In Kentucky, Republicans Float New Power Grab To Keep Senate Seats Red

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at the U.S. Capitol and walks to his office on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify Pres... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at the U.S. Capitol and walks to his office on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) MORE LESS
February 17, 2021 1:58 p.m.

A top Republican in the Kentucky Senate has proposed a bill to strip Governor Andy Beshear (D) of his powers to autonomously fill any vacancies in the state’s U.S. Senate seats. 

Instead, the legislation put forth by Senate President Robert Stivers (R) would require that Beshear pick a name off a list provided by the executive committee of the party to which the departing senator belonged. 

That replacement could serve up to 18 months, depending on the timing of the former senator’s departure, before a special election would be held to choose the replacement senator.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office has sent out a statement expressing his support of the bill. He is 78 and fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R), 58. Neither has expressed the intention to retire. 

Should the bill pass, Kentucky would join only six other states that require the governor’s appointee to be the same party as the departing senator.

Beshear condemned the bill at a Monday press conference.

“It’s really concerning when we start changing the rules of the game simply because of the party of the person who’s in a specific seat,” he said, adding that “whether or not we change the way that a vacancy is filled shouldn’t be decided based on who’s currently in the office.”

The vacancy bill is just the latest episode in the Republican crusade to defang the Democratic governor. At the beginning of the session in January, Republicans lost no time introducing a slew of bills that would reduce Beshear’s unilateral authority to reorganize the executive branch, take away his power to shut down businesses and schools amid the pandemic and put an expiration date on some of his emergency orders.

While describing the bill as a “power grab,” Josh Douglas, an election law professor at the University of Kentucky, emphasized the relatively short length of the term the appointed replacement would serve. 

“I can see a reasonable argument for why a temporary replacement should be of the same party as the departing Senator, who the voters initially chose,” he told TPM.

“So, while it’s still a power grab, surely prompted by the desire to take away as much of Beshear’s powers as possible, it’s perhaps less concerning than it might initially appear,” he added.

It’s not clear that the vacancy bill will pass into law. Kentucky Republicans enjoy veto-proof majority in both chambers, but they’re currently working within a shortened session, meaning that other bills may take precedence. 

“We’ve had a number of governors in my lifetime and this is the first time this has been attempted,” Beshear said of the vacancy bill. “It’s being done with a backdrop where, whether it’s emergency powers or the governor’s office of agricultural policy or a number of other bills out there about stripping governors — this governor — of the authority every other governor has had.”

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