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KY Senate Dems pick new leadership team

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Senate Democrats are going with an entire new leadership team for the next two years.

Members of the minority party in the Senate selected in a unanimous vote Monday Ray Jones of Pikeville to be the Democratic floor leader.

Also named to the leadership team were Gerald Neal of Louisville as caucus chair and former Gov. and now state Sen. Julian Carroll of Frankfort as caucus whip.

Jones, who has been in the Senate since 2001, replaces R.J. Palmer of Winchester, who lost a re-election bid last month to Republican Ralph Alvarado of Winchester.

Neal, a senator since 1989, replaces Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg, and Carroll, a senator since 2005, replaces Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville, who did not seek re-election.

Republicans have controlled the Senate since 2000. They now outnumber Democrats in the Senate, 26-12.

That may change after a special election will be held to replace Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, who won an election last month for Rowan county judge-executive.

Senate Republicans chose their leaders last week. House and Senate Democrats will pick their leaders when the 2015 General Assembly begins Jan. 6.

An organizational session will run through Jan. 9.

Legislators then will return to Frankfort Feb. 3 to continue the 30-day, 2015 law-making session.

Big dip in KY’s gasoline tax means less money for road projects

Transportation Secretary Mike HancockBy Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Kentucky motorists will pay less taxes for gas starting New Year’s Day, but the change will mean fewer road improvements, state officials warned Wednesday.

Kentucky’s tax on sales of gasoline, diesel and ethanol motor fuels will drop by 4.3 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, resulting in a loss to the Kentucky Road Fund of about $129 million on an annualized basis, according to the state Transportation Cabinet.

Kentucky’s gas tax fluctuates with the average wholesale price of gas, which has dropped in recent months.

“The gas tax accounts for more than half of the revenue in the Kentucky Road Fund,” state Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said in a news release. “A loss of revenue is always concerning, but a revenue impact of this magnitude is crippling. It means less money for building, improving, maintaining and repairing our roads, streets and bridges.”

A loss of $129 million would amount to about 6 percent of Kentucky’s highway funding, which was forecast to collect $2.25 billion in the current fiscal year from all revenue sources, including state and federal motor-fuels taxes and a state usage tax on motor vehicles.

Luallen pledges to support Beshear as KY’s new lieutenant governor

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Crit Luallen, in her first public speech as Kentucky’s 56th lieutenant governor, told several hundred people in the Capitol Rotunda Friday that she is ready to help Gov. Steve Beshear with his “continuing efforts to build a Kentucky poised for a prosperous future.”

Luallen, who has served with six other Kentucky governors in high positions and was elected twice as state auditor, said the day was not one for laying out a new agenda but “to celebrate all that is right and good about our state’s past and its hope for the future.”

Luallen particiapted in a publc-swearing in ceremony that attracted various state officials like Attorney General Jack Conway, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Senate President Robert Stivers and other well-wishers.

Beshear named Luallen to be the state’s No. 2 public official to replace Jerry Abramson, who departed to take a job with the White House to help local officials throughout the country.

In his remarks at Friday’s public ceremony, Beshear said Luallen will help his administration in improving access to health care and creating jobs.

Luallen called on several family members and friends to participate in the ceremony.

Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart, who went to school with Luallen, served as moderator.

Catarine Hancock, Luallen’s great niece and a sophomore at Lexington’s Lafayette High School, sang the National Anthem.

The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Christian Church in Woodford County, gave the invocation and Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women, introduced Luallen.

Franklin Circuit Court Judger Philip Shepherd, administered the public oath of office as Luallen’s husband, Lynn Luallen, held the Bible upon which she put her hand. A private swearing-in ceremony was held Thursday at the home of former Chief Justice John Palmore and Carol Palmore.

Centre College President John Roush provided the closing remarks and Colmon Elridge, executive assistant in the governor’s office, sang “My Old Kentucky Home.”

The Governor’s School for the Arts Alumni offered the musical prelude for the ceremony that lasted about an hour.

A public reception was held in the Governor’s Mansion after the ceremony. Music there was provided by the Centre College Kentucky Ensemble.

Larry Clark will not seek re-election as No. 2 leader in state House

State Rep. Larry Clark, D-LouisvilleBy Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — In a surprise announcement Wednesday, House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark said he will not seek re-election to the chamber’s No. 2 post, which he has held since 1993.

Clark, D-Louisville, also said he “most likely” will retire from the state legislature when his upcoming term expires at the end of 2016.

