FRANKFORT (AP) — Republicans opened a new era in complete control of the Kentucky General Assembly on Tuesday with the Senate convening and the GOP formally taking charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in nearly 100 years.
With GOP Gov. Matt Bevin watching from the front row, the House of Representatives unanimously elected Jeff Hoover as the state’s first Republican Speaker of the House since 1921. Hoover, a criminal defense attorney from Jamestown, urged his colleagues to put the divisive campaign season behind them now that Republicans control the legislative and executive functions of state government for the first time in living memory.
“The people of Kentucky — from the breaks of the Big Sandy to the confluence of the mighty Mississippi and Ohio rivers at Wickliffe — the people are uneasy,” Hoover declared in a speech shortly after taking the oath of office. “The people of Kentucky are depending on this body to provide a climate in this state where they can see greater opportunities for themselves and for their families.”
Republicans have vowed to restrict abortion and become the last southern state to outlaw mandatory labor union membership. Standing in their way will be a significantly weaker Democratic minority, which took nearly two hours behind closed doors to elect new leaders on Tuesday. State Rep. Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, elected the new minority leader without opposition, said Democrats would “be with the majority when we can” while becoming “the loyal opposition when we need to be.”
Signs of change were evident across the capitol grounds as “wet paint” signs adorned the walls of the legislative office building, above boxes of old business cards of Democratic lawmakers who had been ousted from office. Democratic leaders will soon move out to make way for the other party’s leaders, and lawmakers will meet to get organized, assigning members to committees and voting on the rules that will govern the session — rules that, for the first time in nearly a century, will be written by Republicans.
“We are well aware of the many feelings of uneasiness and the uncertainty that you are experiencing,” Hoover told Democrats during his speech. “As your speaker, as the Speaker for all Kentuckians, it is my intent to do all that I can do to be responsive and inclusive of every member in the legislative process.”
Republicans won 64 out of the 100 House seats in the November elections, taking them from a minority to a super majority. The GOP also has an overwhelming Senate majority. The turnover in Kentucky cemented Republicans control over every state legislature in the South.
Senate President Robert Stivers on Tuesday called the historic House takeover the culmination of “a trend that started almost 20 years ago that has basically closed the circle.”