DYCHE | The Most Important Elections You've Never Heard Of
By John David Dyche WDRB Contributor
Another Fancy Farm full of sound and fury is past. Candidates strutted and fretted their few minutes on the statewide stage, their speeches signifying nothing we did not already know.
Media attention focused on the U. S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Next year's gubernatorial race also got plenty of attention from a febrile press corps.
These two “top of the ticket” tilts are indeed important. For immediate impact on Kentuckians' lives, however, the contest for control of the state House of Representatives matters even more.
Regardless of who wins Kentucky's U. S. Senate seat, Washington could still be more or less in gridlock when Congress next convenes. A Republican Senate with McConnell as majority leader would be better for both America and Kentucky, of course, but as long as Barack Obama is president not even a GOP Senate can compel as dramatic a course change as the country so desperately needs.
While Kentucky's governor wields a lot of patronage power and can do some meaningful things independent of the General Assembly, our commonwealth's chief executive is actually comparatively weak one. The state legislature routinely disregards the governor's budget and legislative proposals and unlike Washington, where overriding a presidential veto requires a super-majority, a mere majority in both chambers can override a gubernatorial veto in Frankfort.
Democrats have dominated the state House of Representatives since 1922, but Republicans have held the state Senate majority since 2000. This fourteen years of divided government has caused considerable conflict, a few constitutional confrontations (as when the two chambers could not agree on a budget), and a lot of political posturing and symbolic show votes (since each side passes bills that appeal to their respective bases and fundraising sources but are destined for certain death in the other chamber).
Kentucky has made some progress, but not nearly enough. This year's elections for the state House of Representatives could change that. Republicans will keep their state Senate majority, and if they gain the net five seats necessary to capture the House of Representatives it will be the first time in history that the GOP has simultaneously controlled both chambers.
Regardless of who is governor, a Republican state legislature could bring Kentucky the kind of bold change that is already benefiting other Republican-run Southern and Midwestern states. “Flip the House” is the state Republican rallying cry, and outside conservative groups with lots of money are getting involved.
Democrats must defend almost a century's worth of stagnant status quo that has consigned Kentucky to the wrong end of many state rankings and measures of well-being. Their recent mishandling (i.e., attempted cover-up) of sex harassment charges against a former Democratic representative made that bad situation worse.
This big war for Kentucky's future will be fought in lots of little battles between individual candidates in idiosyncratic districts that are almost completely unknown to the rest of the state. Thanks to rising Republican registration and recent redistricting (in which Democrats overreached, lost in the courts, and then effectively conceded), these battlefields are more favorable to Republicans than ever before.
The incomparable Ryan Alessi and his cn/2 successor, Nick Storm, reported last month that, “Republicans are defending 42 seats and need to win nine more from a combination of open districts and Democratic-held seats.” Alessi ranked the top races and put the one between Democrat Linda Belcher and Republican Mike Nemes, both of Shepherdsville, for the open 49th District seat first. (Disclosure: Nemes' son is a friend of, and practices law with, this columnist.)
Alessi also identified some other hot elections in the Louisville area. These include Republican Phil Moffett, a former gubernatorial candidate, against Democrat Ashley Miller in Eastern Jefferson County's 32nd District; Republican incumbent David Floyd against Democrat Audrey Haydon, both of Bardstown, for the 50th District; and incumbent Democrat Jim Wayne versus Republican Carl Nett in West Central Jefferson County's 35th District.
Retaining two other Jefferson County seats is crucial to Republican hopes. In the East End's 48th District, some GOP insiders worry that avuncular longtime incumbent, Dr. Bob DeWeese, chairman of the House minority caucus, may underestimate his appealing and energetic Democratic challenger, Gretchen Hunt.
In Southern Jefferson County's 29th District, Republican incumbent Kevin Bratcher has his hands full fighting off a Frankfort comeback attempt by Democratic former Commonwealth Attorney Dave Stengel.
These and other state House races may be the most important elections you have never heard of. The stakes are incredibly high, and hopes for real change in Frankfort ride on Republican victories. Here's hoping voters are at last ready to make history.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.