member House Democratic leadership, two members of which are from Eastern Kentucky — Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg and Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook.
Stumbo said geography was not a factor in making the appointments.
“We tried to spread the responsibility of chairmanships around the state,” said Stumbo, noting that Democratic Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville in Western Kentucky was named chairman of the House State Government Committee. That panel is expected to take up the thorny issue of public pensions.
Yonts will replace former Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton. Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Cherry Friday to the board of the Kentucky Retirement Systems.
On the transportation budget review panel, Combs will replace Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris. House Democrats earlier this week elected Overly as the first woman to ever hold a House leadership position, making her chairwoman of the Democratic Party caucus.
Combs said her new assignment “will give me a better chance to be more involved in addressing Kentucky’s infrastructure needs.”
Hall, the long-time chairman of the House Special Subcommittee on Energy, said he was honored to replace Combs as leader of the House Committee on Tourism Development and Energy.
Hall, who has business interests in coal mines, said Kentucky is “at a crossroads when it comes to energy, and not just with coal.”
In 2011, the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission ruled that Hall broke state ethics laws by using his public office to benefit himself. In a rare punishment of a legislator, the commission fined Hall $2,000 and notified Stumbo that it had publicly reprimanded Hall.
Specifically, Hall voted in 2005 to appropriate coal-severance taxes for a Pike County sewer project from which one of his companies was given more than $171,000 in no-bid contracts. As part of a plea deal with the commission, Hall denied guilt but agreed that enough evidence existed to make a case against him.
Stacy could not be reached about his new appointment. He replaces Democrat Royce Adams of Dry Ridge, who retired.
Stumbo acknowledged that House Republicans wanted more members on the important House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, which deals with the state budget, but “every request could not be accommodated.”
The GOP will keep 12 members on the budget committee, but the number of Democrats on the panel will increase from 17 to 19.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Republicans had a “good dialogue” with Stumbo and “part of our agreement was for them to accept my recommendations on appointing our freshmen representatives as vice-chairs of various committees, and the appointment of our veteran Republican legislators to key committees.”
“It was all a good working agreement we felt benefited both caucuses,” Hoover said.