Companion Legislation — Frankfort’s Political Pairs

By Bob Babbage

Prominent power pairs will push, perhaps deftly plow, the short session of the legislature toward revised policy and new law.

At the point of the power pyramid are Stivers and Stumbo, who rule their respective roosts. Senate President Robert Stivers joins fellow eastern Kentuckian Greg Stumbo, the House Speaker, to engage a host of issues.

Drug addiction is one. The Senate, controlled by a GOP super-majority, emphasizes tougher penalties for heroin pushers. The House, Democratic by 54-46, is aiming for more treatment for heroin addicts.

Essential to the thinking is Rep. John Tilley, who chairs House Judiciary. The other half of the power pair is Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the head of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. Tilley and Westerfield joined forces before, bringing juvenile justice reform legislation.

Westerfield could emerge as the Republican choice for attorney general. Many thought Tilley might carry the Democrats’ flag in this race.

This brings us to the father-son power pair: Gov. Steve Beshear and Andy Beshear, the presumptive Democratic nominee for attorney general.

In his eighth and final year as governor, the elder Beshear shows no signs of willingly entering lame duck status, sticking instead with an aggressive agenda.

“Dating Violence” law is another key subject for everyone mentioned here, plus First Lady Jane Beshear.

The race to be the next governor, however, colors everything legislative. Expect the incumbent power pair of Comer and Conway to be selling key proposals.

Jamie Comer is the commissioner of agriculture locked in a dog fight to be the Republican nominee for governor.

Jack Conway is finishing his second term as attorney general, and is the sole prominent Democrat for the May primary election.

Then, add Hal Heiner, Republican of Louisville, also hot on the campaign trail.

Rep. Derrick Graham, the House Education chair, will pair-up and square off with Heiner on charter schools, chances are.

Two lieutenant governor prospects are another power pair in top legislative roles.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, still in his first term, is not only Comer’s running mate, but the new chair of Senate Appropriations.

Rep. Sannie Overly, is the only woman in the House or Senate leadership, chairing the House Democratic caucus, and ticketed with Conway for the second spot.

Veterans of many legislative battles are the two majority leaders. Rep. Rocky Adkins could’ve jumped in the Democratic governor’s race but didn’t.

Adkins and Stumbo will raise the minimum-wage increase issue. Sen. Damon Thayer, a three-term senator, could emerge as a future statewide Republican candidate.

Pension woes will draw heavy attention, likely by Thayer and Rep. Brent Yonts. The Workers’ Compensation system might, too, be front and center.

Laid-off coal miners, a distressed legion of several thousand, are putting a big strain on the “coal fund,” as expected.

Stumbo and Stivers hail from coal country and are both rural lawyers, as is Sen. Ray Jones, the Senate Democrats’ new leader. They could work this puzzle together.

The fund that covers the rest of the workforce, costs that are borne by the private sector, could also be up for revision, setting up a labor versus business power struggle. A right-to-work legislation debate adds fuel to the blaze.

“Smoke-free public places” is making a comeback, a fifth annual try for approval. The power providing the punch is popular and persuasive. Rep. Susan Westrom is the long-time sponsor and forceful advocate.

New Sen. Julie Raque Adams has been strongly out front for smoke-free. She adds the title of Senate Health chair.

Two power-packed mayors, Louisville’s Greg Fischer and Lexington’s Jim Gray, will lead the charge for LIFT, the local option tax. LIFT is off to a good start thanks to another unique pairing. Both Speaker Stumbo and Rep. Jeff Hoover, the long-time Republican leader, are united on this one.

Senate Republicans may also seek a greater role in reviewing – and stemming – government regulations. Tax reform might get a peek, but passage is complex calculus.

Auditor Adam Edelen will push the health of rural hospitals to the fore, ranking each by economic well-being as some struggle financially.

Former auditor Crit Luallen, the now lieutenant governor, has the spectrum of health change and advancing wellness as her portfolio.

House Republicans and Democrats face some healing-up after several leadership posts were hotly contested. And there are new local leaders in the mix. Watch for the new Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann to be in Frankfort to reform the board structure for his international airport.

P3 is a battle-cry for advocates of the public-private partnership solutions for public funding.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul wants to be on the 2016 ballot, not once but twice. He’s up for re-election, but to addon as a presidential candidate takes a change in law.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who chairs the board of elections, says “no way” and adds a promise to take the controversy to court. Grimes will seek re-election this year.

Recently “retired” Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott could seek the governorship for the GOP. Luther Deaton, a Lexington banker and Democrat, could also run for governor.

U. S. Rep. Hal Rogers, cooperating closely with Gov. Beshear, has re-framed the discussion and action needed for rural economic progress through the SOAR initiative. For SOAR to soar, it will take long-term legislative engagement – and cash.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, tied to the Democratic power couplet of President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid, has a national, if not global agenda to guide. McConnell would relish nothing more in 2015 than a inaugurating a Republican ticket in Frankfort this December. Beshear’s capstone: the Democrat slate sweeps the statewide spots.

But first, who gets credit for what in the House and Senate takes precedence. The deadline to file for statewide office is Jan. 27 at 4 p.m. The short session ends on March 24. Then May 19 is the primary.

— Bob Babbage is lead lobbyist for Babbage Cofounder.

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