He was re-elected last week for another two-year term from Jefferson County’s 46th District, defeating Republican David Rainey by capturing 65 percent of the vote.

“I have until January 2016 to finalize my decision,” Clark, 69, said about staying on in the legislature.
Legislators will elect their leaders at the beginning of the 2015 General Assembly that begins in January.

Clark, who has been in the House since 1984, distributed to reporters after Wednesday’s Legislative Research Commission meeting copies of a letter he had sent earlier in the day to House Speaker Greg Stumbo about his political plans.

He said in the letter that it is “now time to settle on an exit strategy for my transition from public service, particularly for the fine folks of the 46th District, as well as for our House caucus.”

He said when he first was elected speaker pro tem, there was little or no training available to prepare him for representing the members and working with the executive branch.

“With that in mid, I think that choosing a new speaker pro tem at this time, when we have an experienced leadership team and a sitting Democratic governor in Steve Beshear, will give that new member of leadership an opportunity over the next year to learn the job’s demands and best serve the interests of our caucus.”

Stumbo said he does not know who might replace Clark.

Mentioned as possible candidates for the job are House Licensing and Occupations Chairman Dennis Keene of Wilder, Denver Butler of Louisville, former House Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green and House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2015 with gubernatorial hopeful Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general.

Stumbo said he was “saddened” by Clark’s decision not to seek leadership. He called Clark “a friend.”
“We hope to keep him involved in a very high level as we move forward these next couple of years,” Stumbo said.

Asked if the job should go to a representative from Louisville, Stumbo said there has been an effort in recent years to spread out leadership across the state.

“It’s highly likely that at some point, if not at this time, Jefferson County will have a person in leadership,” he said.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Clark and he “did not agree on everything, but I say this with a great deal of respect, he was always an honorable person.

“You never had to figure out where Larry Clark was. He would tell you.”

Judge recuses herself from hearing defamation lawsuit in state Senate race

By Jack Brammer WINCHESTER — State Senate candidate Ralph Alvarado’s defamation lawsuit against his Democratic opponent, state Senate Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, has to wait another day for a hearing. A hearing was scheduled Wednesday afternoon before Clark Circuit Judge Jean Logue to hear Alvarado’s request that Palmer’s campaign stop a TV ad […]

GOP state House candidate in Jefferson County withdraws from race

FRANKFORT — In their efforts to take over the state House this year, Republicans have lost a candidate.

Mark Wilson of Louisville has withdrawn from the race against Democratic incumbent Jeffery Donahue of Fairdale in the 37th House District in south-central Jefferson County.

Wilson could not be reached for comment but Jefferson County GOP Chairman Nathan Haney said Thursday that Wilson expected to come off military active duty at the end of this year but recently learned that he would not.

“The military had other orders for him that would prohibit him from being in the legislature,” Haney said.

Donahue joined the House last year.

Reublicans hope to gain control of the state House for the first time since 1921 at the Nov. 4 polls. Democrats now control the chamber with 54 members, compared to 46 for Republicans.

–Jack Brammer

National GOP group gets involved in KY House races

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – A national group focused on electing Republican state legislators has started sending out hard-hitting mailers to help the GOP try to gain control of the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921.

Jill Bader, communications director for the Republican State Leadership Committee, said in an email Monday that the group has “consistently named the Kentucky House as top of our targets for a pick up this year.”

Republicans now control 60 of 99 legislative chambers in the country, including the Kentucky Senate.

Bader also said the RSLC, based in Washington, D.C., has begun “a significant six-figure multi-platform independent expenditure, starting with mail, that began this weekend in support of gaining the House majority” in Kentucky.

Democrats now control the Kentucky House with 54 members, compared to 46 for Republicans.

The RSLC has spent more than $1 million on legislative races in Kentucky since 2008. It spent more than $400,000 in Kentucky during the 2010 election cycle and more than $355,000 in 2012. The group spent more than $200,000 in Kentucky last year and expects to top its previous spending record this year.

The first two mail pieces from the RSLC in Kentucky House races this fall involve two tough races in Western Kentucky.

Senate President seeks legal opinion on ‘right-to-work’ option for counties

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Senate President Robert Stivers asked for an attorney general’s opinion Monday on whether Kentucky counties can adopt so-called ‘right-to-work’ provisions that let employees work in unionized businesses without joining the union or paying dues.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said in a news release that he is seeking the opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway because Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell recently opined that the Louisville Metro Government has the authority to require a higher minimum wage than the minimum wage established by federal or state law.

