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Kentucky Senate Republicans choose new leadership team

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By Jack Brammer, Lexington Herald Leader

Kentucky Senate Republicans last week chose two new faces to lead them for the next two years.

In a meeting behind closed doors in the Capitol Annex, they elected David Givens, who runs a farm supply business in Greensburg, for the chamber’s No. 2 position of president pro tem, and Jimmy Higdon, a Lebanon grocer, to be majority whip.

Retaining their leadership positions were Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester, Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown and Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum of Louisville.

Stivers and Givens will have to be selected by a vote of all 38 Senate members when the 2015 General Assembly begins in January, but that will be a formality because Republicans hold 26 of the chamber’s seats.

Givens replaces Katie Stine of Southgate, who did not seek re-election to the Senate this year.

At the GOP caucus, which lasted about an hour, Higdon defeated Brandon Smith of Hazard to become majority whip, and Seum turned back a challenge from Paul Hornback of Shelby County to remain majority caucus chairman.

Vote totals in the contested elections, conducted by secret ballot, weren’t released. Four of the 26 Senate Republicans could not make the meeting but allowed their votes to be cast by proxy.

Leadership positions are important; leaders decide the flow of legislation and make committee appointments.

Senate Democrats are to select their leaders Monday. House Democrats and Republicans will choose their leaders in the first week of the 2015 session, which begins Jan. 6.

Givens and Higdon said they were pleased and honored to join Senate Republican leadership.

Higdon will vacate his position as chairman of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee to be in leadership.

Stivers said the leaders hope to announce committee assignments after a retreat Dec. 11 in Owensboro.

In addition to the veterans committee, new chairs are to be named for the Senate’s appropriations and revenue, and health and welfare committees.

Sen. Bob Leeper, an independent from Paducah who chaired the budget committee, didn’t seek re-election. He ran instead for McCracken County judge-executive and won.

Sen. Julie Denton, who led the health committee, won an election this month to the Louisville Metro Council.

Senate Republican leaders, in a news conference after Tuesday’s caucus, referred often to their “historic” majority of 26 Senate seats.

Stivers said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the Prestonsburg Democrat who leads the Democratic-controlled House with a 54-46 membership majority, should realize that Republicans eventually will take over the House.

“Speaker Stumbo is standing in a tunnel. And that light he is seeing is not the end. It is a train coming at him. It is a matter of time before that body changes,” Stivers said.

He said he hoped House Democratic leaders would “reassess their positions to see if they are in conformity with the rest of the state.”

Stumbo, in an email, said Stivers thinks that “exploiting bigotry; trampling on the rights of women, from controlling their bodies to denying them pay equity; opposing a minimum wage increase for struggling workers; denying health insurance for 500,000 Kentuckians; promoting the take-away of the right of people to have their day in court just to protect negligent doctors and caregivers” are in the best interests of the state.

“His party won some political victories by exploiting the race of the president, not because voters supported their radical platform,” said Stumbo. “The elections are over, and that light at the end of the tunnel is a beacon of hope carried by a lady riding an Arkansas Traveler that we will follow to return decency and common sense to our state and country.”

Stumbo was referring to the likely presidential bid of Hillary Clinton.