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Kentucky lawmakers override veto of McConnell-backed Senate vacancy plan

Kentucky lawmakers override veto of McConnell-backed Senate vacancy plan

by Morgan Watkins | Louisville Courier Journal  |  Published on March 30, 2021

The Republican-run Kentucky legislature on Monday easily overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a notable bill that restricts his ability to fill any vacancies that arise if one of the state’s U.S. senators dies or leaves office early.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the commonwealth’s powerful senior senator, threw his support behind Senate Bill 228. That sparked speculation that the 79-year-old statesman, who just got reelected last fall, might be eyeing the exits.

However, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, SB 228’s lead sponsor, has said the longtime senator plans to stick around and McConnell himself has never given any public indication he doesn’t plan to serve out his new six-year term.

Historically, Kentucky’s governor has been able to choose anyone — of any political party — to fill in temporarily if a vacancy pops up in the Senate, whether that happens by the senator’s choice, expulsion or death.

SB 228 changes that appointment process in key ways. Most notably, it requires the governor to pick a temporary successor who shares the same political party as the departing senator.

It also makes them select that person from a list of three names provided by the executive committee of the departing senator’s state party.

SB 228 also includes fresh stipulations about how long the governor’s appointment to the Senate can last before voters get to elect someone to take over that seat — which depend largely on when the vacancy happens — as well as new rules about how such elections would work.

Kentucky hasn’t had a Democratic senator since January 1999, when former Sen. Wendell Ford retired. And with the state’s increasingly conservative electorate, SB 228 is designed to ensure the governor can’t appoint a Democrat to what’s likely to be a safe seat for Republicans.

When Beshear vetoed SB 228 earlier this month, he claimed the bill violates the U.S. Constitution’s 17th Amendment, which aimed “to remove the power to select U.S. senators from political party bosses.”

Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, likewise cited the 17th Amendment Monday night when she objected to overriding the veto. She also noted how SB 228 is part of a batch of bills GOP lawmakers have passed lately that strip Beshear of power.

“It wouldn’t be happening if we had a Republican governor,” Minter said of SB 228. “It’s a blatant power grab, and it’s something that strikes right at the heart of what people dislike about the political system.”

House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, pushed back against the criticism of SB 228 Monday night and pointed out it doesn’t get rid of the governor’s ability to appoint someone to fill U.S. Senate vacancies. It just adds some rules.

Rudy proposed a bill this year that would have entirely eliminated the governor’s appointment power for Senate seats, but the legislature passed SB 228 instead.

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