“Using Mr. O’Connell’s analysis, a county should also be able to establish itself as a right-to-work county,” said Stivers.

The Senate leader noted that he sought the request as legislators prepare for the 2015 General Assembly that begins in January. Republicans in the state Senate have pushed the issue for years, but House Democrats oppose the measure.

Many Republicans say such a state law is needed to spur economic development while many Democrats argue it would lower wages by weakening unions.

A recent Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of Kentuckians favor changing state laws to allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues. Twenty-eight percent of those polled were opposed.

Stivers said the issue “will be of continuing interest to localities that are looking for innovative ways to attract new businesses.”

He noted that 24 states have enacted “right-to-work” laws that are not pre-empted by federal law.

Stivers was not immediately available to take questions about his request. O’Connell, a Democrat, was not immediately available for comment.

Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin, said the attorney general’s office will review Stivers’ request.

Democratic state Sen. Parrett eyeing possible run for state farm commissioner

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – Dennis Parrett, a Democratic state senator from Elizabethtown, is “definitely considering” running for state agriculture commissioner in 2015.

He said Wednesday that he will decide within the next few weeks whether to enter the race that already has attracted a Democratic candidate.

“I have an interest in seeing agriculture move forward in this state,” Parrett, a farm supplier who has represented the 10th Senate district of Hardin and part of Jefferson County since 2011, said in a telephone interview.

Parrett, who will turn 55 on Oct. 30, had no opposition in this year’s primary and general elections for his legislative seat. He
is a farmer and the co-owner of Cecilia Farm Service in Hardin County. He is a former agriculture extension agent in Hardin and Nelson counties and holds a bachelor’s of science degree in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky.

Jean-Marie Lawson Spann, a Democrat who is the host of a weekly radio show about farm news in Kentucky, announced her plans in June to run for state agriculture commissioner next year.

She is vice president of marketing for Lawson Marketing Inc. and a former vice president of marketing for Hartland Equipment in Bowling Green.

Asked about running against Lawson Spann, Parrett said, “I would not be running against her. I would be running for the office.”

Lawson Spann said in an email that she is focused on running her campaign.

“I have a plan to recruit and grow markets for our farmers’ products, to grow jobs and to improve Kentucky’s economy,” she said. “I do not think it is appropriate for me to comment about someone who is not officially committed to running for the office.”

The current state agriculture commissioner, Republican James Comer, has decided to run next year for governor. He is to officially announce his candidacy and running mate Sept. 9 in his hometown of Tompkinsville.

Lawmaker takes issue with Stumbo’s comments on Ark park

State Rep. Brian LinderBy Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — State Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, expressed disappointment Thursday over House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s comments this week that the state should not provide tax incentives for a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County.

Linder, who represents Grant, Gallatin and Owen counties in the House’s 61st District, said in a news release that Stumbo’s comments “appear to tell those who want to bring economic opportunity to the commonwealth that Kentucky is closed for business, which only serves to further drive other businesses out of our state.”

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said earlier this week that Grant County needs more economic development but that the use of tax incentives for the park is unconstitutional because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s mandate for separation of church and state.

He predicted that the incentives will be challenged in court and the state would lose.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Authority has given its preliminary approval for as much as $18.25 million in tax incentives for the $73 million first phase of the biblical theme park. It is to consider final approval after a feasibility study is conducted.

The park is to open in two years and will feature a wooden ark 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 55 feet high. It is affiliated with Answers in Genesis, which runs the Creation Museum in Boone County. The museum follows a literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief, contrary to science, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Linder said the proposed Ark Encounter theme park is a tourism-based economic development project that qualifies to receive tax incentives from the state. He said millions of dollars have already been allotted for highway improvements in the area of the proposed theme park’s location

“While Kentucky continues to lose jobs to places like Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas, Speaker Stumbo chooses to attack an economic development project in my community by encouraging lawsuits on tax incentives,” Linder said.

Linder said Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and others are supporting the project “because they understand the huge economic benefits it can bring to the Commonwealth, yet Speaker Stumbo would rather stir up issues instead of considering the opportunities this project will provide to Kentucky families.”

Linder called Stumbo’s comments about the park and religion disingenuous.

“While the Speaker has an issue with a religious theme park receiving tax incentives to provide jobs, he apparently has no problem occupying a chair in the House chambers that has, in large letters, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ behind it,” he said.