politics

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Voters taking part in Kentucky’s Republican presidential caucus in March might notice one big difference when they cast their ballots: campaign swag in the same room where they’re voting.

In typical Kentucky elections, as much as holding a campaign sign within 100 feet of a polling station is illegal. State law also prohibits people from distributing campaign literature or soliciting signatures and votes within that same distance of a voting location.

But the March 5 presidential caucus is no regular election run. Unlike typical Kentucky elections, local county clerks and state officials aren’t involved. The caucus will be made up of multiple private events held by the Republican Party of Kentucky, and the party gets to do things its way.

Republicans will choose candidates for the party’s presidential nomination at events organized by local county Republican parties. Material from the campaigns and the party will be among the first things voters see when they go to their caucus sites on March 5, RPK Executive Director Mike Biagi said.

Kevin Willis

Four special elections in March could alter the political landscape of Kentucky state government, furthering the Republican Party’s lunge for control of the state House.

The elections on March 8 will be for four state House seats in districts surrounding Hopkinsville, South Shore, Danville and Georgetown. The seats were vacated by two Republicans and two Democrats.

As the General Assembly’s 2016 legislative session begins today, Democrats hold 50 seats and Republicans hold 46. Republicans, who have not controlled the state House since the 1920s, could evenly divide the 100-member House with victories in the special elections.

All 100 seats are up for reelection in November.

Momentum is on the GOP’s side. In November, Bevin became just the second Republican governor in more than 40 years. Republicans also won the state auditor and treasurer posts from Democratic hands.

Kentucky LRC

Crafting a state budget for the next two years will suck up most of the attention during the upcoming legislative session, which begins Tuesday. But lawmakers will also be pushing for — or against — several other key bills.

And the legislative process will be complicated by the turbulent political environment in the state Capitol.

Democratic leaders in the state House of Representatives — the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats — will try to maintain a slim majority of seats after two defections and two resignations from their ranks.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans and newly elected Republican Gov. Matt Bevin will push for a battery of conservative priorities, likely putting increasing political pressure on Democrats.

The Budget

Bevin has said the state must undergo across-the-board spending cuts in the next two-year spending plan. Budget architects will be looking under the couch cushions to find money to pay for Kentucky’s depleted pension systems and mounting Medicaid obligations.

Bevin and lawmakers haven’t hinted at what services or agencies will be targeted.

WFPL News

For decades, Republicans have predicted that Kentucky was becoming a Red State.

The prediction seemed more reliable than ever late last year, when Matt Bevin was elected governor. Bevin, a Republican businessman, promised reforms seen currently in much of the conservative South.

“I think Kentucky is now moving into that red column, and we are joining our neighbors to the South,” said Steve Robertson, then the chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky.

Bevin, who was supported by Tea Party factions in the Republican Party, promised to scale back the state’s expansion of Medicaid — which he started working on Wednesday — as well as setting his sights on other welfare programs in the state.

Among his proposals was a plan to drug-test welfare recipients. Bevin said during the Republican gubernatorial primary he would also take aim at what he calls “New Deal-type” programs.

The broad spectrum of plans from the new governor means Kentucky could start looking like the state’s southern neighbors, and welfare for low-income people could be scarcer than it’s been in the past couple decades.

Rand Paul’s presidential campaign is still not gaining speed.

At this point, it’s a running theme.

Last week, Paul barely made it on to the main stage (again) for the Republican presidential debate, and many pundits are expecting Paul to drop out of the race any day now.

Kentucky LRC

In November, Ohioans will vote by public referendum whether to legalize marijuana in the state.

But in Kentucky, where statewide ballot initiatives are not permitted, the path to legalization must run through the state legislature. And while recent efforts have coalesced behind legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, lawmakers haven’t exactly been forthcoming with their support.

Jaime Montalvo, founder of Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana, said most state lawmakers are reluctant to have their names tied to the cause, which can be easily muddied in attacks from opponents.

“They know something has to happen, but they don’t know how. It’s just overwhelming to them, I think,” he said. “We’re trying to get them to, when they hear the words ‘marijuana’ or ‘cannabis,’ they think of somebody that is really sick and out of options and needs a better quality of life, instead of somebody wearing bell bottoms and a tie-dye shirt, smoking a joint [and] walking down the street.”

During this year’s legislative session, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, proposed legislation that would have legalized some forms of marijuana for medical use. The bill never made it out of committee.

Jacob Ryan, WFPL

Republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin won’t say whether he plans to attend a private meeting hosted by the Kentucky Coal Association and representatives of the energy industry.

KCA President Bill Bissett said Monday that Bevin and Democratic candidate Jack Conway were invited to speak at the group’s annual meeting, which is scheduled for October.

Conway’s campaign told Kentucky Public Radio he would attend. But in an interview on Tuesday, Bevin refused to give a straight answer about whether he would go to the closed-door retreat.

“There’s things that are on my agenda and there’s things that are not on my agenda, and things that will be made aware to the outside world and some that won’t,” Bevin said when asked if he would attend.

In June, Bevin and Conway both appeared at a private event in Virginia attended by luminaries of the nation’s coal industry. The media was not made aware of that event, where the two candidates took questions from Bissett and audience members and sparred with one another, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

US Geological Survey, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Kentucky Coal Association is under fire for again planning a closed-door meeting with the state’s leading gubernatorial candidates.

