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A Democratic Governor's GOP Employment Program

Kentucky Republicans see an ulterior motive Steve Beshear's bipartisanship.

Steve Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, is appointing Republicans to key offices--and other Republicans don't like it.

Beshear's display of bipartisanship, GOP leaders say, comes with an ulterior motive. The governor is trying to win back a majority for his own party in the currently Republican state Senate--or at least enough votes to enact his top priority, an expansion of gambling to aid the state's struggling horse racing industry. A Senate committee blocked a gambling bill in June, but since then Beshear has appointed two anti-gambling Republican senators to other posts, opening up their seats to special election. In July, he named Senator Charles Borders to the Public Service Commission. In October, Senator Dan Kelly, who had been the Republican Majority Leader, accepted a judgeship. Both new jobs came with six-figure salaries and large pensions.

Many governors have tried to use appointments to remove unsympathetic legislators over the years, but few have done so as brazenly as Beshear. On the other hand, a lot is at stake. In a state where the Democrats often tend to be almost as conservative as the Republicans, gambling is one of the defining differences between the parties. The Kentucky House of Representatives has a solid Democratic and pro-gambling majority, but the Republican-controlled Senate consistently has thwarted the governor's efforts.

Kelly and Borders were among the only anti-gambling Republicans who represented districts that Democrats thought they'd have good chance to win. Their hunch was right: A Democrat won Borders' seat in October by 282 votes. That reduced the Republican margin in the Senate to 20-17, with one Republican-leaning independent. Voters go to the polls to choose a successor to Kelly on December 8.

Even if the Democrat wins, Beshear still will be one seat short of a majority. But that might not matter. David Williams, the Republican Senate president who has blocked gambling bills from coming to a floor vote, is under increasing pressure from his own party to reconsider. "The racing industry has been big-time supporters of the Republicans in the past," says Larry Dale Keeling, a columnist with the Lexington Herald-Leader, "and now that money is drying up."

This dynamic has Republicans worried, especially because their Senate majority is the only thing standing between the Democrats and complete control of the redistricting process that will follow the 2010 Census. (Half the Senate is up for reelection in November 2010.) Since Williams has kept gambling bills off the Senate floor, no one knows for sure how many votes there might be in favor of gambling. But a few Republican senators are known to favor it, and with Beshear cutting into the size of their caucus, they may soon persuade Williams to let the matter come up for a vote.

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Josh Goodman

Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..

Twitter: @governing


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