If Gov. Steve Beshear wants to be rid of his chief foe in the Kentucky General Assembly, he can do so by appointing Senate President David Williams to fill a judicial vacancy on the circuit court in Williams’ southern Kentucky district.
As expected, the Judicial Nominating Commission on Thursday officially named Williams, a Burkesville attorney, as one of the three nominees it is recommending to Beshear for the open judgeship. Williams immediately said if the governor appoints him, he will resign from the Senate to accept the appointment.
If Beshear names Williams — and virtually everyone expects him to — he will be the third and most powerful Republican leader in the Senate to resign as a result of being appointed to a more lucrative position. The Judicial Nominating Commission offered Beshear two other options for the judicial seat, southern Kentucky lawyers Angela Capps and Stephen Douglas Hurt, but few expect either one to be appointed. The appointment is to replace the late Judge Eddie Lovelace, who died in September.
Previously, Beshear made Senate Floor Leader Dan Kelly of Springfield a circuit judge and appointed Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Charlie Borders of Grayson to the Public Service Commission. While Kelly remains a judge, Borders had since resigned from the PSC.
While many saw the governor’s appointments of Borders and Kelly as an attempt to gain Democratic strength in the Senate in hopes of regaining the majority, that ploy was only partially successful. While former State Rep. Robin Webb, a Democrat, was elected to replace Borders in the Senate, State Rep. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican, was elected to fill Kelly’s Senate seat. Ironically, Republican Jill York of Grayson was elected to fill Webb’s old seat and is unopposed for re-election to another two-year term this year.
Family Foundation policy analyst Martin Cothran said he’s certain Beshear will appoint Williams to fill the two years remaining in the open judicial seat in hopes it will improve his chances of getting casino gambling legalized in Kentucky.
Williams is seen as the chief opponent of Beshear’s plan to get the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment to lift a ban on casino-style gambling in Kentucky. Such an amendment would have to be ratified by Kentucky voters.
Although Beshear made expanded gambling a key part of his successful campaign for governor in 2007, the proposal has been thwarted in every legislative session since Beshear was elected. However, it is not just because of the opposition from Williams. This governor has a dismal record in pushing his proposals through the Kentucky General Assembly, and it is not just because of David Williams.
Beshear avidly supported the election of Greg Stumbo as speaker of the House simply because he believed former Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green had failed to push the issue through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
When Beshear appointed Kelly and Borders, Williams sharply criticized his two Republican colleagues for going along with what obviously was a ploy by the governor to weaken the Republican Party in the Senate. Now Williams is on the verge of doing the same thing.
Beshear’s opposition to Williams goes much deeper than the issue of gambling. Williams has repeatedly opposed the governor on a wide variety of issues and delayed action on key pieces of legislation, including the budget, until the very last minute of the 60-day sessions. The fact Williams is able to convince other Senate Republicans to unite behind his positions has made Williams nearly as powerful in Frankfort as the governor. Even the loss by Williams to Beshear by a landslide in the 2011 gubernatorial race did not seem to diminish the Senate president’s influence one iota.
But that influence will be eliminated if Williams is appointed a circuit judge. Even without Williams, Republicans will remain firmly in control of the Senate, but as we said in this space on Oct. 7, we hope Williams’ successor “would help begin about a needed change of tone” in the Senate, “one that is much more civil. That alone would be an improvement.”
Few have ever questioned David Williams’ intelligence, his knowledge of state government or his legislative skills, and he clearly is well qualified to be a circuit judge. It is his personality and his tactics that we have found so objectionable. We won’t miss them one bit.