By RONNIE ELLIS
Most people know Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is considering running for president in 2016. But, if he does, he wants to be able to hedge his bets by running for re-election to his Senate seat at the same time.
It’s not unheard of. Other states allow it and both Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden ran for re-election to their congressional seats when they were first-time vice presidential candidates.
Paul’s wish, however, runs into a problem with a Kentucky law that prohibits a candidate’s name from appearing simultaneously for two offices on the same ballot. Paul has said that’s unfair, and Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown agrees.
Thursday, Thayer filed a bill to repeal the Kentucky law in the Republican-controlled Senate. But Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, Speaker of the Democratic controlled House, made it clear the bill isn’t going to go anywhere in the House.
“Well, we kind of take the position over here (in the House) that a man who can’t decide which office he wants to run for ain’t fit to hold either office,” said Stumbo. When asked if that applied to Democrats like Biden, Stumbo grinned and responded: “You can quote me on what I said.”
Thayer didn’t seem surprised by Stumbo’s attitude.
“We’re used to Speaker Stumbo killing lots of good Republican bills down there,” Thayer said. “If Speaker Stumbo is opposed to it, I would say its chances of passing the General Assembly are quite small.”
But that might not even be the goal. Paul and Thayer have known from the start the Democratic House isn’t likely to pass a bill that would specifically benefit a Republican. But passage by one chamber of the legislature might provide a reason for someone to sue and force the courts to decide the issue.
“Federal law governs federal elections and the Supreme Court has made it clear that states cannot impose additional qualifications beyond those in the (U.S.) Constitution,” said Doug Stafford, a senior advisor to Paul. “We are not seeking to change the law, but rather to clarify that the Kentucky statute does not apply to federal elections. We thank Sen. Thayer for taking this step in clarifying this issue.”
Thayer said Paul’s staff first approached him about sponsoring the legislation and that he’s had several discussions with Paul about it. He said Paul’s staff “had input” on the bill’s language as well and, “I think there’s pretty good support for it” in the Republican caucus.
But it isn’t unanimous, even among Republicans. Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, opposes the bill.
When CNHI News first reported last week that Paul was seeking such a bill from the Republican Senate, Girdler said, “Whether it’s Paul Ryan or Joe Biden or Rand Paul, I do not believe someone should be eligible to run for two offices at the same time.”
Thursday, Girdler said he hasn’t changed his mind. Asked how much support for the bill is evident among Republican Senators, Girdler said, “We really haven’t discussed it yet.”
Thayer also sponsored a Senate amendment that effectively changed House Bill 70 which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights for most ex-felons, a bill important to the Democratic House and one supported by Paul.
Asked if he might be willing to offer to accept the original House version of that bill in exchange for the House’s acceptance of his ballot measure, Thayer said, “Probably not.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.