By RONNIE ELLIS
Damon Thayer says he thinks Kentucky will likely have a “gargantuan” opportunity in 2016 to vote for “one of its own” for president, junior Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
But he doesn’t want Paul to have to give up his seat in the U.S. Senate to run, so the Republican Majority Leader in the state Senate is pushing a bill to change an existing Kentucky law that prohibits a candidate from appearing twice for separate offices on the same ballot.
Senate Bill 205 would “clarify” Kentucky election laws to allow any candidate to seek two federal offices at the same time. It easily passed out of the Republican-controlled Senate’s State and Local Government Committee Wednesday, even picking up the vote of Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville.
Paul is in his first term as U.S. Senator but he’s pondering a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 and recently won a straw vote of conservative voters at the Conservative PAC meeting. He’s also turned up at or near the top of several presidential polls. But he would be up for re-election to his Senate seat in 2016 as well.
Thayer said the purpose of the existing Kentucky law is to prevent someone from running for two state offices at the same time and that he believes previous federal court rulings in other states and the U.S. Constitution supersede the Kentucky law.
The bill isn’t likely to fare well in the Democratic controlled state House where Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said, “Well, we kind of take the position over here that a man who can’t decide which office he wants to run for ain’t fit to hold either office.”
Thayer understands the bill isn’t likely to pass the House.
“Sounds like the Speaker is adamantly opposed to it which is surprising because all this is really about is the opportunity for Kentuckians to vote for — or against — one of their own who may run for president,” said Thayer.
But Thayer thinks Paul could successfully challenge the law in court and passage by the state Senate might help.
“I believe, as he does, that he can run for the Senate and the president right now. But I wanted to file this bill to give a little clarity to the situation.”
Thayer said if Paul were to win the presidential race, Kentucky’s voters wouldn’t be disenfranchised. He’d serve out his current term before being inaugurated and the governor would appoint a replacement for two years.
“The opportunity to have one of our own run for president of the United States is an opportunity of gargantuan proportions,” Thayer said.
Thayer said he expects the measure to be considered by the full Senate next week.
The committee also passed out a proposed constitutional amendment by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, to limit the length of General Assembly sessions to five days in odd-numbered years and 45 in even-numbered years.
Currently the legislature meets for 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 in even-numbered years. The amendment, if approved by voters, would also allow leaders of the General Assembly to call lawmakers into special sessions for a maximum of 10 days. Presently, only the governor can call a special session and that wouldn’t change under Stivers’ proposed amendment.
Stivers said the bill will save the state between $3 million and $7 million annually and return the legislature to the concept of “a citizen legislature.”
Minority Leader R. J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said he agrees with the concept but worries about unintended consequences. He suggested for instance that if one party controlled both chambers that party might be tempted to call a special session right before an election in an effort to affect the outcome of the election.
The measure now goes to the Senate floor.
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.