Friday, January 05, 2007

Anatomy of a takeover

Today's appointment of Kathy Stein (D-Lexington) caps off a series of successful moves by liberal forces to take over the House of Representatives. In just one week, a loose coalition of political factions, including pro-labor forces, casino gambling advocates, and socially liberal partisans managed a behind the scenes campaign that effectively puts the Kentucky House on the extreme left of the political spectrum.

It is not even clear that the individual conspirators knew of the others' involvement in the events that unseated Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville), and placed Stein, the House's most liberal member, at the head of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

The roster of conspirators
But a few things are clear. For one thing, Greg Stumbo was involved, apparently calling to secure the votes of several members for Charlie Hoffman (D-Georgetown) for caucus chair, Damron's former position. Jerry Lundergan is also said to have been a force behind the changes, although it is unclear exactly how that manifested itself, other than through the presence of Jonathan Hurst, a Lundergan aide working within the caucus. Members also received calls from labor representatives in their districts to vote for Hoffman.

The question is what was in it for Stumbo and Lundergan. The only apparent thing is that both are in favor of casino gambling. For Lundergan, casino interests are an important potential source of campaign dollars. During the last session, anti-gambling forces had a lock on the House. Those in opposition to letting a bill out of committee without assurances from the Senate that it would be dealt with there apparently included Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), Damron, and, possibly, former whip Joe Barrows of Versailles. Where Adkins was is less clear although it is thought by some observers that he was of the same opinion.

Larry Clark (D-Louisville), the immediate beneficiary of the House changes (and possibly the ringleader of the whole thing) has been champing at the bit to put a casino bill out of the House, but with the former leadership was clearly unable to do so. How to deal with the problem? The first move was to get Rob Wilkey (D-Bowling Green) into the position of whip. The second thing to do was to remove the impediment of Damron, who was already on thin ice with some other members because of his support of Gov. Fletcher's tax modernization plan in 2004, and his association with political consultant Ray Stewart. Damron had been an outspoken opponent within the caucus on the casino issue.

Clark apparently put his labor coalition to work on both the Damron/Hoffman race (Clark is seen to control Hoffman) and on the race between Wilkey and John Will Stacy (D-West Liberty), another potential threat to casino interests. He was successful on both counts. As David Williams pointed out Thursday night, the House is now fully in control of labor.

Now, Larry Clark controls the House Democratic Caucus, and, therefore, the House agenda. The only independent conservatives left in leadership are Richards and Adkins, and they are two against three. Clark is at the locus of all these forces: he is obviously the chief labor advocate in the legislature; he's the leader the pro-casino Jefferson County contingent; and he's a social liberal. He is probably one of the three or four people who was fully aware of who all the conspirators were.

The impact on the gambling issue
When a casino bill appears in 2008 (or if one appears this session), watch for it to move quickly out of the House and over to the Senate. Does this mean casino legislation stands a better chance? Probably. But there is not necessarily any overall incentive for the legislature as a whole to produce a bill. For the Democrats who control the House, the incentives do not necessarily extend beyond showing casinos (and groups like KEEP) that they are fighting for them, and are therefore worthy of their financial support. This keeps money flowing in to the Democratic coffers. But there are others outside the legislature (and Stumbo is one of them) to whom posturing is not going to be enough--and that is significant when you consider that Stumbo is looking more and more like a statewide candidate in 2007.

On the Senate side, President David Williams and the Republican Senate leadership clearly calculated in 2006 that opposing casinos is popular with the activists who support them--and it is a reason that can be given to anti-gambling advocates to keep Williams in the Senate presidency: because as long as he is there, they are told, gambling will never pass. How the casino forces deal with Williams is the biggest question. And, unfortunately for them, Williams is the best strategic political thinker in the General Assembly.

The takeover obviously played a significant role in the Stein nomination. With Damron in leadership, there were three likely votes against her for the Judiciary slot, particularly after the controversy of this week: Damron, Richards, and Adkins. My comments in the media apparently resulted in quite a few calls and e-mails to House members. There was no organized opposition to her nomination, only a press release and media interviews. But there was a point, probably on Wednesday, when her nomination for judiciary was in doubt. The doubt, however, was dispelled with the leadership changes.

There is some speculation that Stein's allies worked to unseat Damron as well. It would make sense for them to have done so with the one question being the advantage to the casinos of a Hoffman win. Stein is opposed to casinos. But that concern would probably have taken a back seat to concerns over her judiciary chairmanship.

