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Republicans expand super majorities in Kentucky legislature

November 4, 2020 GMT
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters during a press conference in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. McConnell secured a seventh term in Kentucky, fending off Democrat Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot in a costly campaign. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters during a press conference in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. McConnell secured a seventh term in Kentucky, fending off Democrat Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot in a costly campaign. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republicans expanded their overwhelming majorities in Kentucky’s General Assembly in Tuesday’s election, dominating rural races and fending off Democratic efforts to gain traction in more suburban districts.

Most GOP candidates benefited from the top of their statewide ticket, with President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell notching lopsided wins. Republicans solidified their control of rural districts as Democrats saw their ranks continue to dwindle.

A day after his party’s election thrashing, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear responded to the Republican gains by saying he’s willing to work with anyone to move the state forward.

With some races still too close to call, Republican House Speaker David Osborne said the GOP ultimately could pick up 13 seats — six held by Democratic incumbents and seven open seats previously held by Democrats. That could give the GOP a whopping 75 seats in the 100-seat House, a veto-proof majority that would allow them to make life difficult for Beshear.

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“Our candidates campaigned hard on issues like creating good jobs, protecting life and leading our state through the COVID pandemic and I know from talking to them that they’re ready to get to work for their state,” Osborne said Wednesday.

In the suburbs, two prominent GOP lawmakers — state Rep. Jason Nemes and Sen. Chris McDaniel — won reelection after being targeted by Democrats. McDaniel is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

In the state Senate, Republicans claimed the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Julian Carroll with Adrienne Southworth’s victory. She is a former aide to ex-Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton.

Republicans could come out of the election holding 30 of the Senate’s 38 seats, though one race in a Democratic-held district remained too close to call.

Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer called it a “victory for conservative values.”

“And I also think it was a repudiation of Gov. Andy Beshear’s lockdown policies,” he said. “I think lockdowns were on the ballot and they lost. People want us to restore their voice to the legislative process, and to have more input into the management of this pandemic.”

The Democratic governor issued a series of virus-related executive actions to restrict activity — steps he said were needed to save lives amid the public health crisis.

The wins pad the GOP’s super majority status in the Kentucky House and Senate. Just a year ago, Democrats were celebrating Beshear’s election as governor. Now Beshear will have to deal will an even more-solidly Republican legislature in the 2021 session, which will be dominated by work on a new state budget and efforts to help an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Beshear said Wednesday that the focus should be on creating policies to advance the state as he urged Republican lawmakers to put politics aside. He promised to do his part.

“Not every relationship when you’re governor is always smooth,” he said. “But I’ve shown that I’m willing to work with anybody who’s willing to work with us, without the slings and arrows or the rest.”

McConnell, who won a seventh Senate term Tuesday, saw the statewide results as a continuation of a long-trending movement toward the GOP in a state that Democrats long dominated.

“Kentucky has undergone a political transformation. It was happening, but really speeded up after (President Barack) Obama and Trump,” McConnell said at a news conference Wednesday.

Most Democrats continued to struggle in races outside of the urban-suburban cores of Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky. Elsewhere, many Democratic candidates came up short in an election swayed by national politics, said Republican political consultant T.J. Litafik.

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“If Kentucky Democrats have any chance to rebound, they are going to have to reboot and understand that their messaging just isn’t working in rural and even some suburban areas,” he said.

Veteran Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said Tuesday’s outcome means Beshear will have to regroup as he prepares to deal with the larger Republican majorities in the legislature.

Republicans have accused the governor of not communicating with them about his coronavirus-related actions. Top GOP lawmakers have responded by signaling that the governor’s executive power authority could be reviewed during the 30-day session that begins in January.

“When you rack up majorities this big, you’re going to be feeling your oats and not inclined to give much ground,” Cross said of GOP lawmakers.

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