Senators hoping to replace Williams signal new era in Kentucky politics


by Joe Arnold

Posted on November 20, 2012 at 7:39 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 21 at 1:11 AM

LEXINGTON and LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- With the contentious, 13 year tenure of David Williams ended by his appointment to a judgeship, the two Kentucky senators vying to replace him as Kentucky Senate President are signaling a more civil era is ahead in Frankfort.

"I think during Senator Williams' era things got personal," said Sen. Bob Leeper (I-Paducah).

"I think people are interested in dialogue," said Sen. Robert Stivers (R) Manchester.  "They want discussion between the respective parties."

Stivers tells WHAS11 he thinks he has the votes necessary to win the presidency when the Republican caucus votes on November 27.  Leeper said he believes he still has a chance despite Stivers' experience as Majority Floor Leader.

"You don't bring the catcher in to be the pitcher necessarily unless he's a real good pitcher," Leeper said.

"I want to be one that is open, that takes input, that respects everybody's position," Stivers said.  "that is not one that is condescending or derogatory.  And I'm not saying that is anybody anyway else."

Yet the comparisons to the stormy Senate career of Williams, dubbed the "Bully from Burkesville" will be unavoidable.

Stivers suggested that bullying is not the only way to wield political power

"So many people involved in politics, they want to be that way just because they feel they should be," Stivers told WHAS11.  "and that it is a sign of weakness or something if you don't have a personality that is somewhat overbearing or demanding.  But I think you can build consensus.  You can talk."

"If you've got the winning position, being fair and being open is not a problem,"  Leeper said in an interview.  "I may be a little unusual in that will actually cost me some votes if folks don't think I'm strong enough in the partisan era."

"I'm not playing a role in who gets their leadership positions," Governor Steve Beshear told WHAS11, "but I do think whoever is there, you're going to see a working relationship, a collaborative type of relationship that's going to pay off for the citizens of Kentucky."

Beshear created the Senate presidency vacancy by appointing his arch-nemesis Williams to fill the unexpired term of Circuit Judge Eddie Lovelace, who died in September.  Though Beshear appeared with Stivers at an event in Lexington Monday, he said he is not taking sides but is encouraged as Republicans choose their next leader.

"I'm excited about the next session and the kinds of things that maybe be can get done," Beshear said.  "We've got some tough issues to tackle in Kentucky, pension reform, tax reform those are two huge issues.  And they won't be solved overnight. I cant even guarantee you that they'll get solved in this upcoming legislative session." 

"But I  can guarantee you this," the governor continued.  "I think that the leadership in the House and the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, understand that these issues need to be addressed and I think they're going to be willing to sit down, work together and try to find some common ground."

Beshear specifically mentioned tax reform and pension reform as legislative priorities, with expanded gambling "always" on his agenda.

"I think it's so important for the future of the Commonwealth," Beshear explained.  "Not because of gaming in and of  itself but because - two things - the revenue it will produce that will help the state move forward, and secondly putting our whole horse industry on an even playing field with the states that we compete with everyday."

"Where that issue will go this next session I don't know," the governor continued.  "It's too early to tell. We don't even have new leadership yet."

Beshear said he is more hopeful in gaming's chances "long term" under new Senate leadership.

Yet, both Stivers and Leeper voted against Beshear's gambling amendment in February, which failed 21-16.

"I haven't seen a great change in the mindset of the members that - just because Sen Williams is not there - that their vote's going to change," Leeper said.

Yet the role of the Senate President is about to undergo a fundamental change, not only in the relationship with the governor but within the Republican caucus, according to Leeper and Stiver.

"(Williams) had his fingers in everything and it worked well in a sense," Leeper said, describing how Williams immersed himself in Frankfort as the driving force behind Republican policy decisions.

"I think there's an opportunity for a lot of members who may have felt stifled in that environment to maybe step up and shine," Leeper said.

"The commitment would be to have dialogue," Stivers said.  "and have open, candid conversations to where individuals can speak freely.  You have some ideas and some pan out, some don't, but you have that ability to speak with each other to see what respective positions are without going back to gotcha politics."