by Ryland Barton –
Kentucky Republicans will once again try to take over the state House of Representatives this fall.
The 100-member House is the last chamber in the south controlled by Democrats and is the only roadblock in the way of Republicans commanding the path that legislation takes on its way to becoming law.
GOP Minority Leader Jeff Hoover said he feels “really good” about the party’s chances.
“Fundraising is going extremely well for us,” Hoover said. “Our candidates are working hard. We feel like we’ve got a great opportunity.”
The Republican Party of Kentucky had $1,607,707 on hand at the end of June, compared with the Kentucky Democratic Party’s $72,651.
The fundraising edge comes after a change in the political control of Kentucky — the state has a Republican governor for just the second time since 1971, and the GOP took control of most statewide constitutional offices last year.
But the real political change would come if Republicans are able to net four more state House seats, removing the final Democratic roadblock that keeps the GOP from controlling the entire legislative process in Frankfort.
Hoover was elected as the House Minority Floor Leader in 2001. He said he won’t seek the leadership position again if the GOP doesn’t take control this November.
“I’ll still be a member, I’ll still be very active, I’ll work just as hard but just not with all the responsibilities, and focus somewhat more on my law practice and my business interests,” he said.
Democrats have 53 seats in the House, and Republicans have 47. Hoover would likely be elected Speaker if Republicans take over.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has repeatedly called for voters to “flip the House” to help pass the conservative agenda he ran on during last year’s gubernatorial race.
But Speaker Greg Stumbo said Democratic House candidates will win by making this election “a referendum on Matt Bevin.”
“I think you’re going to find, as we did find in the special elections, that people don’t have a generally high opinion of him,” Stumbo said during an interview on KET last week.
Four House seats were vacated earlier this year, after Bevin appointed two Democratic representatives to positions in state government and two Republicans were elected to higher positions. Democrats won three out of four of the elections to fill the vacant seats despite predictions that the GOP would have a stronger showing.
A Morning Consult poll conducted between January and May showed Bevin with a 33 percent approval rating.
Stumbo said Bevin has a “desire to be an emperor” and that Kentuckians will vote Democratic to keep him in check.
“I think people are generally receptive to that’s where the balance of government comes in, they do want to see some balance,” Stumbo said.
Past GOP Efforts Failed
Republicans mounted a similar effort to take over the chamber in 2014 but were unsuccessful.
GOP legislation that seems unable to pass the Democratic-controlled chamber includes so-called “right-to-work” legislation that would forbid unionized companies from requiring workers to pay union dues, medical malpractice “tort reform” legislation and anti-abortion bills.
Minority Leader Hoover said Democrats are antagonizing Bevin because they’re unwilling to run on the coattails of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Kentucky.
“If they can’t support their candidates, they have to put blame on someone else,” Hoover said.
A recent survey of Kentucky voters by Republican firm Harper Polling showed Bevin with a 52 percent approval rating. The poll also showed Republican nominee Donald Trump with 49 percent of support among likely voters, while Clinton had 36 percent.
Notable state House of Representatives races include rematches between special election candidates in districts around Hopkinsville and Georgetown that Democrats won. Also, members who switched parties after Bevin was elected — Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence and Rep. Denny Butler of Louisville — will be challenged by members of their former party.
Republicans are looking to capitalize on districts held by Democrats in rural parts of the state, including seats held by Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook, and Rep. Cluster Howard, a Democrat from Jackson.