Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

November 30, 2012

RONNIE ELLIS: Stivers brings new atmosphere to Frankfort

By RONNIE ELLIS
Associated Press

FRANKFORT — Early indications are that soon to be state Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, wants to do business differently than his predecessor David Williams.

That’s music to a lot of Frankfort ears – but will it last?

After the Republican caucus selected Stivers as their choice for President (the office is elected by the body but Republicans have a majority sufficient to guarantee his election in January), he said he saw no reason Bob Leeper, an independent who opposed Stivers, shouldn’t continue as Appropriations and Revenue Chairman.

Stivers was even the one who moved to suspend a rule that would have barred Leeper’s candidacy because he’s registered independent.

He went out of his way to say there would be no retaliation toward losing candidates through things like committee assignments. Most welcome of all for many in Frankfort, Stivers said that the new leadership team wants less confrontation and more conversation with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and the Democratic House on issues facing Kentucky.

“I think this group wants to have dialogue,” Stivers said. He wants “dialogue with all interested parties” on “big issues” facing the General Assembly. Some of Stivers’ colleagues are also hinting that he may spread decision-making among committee chairs more than Williams did.

Some lobbyists and lawmakers from the other party or the other chamber took note of the election of Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, as majority floor leader. Thayer supports expanded gambling and in the last session worked with Beshear on a constitutional gambling amendment. It failed in a Senate floor vote and proponents blamed Williams.

They view Thayer’s election over David Givens, R-Greensburg, who opposes gambling, as an indication gambling might face a more welcoming environment in the Senate. Thayer cautioned against that as an automatic conclusion.

Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, R-Louisville, told reporters at least one of the four contested races took more than one ballot. He wouldn’t say which one. But hallway wags say it was the Thayer-Givens race and claim it took four ballots before one unknown Republican Senator switched sides. That’s probably an indication of division on multiple issues and personalities, but it might also indicate a divide on gambling.

Interestingly – and inconveniently for Stivers – Thayer’s election as majority leader opens up an important committee chairmanship: State Government. That’s the committee which will likely handle pension reform and some other big issues. It’s also the committee that newly returned but controversial Republican Sen. Albert Robinson once chaired.

A major reason Robinson is controversial is an amendment he offered when he was last in the Senate which would have significantly sweetened legislative pensions. He slipped in the amendment in a way which allowed other senators to claim they didn’t realize its ramifications.

Robinson contends those senators knew what they voted for all along. In the end, the amendment passed but was later thrown out by the courts. But it helped Tom Jensen take Robinson out in a Republican primary and Robinson was unable to get back until Jensen resigned this year to run for circuit judge.

When Robinson declared his candidacy to succeed Jensen, some Republican senators openly expressed disapproval. But he won and he’s back. He no doubt would like to have his committee chairmanship back.

If that happens, Stivers’ honeymoon may not last very long. Right off the bat, Stivers will find out the job Williams held for 13 years may not be quite as enjoyable as it looked from the outside.

And as the General Assembly takes up redistricting, pension reform and perhaps gambling or tax reform in a short session, he may find it even less fun.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort