Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 7, 2012

A new leader?

Departure of Williams would be a welcome change of tone

The Independent

ASHLAND — Significant change may be coming soon among the powers-that-be in Frankfort. Gov. Steve Beshear may have come up with a way to guarantee the departure of Sen. President David Williams, R-Burkesville. If so, Williams will have to be in total agreement with this political move.

When Beshear, a Democrat, appointed State Sen. Charlie Borders of Grayson to the Public Service Commission in 2009, and at nearly the same time, named State Sen. Dan Kelly of Springfield as a circuit court judge, it was clear the governor’s goal went beyond just appointing two able men to vacant political posts. The governor also hoped the departure of two influential Republican senators (Borders had been chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and Kelly was the Senate majority leader) would weaken the influence of the Republican Party in the Senate and perhaps lead to the ouster of Senate President David Williams, the governor’s ultimate goal.

Who can blame the governor? Williams’ ability to convince his fellow Republican senators to vote as a unit had thwarted Beshear’s proposals on a number of key issues, but in particular the governor’s efforts to expand gambling in the state.

The governor’s appointment of the two Republican senators to other positions was only partially successful. While Republican Borders was replaced in the 18th District by State Rep. Robin Webb of Grayson, a Democrat, voters in Kelly’s old 14th District elected Jimmy Higdon, who like Webb was a member of the House of Representatives, to Kelly’s vacated Senate seat.

Despite having Democrats picking up one seat, Republicans remained firmly in control of the Senate, and Williams continued to block many of the governor’s legislative proposals. Even after Williams easily lost to Beshear in the 2011 governor’s race, Williams remained firmly in charge of the flow of legislation in the Senate, and the governor continued to be frustrated.

The death of the sitting judge has created a vacancy on the circuit court in Williams’ home county, and the powerful senator let it be known Thursday he would consider a judicial appointment if an offer is made. For his part, Beshear said he considered Williams qualified to be a circuit judge.

To be appointed, Williams would have to be on the short list of a panel named to recommend candidates for the seat. As we see, that’s a mere formality. If David Williams wants to be a judge, the post is likely his. While we have often disagreed with his style and tactics,  Williams is a highly intelligent person with the right stuff to be a good judge. Of course, if Williams were to accept the appointment, he would have to eat the harsh words he had for Borders and Kelly when the governor appointed them to higher paying jobs.

While the appointment of Kelly and Borders was a risky move that failed to accomplish the governor’s chief objective, the appointment of Williams would guarantee his departure from the Senate, something the governor greatly desires. Even without Williams, the GOP would retain its majority in the Senate. While the party still would control legislation in the Senate, one would hope Williams’ successor would help bring about a needed change of tone in that body, one that is much more civil. That alone would be an improvement.