Kentucky Republicans pass bill to remove Democratic governor’s role in Senate vacancy

Kentucky lawmakers have officially passed a bill that removes any involvement of the state’s Democratic governor in the selection process of a U.S. Senate seat vacancy within the home state of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is 82 years old.

The legislation proposes a special election to fill any vacant Senate seat in Kentucky. The winner of the special election would then serve for the remaining duration of the unexpired term.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers presented the bill to his colleagues, emphasizing that it would enable the direct voice of the people to determine how the vacancy is filled.

After a short discussion, the bill was passed by the state Senate with a vote of 34-3, and it will now be sent to Gov. Andy Beshear for consideration. Despite the governor’s criticism, labeling the measure as partisan, there is still a possibility that the GOP supermajority legislature could override a potential veto during the final two days of this year’s session in mid-April.

Republican House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy is the primary sponsor of the bill. He clarified that the measure is not related to McConnell but rather aligns with his longstanding policy position on filling vacant Senate seats.

Rudy describes McConnell as a close friend and a guiding influence in his political career. He acknowledges McConnell’s significant contribution to the Republican Party’s ascendancy in the Kentucky legislature.

Rudy has proposed a bill that aims to address Senate vacancies in a similar manner as vacancies for congressional or legislative seats in Kentucky. According to the bill, a special election would be conducted to fill the vacant seat. It is worth noting that the bill incorporates an emergency clause, ensuring its immediate implementation upon becoming law.

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In February, Rudy submitted the bill, which received clearance from a House committee just one day after McConnell’s announcement of stepping down from his longstanding Senate leadership position in November. This decision sparked a wave of speculation in Kentucky regarding the future of his seat.

During his speech on the Senate floor, McConnell indicated that he may consider running for another term in 2026, confidently stating, “I have no plans of leaving anytime soon.”

According to aides, McConnell’s announcement is not related to his health. It is worth noting that the senator had suffered a concussion from a fall last year and experienced two public incidents where his face momentarily froze while speaking.

Rudy has been discussing the need to change the process of filling a Senate vacancy for over ten years now. His stance on this issue stems from the scandal involving former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted for various crimes, including attempting to sell the appointment to Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. It is worth noting that Rudy’s district in far western Kentucky shares a border with Illinois.

Beshear, who easily won re-election last November against a candidate supported by McConnell, had already experienced a significant decrease in his ability to choose a senator due to Republican legislators.

In 2021, the legislature stripped the governor of their autonomous authority to temporarily fill a Senate seat. This new measure restricts the governor to selecting a replacement from a list of three names, provided by party leaders within the same political party as the former senator. It is worth noting that both of Kentucky’s U.S. senators belong to the Republican Party. The measure officially became law when GOP lawmakers successfully overrode Beshear’s veto.

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