By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
Kentucky Republicans fell short of taking control of the state House of Representatives Tuesday night but they narrowed the margin of Democrats control with some pickups in western Kentucky.
As of press time, it appeared Republicans would hold 45 seats to Democrats’ 55 in the House.
One race, the 7th in Union County, between incumbent Democrat John Arnold and Republican challenger Tim Kline, was still in doubt as of press time, although Arnold had a small lead. Depending on the outcome of that race, Republicans picked up four seats — five if Kline is ultimately declared the winner.
If Arnold’s margin holds, the 45 seats would be the most Republicans have held in the House since 1926 when they held the majority.
Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, conceded Republicans failed to meet their goal of “12 in 12,” meaning picking up 12 seats in 2012, which he told Kentucky Education Television was a goal formed in the wake of a controversial re-districting plan drawn by House Democrats and later thrown out by the courts as unconstitutional.
“I’m still very proud of the effort,” Hoover said. “We’ve got either 45 or 46 and we’re proud of that and we’re going to continue to work on that.”
Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg said Democrats “are fortunate the people of Kentucky have allowed us to stay in control of the House.” He said voters approved of the Democratic House efforts to work with Gov. Steve Beshear but he acknowledged it was hard for Democrats to run in Kentucky with the unpopular Democratic President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.
“The voters didn’t care much for President Obama,” Stumbo said. Now, Stumbo said, it’s time for legislators of both parties to work together to address the major issues facing the state.
“The election is now over, so my message is that it’s time to stop the fighting and to start the fixing,” Stumbo said. “We have a long list of issues in front of us that need to be tackled, from pensions and tax reform to improving our economy.”
Republicans tried mightily to connect their state House Democratic opponents with Obama — and it probably helped in the four open seats in western Kentucky. But it wasn’t enough to switch the majority in the House where Democrats held a 58-41 advantage going into the election (with one open seat).
Republicans did well in the west where Richard Heath defeated Democrat Kelly Whitaker in the 2nd District; Lynn Belcher beat Democrat Raymond Giannini in the 4th; and Kenny Imes defeated Democrat Hal Kemp in the 5th.
They also appeared to have picked up a win in the 49th in Bullitt County where Republican Russell Webber took out incumbent Democrat Linda Belcher.
But in the 38th District, Democrat Denny Butler defeated first-term Republican Mike Nemes in a district Butler’s father, Denver Butler, formerly represented. And in Owensboro, Democrat Jim Glenn held off a challenge from independent Bill Barron who had promised to caucus with Republicans.
Republican Ryan Quarles held off Democrat Charlie Hoffman in Scott County while Donna Mayfield, another first-term Republican, withstood a challenge from Democrat JoEllen Reed in Clark County and part of Madison County, 55 percent to 45 percent. Both were districts where Democrats held hope of picking up seats.
And Democratic incumbents Ruth Ann Palumbo and Susan Westrom, both late targets of Republican advertising campaigns, held off Republican challenges.
So did Martha Jayne King in the 16th and Jeff Greer held his seat in the 27th, two Democratic seats Republicans had some late hopes of winning — as did Democrat Steve Riggs in the 31st.
Republican Gary Herald did unseat incumbent Democrat Ted Edmonds in the 91st — but there were just too few of those wins for Republicans to take over the House.
At 45 seats, Republicans are also probably a seat or so short of a number where they might tempt a Democrat or so to switch parties, their other plan for gaining control of the House.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.