KCA President Bill Bissett told CN2 last week that the major party candidates for Kentucky governor — Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway — would be speaking during private events at the association’s annual meeting in October.

This would be the second private meeting between energy industry representatives and the state’s leading gubernatorial candidates. Bissett moderated a secret debate this summer in Virginia between Conway and Bevin before coal industry leaders.

The closed-door meetings have drawn criticism from media outlets. In a recent column, Courier-Journal political reporter Joseph Gerth wrote that open discussions are especially important in the close gubernatorial election “because neither of the candidates has been terribly accessible.”

If you missed the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 race Thursday evening, our friends at It's All Politics have wall-to-wall coverage. If you want a quickie, here's a 100-word recap — and video clip — of what happened:

Abbey Oldham

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell will headline a Republican fundraising event in late August for gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, who last year launched a primary challenge against the longtime senator.

The event will be hosted by Alliance Coal CEO Joe Craft and former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Knight, both of whom chaired the Kentucky fundraising committee for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

McConnell, Craft and Knight’s presence at the event shows a measure of unity among establishment Republicans, who some had speculated wouldn’t aid Bevin after last year’s contentious GOP Senate primary.

Bevin was the benefactor of infighting between two GOP establishment candidates during the primary. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Louisville businessman sparred during the race, which led to a narrow Bevin victory and speculations about a fractured Republican party.

But Bevin and McConnell have repeatedly assured Kentuckians that the GOP is united around Bevin, despite snubs between the two men after McConnell trounced Bevin in last year’s primary last year.

In an invitation sent out on Tuesday morning, attendees are asked to donate $1,000 to Bevin’s campaign for the general election as well as $1,000 for his primary campaign. According to June campaign finance records, Bevin still had almost $111,000 in outstanding debts for the primary, which was in May.

WKU PBS

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell weighed in on the 2016 presidential race at a luncheon in downtown Lexington Thursday. 

The Senate Majority Leader warned against the crowded field of Republican candidates getting too contentious. There are fourteen politicians jockeying to secure the Republican nomination for president next year.

McConnell warned against the race becoming unnecessarily brutal.

“You saw in the Kentucky governor’s primary if you get into a fight with somebody else in a multi-field candidate you could end up taking yourself down and whoever you’re feuding with down and somebody else benefits from it.”   

Former Republican candidates for governor Hal Heiner and James Comer launched attacks at one another, and on Election Day got bested by Matt Bevin, who stayed out of the fight for the most part. McConnell never made an official endorsement in the primary. It was widely speculated he and Bevin didn’t get along-- Bevin never endorsed McConnell after getting beaten by him in last year’s U.S. Senate race.

WFPL News

Campaign finance records filed last week reveal a late burst of six-figure donations to James Comer in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for Kentucky governor last month, with similar sums going to a political organization aiming to defeat the eventual primary winner, Matt Bevin.

These latest records shed light on so-called “unauthorized campaign committees,” which can raise and spend money to support or oppose candidates — without the authorization of candidates themselves. Unlike personal donations that are capped at $1,000 in Kentucky, the committees can donate as much as they’d like.

According to candidates’ reports filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, two of these committees spent $743,250 during the period May 6-June 18, about half for Comer, half against Bevin.

Last month Bevin defeated Comer by 83 votes to win the Republican nomination to oppose Democrat Jack Conway in the Nov. 3 election for governor. A millionaire businessman from Louisville, Bevin received no support from unauthorized committees in the May-June reporting period.

omer’s 11th-hour boost came from Kentuckians for Growth, Opportunity & Prosperity, a committee headed by investment adviser and Republican fundraiser Richard Knock of Union, in Northern Kentucky. It gave Comer $315,000, mostly in the week before the primary. The money helped Comer pay for more than $300,000 in TV ads in May.

Congressman John Yarmuth Is Running For Re-Election

Jun 22, 2015

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth on Monday announced that he will seek a sixth term in office.

Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, said announcing ahead of a formal filing would also help him raise funds should he have a serious Republican challenger in 2016. Even though he can’t officially file until later this year, he said it was important for him to clear the air before officially filing.

Office of Lt. Gov.

Kentucky’s highest female office-holder is hoping more women will become political candidates.

Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen, speaking to the Bowling Green Noon Rotary Club Wednesday,  said a recent study showing Kentucky near the bottom of the nation in the number of women office holders is proof there’s a problem.

The report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research ranks Kentucky 46th in the nation when it comes to the number of females holding elected office.

“I think women have to work harder to prove themselves. I think often they are considered not to have the strength that a man has, or the power that a man has. And the truth is women are doing everyday an incredibly courageous job of balancing complicated lives and careers.”

Despite her concerns, Luallen said she believes an increasing number of younger women in Kentucky are beginning to believe they can succeed at all aspects of running for office.

“They can raise money successfully, they can convince people to support them—it’s a very, very achievable goal to run for office as a woman.”

Kentucky earns a “D” grade for political participation among women in a recently released report, but the state’s overall results show a complex landscape.

Kentucky ranks 46th out of 50 states for its number of women holding elected office in the state, according to the Status of Women report released by The Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

But women in the state take advantage of voting rights more than men, the study said.

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