One interesting aspect of all this is the non-role of House Republican leadership. This is something they should have been making hay with, but didn't. Obviously, the controversy over Stein and the changes in leadership strengthen any case they might make that they are more representative of Kentuckians than the Democrats. The question is, will they make the case? So far, they have been deadly silent. One of the reasons may be that Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) is said to be a personal friend of Stein. He may simply have been reticent to criticize a friend. Another could be that I was making the case for them, and they could simply sit back and reap the benefits later. But there are some people (such as myself) who think that this non-confrontational approach is par for the course with House Republicans over the last few sessions.

How they plan to win elections without highlighting their differences with the Democrats is a mystery. Maybe the victory of Stan Lee (R-Lexington), a staunch conservative, will provide some much needed backbone in the caucus.

Winners and Losers
The beneficiaries of this week's events:
  • Larry Clark: He now controls House leadership.
  • Jerry Lundergan: He is now in the driver's seat on the gambling issue and will be able to attract more casino money.
  • Kathy Stein: The changes assured her Judiciary appointment.
  • Charlie Hoffman: He got a seat in leadership, but he owes it to Larry Clark, his new patron.
  • The casino industry: They stand to reap the benefits next session.
  • Greg Stumbo: I'm not sure why, but he thinks he is, which means he probably is.
  • Labor: They now control the House Democratic caucus.
  • Social liberals: They not only directly control the House Judiciary Committee, but leadership as well.
  • House Republicans: With the Stein appointment, they now have the evidence that the House is controlled by San Francisco Democrats. If, they use it, they may be able to reap the benefits in the next election.
  • Senate President David Williams: Williams now has a bigger target to shoot at.
The victims of this week's events:
  • Jody Richards: He and Adkins are now isolated. Furthermore, after he announces for governor next week, he's going to have to explain to all those voters--to whom he wants to appear as a conservative--how the House, under his speakership, put the chamber's most liberal member at the head of judiciary.
  • Rock Adkins: He has only Richards now to keep him company.
  • Bob Damron: He lost is seat in leadership.
  • Conservative Democratic House members: They are now completely out of power.
  • Brent Yonts: He lost the Judiciary Committee chairmanship to Kathy.
That was one eventful week.

© Martin Cothran 2007. All rights reserved. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.

6 comments:

VanHealing said...

With liberal forces as you mention clearly asserting themselves and a scandal ridden Governor, isnt it time for Kentucky Republicans to turn to a "Reagan-esque" figure such as candidate Billy Harper?

Martin Cothran said...

Much of what Billy Harper says is great--except, that is, for his blind support of KERA. Harper, is, of course, a member of the Prichard Committee, an organization with which I have had repeated confrontations, so his position does not surprise me.

But Harper's high profile support of KERA tells me two things: first, he has a poor understanding of education policy and the history of education in this state; second, he has a political tin ear. KERA left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. Has Harper forgotten the near rebellion that took place among parents over the non-graded primary program? Does he remember that is was an issue in the governor's race between Forgy and Patton, with even Patton admitting, "we have to fix KERA"? Is he aware of the continued unpopularity of the CATS (formerly KIRIS) tests?

He needs to rethink his position on this, and if he doesn't he's going to have real problems with conservatives in this state, who appear to have a longer memory that he has.

MarkJost said...

Why is the focus on KERA, KERA, KERA... shouldnt we be focused on turning the page from a scandal plagued administration to one that actually might want to do some good for Kentucky?

Martin Cothran said...

Markjost,

Are you saying MY focus is "KERA, KERA, KERA"? My response to "vanhealing"'s post is the single, only mention of it on my blog, which has almost 100 other posts. If you don't like people emphasizing KERA, I suggest you talk to the Harper campaign, since he seems to be pretty fixated with it himself (unless, that is, you and the other commenters who have suddenly cropped up on my blog are a part of the campaign yourselves and are using my blog to get discussion on your candidate).

And sorry: No, I'm not particularly wild about replacing a governor who has admittedly been ineffective with one who thinks that KERA, a misguided and costly boondoggle, was good policy.

The Harper campaign has apparently forgotten that KERA involved the biggest tax increase in the state's history. I just can't imagine that that is going to go over well with the voters.

JoeYarborough said...

Hey Martin, Harper addresses education in this radio interview... WHy dont you listen before fixating... http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wkyu/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1022878§ionID=1

Martin Cothran said...

JoeYarborough,

Let's see here... Harper repeatedly brings up KERA, then his people get on my blog to defend the fact that their candidate repeatedly brings up the subject, and then they tell me I'M fixated.

What can you say?