Thursday, January 06, 2000

Party time for new majority GOP

Senate power tasted, relished

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — The scene in the Capitol Tuesday was surreal.

        Republicans were everywhere. You couldn't swing an anti-abortion bill without smacking into a GOP official or supporter.

        They were packed into the Senate gallery and roaming the halls; hanging out in the cafeteria and taking up space in the parking garage; holding press conferences and attending fancy receptions.

        The occasion? The Republicans' historic takeover of the Kentucky Senate.

New crowd in power
        The president's gavel was passed Tuesday, opening day of the General Assembly session, from Democrat Larry Saunders to Republican David Williams.

        The GOP throng that marched on Frankfort for the big event, a group that included plenty of Northern Kentucky Republican leaders, had one fabulous time Tuesday.

        They celebrated a lot and gloated a little. Who could blame them? Frankfort has been a Democratic domain only forever. There has been but one Republican governor in the last 30 years and a legislature that has never been controlled by the GOP.

        “We're here to celebrate history,” said Katie Shumate of Villa Hills, a Republican activist and wife of Kenton County GOP Chairman Greg Shumate.

        The party even rolled out the big guns — members of Kentucky's Washington delegation, which is dominated by the GOP.

        Led by U.S. Sens. Jim Bunning of Southgate and Mitch McConnell of Louisville, the group emerged from a private meeting with state Senate Republicans just a few minutes before Gov. Paul Patton delivered his State of the Commonwealth address.

        They then moved en masse down a long, marbled corridor, arriving at the House chamber door just in time to literally bump into Mr. Democrat himself, Rep. Greg Stumbo, the powerful House floor leader and an eastern Kentucky liberal.

        The message from the Republicans was explicit and cloaked in symbolism — we have arrived.

        There was lots of talk from both sides Tuesday about cooperation and bipartisanship, but that will have to be witnessed to be believed.

Balance of power
        The story of this 134th session will be whether this group — Democrats at one of end of the Capitol in the House, Republicans at the other in the Senate — really get along and get anything done.

        That's always been a challenge in Frankfort, even before the Republicans took over the Senate thanks to a couple of Democratic defectors who jumped to the GOP last year.

        The legislative session never fails to be a brutal, tedious exercise that pushes the limits of even the most veteran of state pols.

        Committee hearings are long, floor speeches and votes longer. Coalitions form, break up and re-form. Tempers flare. Deals are cut. Lobbyists and reporters constantly bang on lawmakers for support or quotes. Members are away from their homes, families and jobs for most of four months.

Here comes the drill
        Throw in a partisan split and anything could happen before this sessions ends in early April.

        Cracks have already emerged.

        Mr. Saunders hadn't even made his way off the Senate podium Tuesday after passing the gavel when Statehouse workers — at the Republicans' instruction — were using a power tool to remove his nameplate from the president's chair.

        The whirr of a drill breaking what was already a bit of an uneasy silence was not the classiest moment in the history of Kentucky politics.

        Republicans don't own the whole place yet. Tuesday, they were just acting as if they did.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort.