By John David Dyche

WDRB Contributor 


The happiness of Kentucky Republicans with Mitch McConnell's landslide win in the U. S. Senate race was tempered by disappointment with the poor showing in the contest for control of the state House of Representatives.


For the second consecutive election, the GOP fell short in a much ballyhooed effort to win its first majority in the General Assembly's lower chamber since 1921. This time, however, Republicans not only failed to "flip the House." They did not increase their number at all.


Despite McConnell's 15 percent victory, the Republican wave that swept over the rest of the country, and a Democratic sex harassment scandal and cover-up, the GOP emerged from the elections with the same number of seats, 46, as they entered them. The Democrats stayed at 54.


Contrast this disastrous outcome with what happened just over the border in another coal state, West Virginia. There, Republicans reversed a 53-47 Democratic advantage into a 64-36 GOP majority, the first in the House of Delegates since 1931. Republicans took 19 seats from Democrats and defeated 16 incumbent Democrats. Almost heaven, indeed!


The Kentucky House is the last legislative refuge of Democrats in the South. Other states long ago realized that real progress requires Republican leadership.


Not so here, however. The reasonable question that Republicans are asking is, "Why not?"


Was it the party platform? The "Handshake With Kentucky" gambit was cheesy to begin with, but it badly backfired when exposed as a makeover of an Alabama agenda. Things got even worse when the Republican Speaker of the House in Alabama was indicted on corruption charges.


Was it resources? Republicans were reputed to have as much as a half million campaign dollars more than they ever had before. There is some ex post facto griping that dollars were directed to safer races when they could have been better used in close ones, but complaints like that are common among defeated candidates.


Was it strategy and tactics? Some suggest that campaigns were too "cookie cutter" in nature, and emphasized the gasoline tax and Obamacare instead of being individually tailored to districts and Democratic opponents.


Was it leadership? Republican floor leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown told the Lexington Herald-Leader on election night that he would run again for his position. There are some grumblings, but apparently no real movement within the rank and file for a change.


Several caucus members laud Hoover for his hard work. Others say there is nobody else who could do the job as well, and you cannot replace somebody with nobody.


Hoover, who had contemplated a bid for circuit judge before deciding to stay in the House, gamely called Tuesday's deflating results "a step in the right direction." He argues that the redistricting once viewed as favorable actually hurt Republicans, and that because of it they actually needed to pick up nine seats, not just a net five, to take the majority.


That is a hard case to make, especially against a backdrop filled with "Flip the House" rhetoric. Rightly or wrongly, GOP expectations were high, and the results were discouraging.


The day after the election Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg and/or Lexington and his leadership team paraded before the press. This entourage, whose long rule has left Kentucky lagging behind other states in so many respects, promptly declared that they would stay with their stale, unimaginative, status quo policies.


Keeping Democrats in control of the state House ties the hands of any new Republican governor for at least the first legislative session of his or her term. It will therefore be January of 2017 at the earliest, after the next round of House races, before Kentucky can possibly get the dramatic change in direction it so desperately needs.


On the somewhat brighter side in Frankfort, the Republicans did increase their hold on the state Senate by a seat. Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester remains the most powerful and important Republican in Frankfort.


Stivers is straightforward about the capital's sad reality. He told a post-election press conference, "I don't think some of the things that we would be inclined to do -- regulatory reforms, some tort reforms, tax reforms, right-to-work, charter schools -- have much of a political chance down there" in the state House.


In the meantime, Kentucky Republicans are left to wonder whether they can ever capture the state House if they could not do it as Tuesday's GOP wave washed over the rest of the commonwealth and nation. Kentucky's party registration keeps trending Republican, however, so the House will surely flip someday.


The only way to hasten that date is for the GOP to take a hard, honest look at what happened this year and make the necessary changes starting right now. Until then, Democratic dominance in the House consigns Kentucky to continued mediocrity, just as it has for almost a century.


John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.