State Watch

Kentucky legislature limits governor’s Senate appointment power

The Kentucky legislature has passed a bill that would require a governor to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat with a member of the departed senator’s party in a move sure to spark the political rumor mill around Frankfort.

The bill would require a sitting governor to choose a replacement for a vacant Senate seat from a list of three candidates chosen by the top leadership of the former senator’s political party.

Both houses of Kentucky’s legislature are controlled by Republican supermajorities. They likely have the votes to override a veto that Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, could issue.

Kentucky’s two U.S. Senate seats are held by Republicans, both of whom have had health challenges in the last few years — but both of whom say they aren’t going anywhere any time soon. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 79, suffered a fractured shoulder in a fall in 2019. He had triple bypass surgery in 2003. In 2020, he was photographed with bruised and bandaged hands, which he has declined to explain. 

“I can just tell you that I’m just fine. And I can’t believe y’all have played with that all week long,” McConnell told The Washington Post in October. 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), 58, was assaulted by a neighbor in 2017, an attack that left him with five broken ribs. Part of Paul’s lung was removed in 2019 as a consequence of the attack.

Both senators intend to stick around.

“This bill improves how vacancies are currently filled and guarantees Kentucky would not go without representation in the U.S. Senate for an extended period of time,” McConnell said in a statement. “It would also ensure Kentucky voters have the ability to choose who they think will best represent them in a timely manner, as opposed to leaving that decision to the governor, regardless of party.”

Stephanie Penn, McConnell’s spokeswoman, said the minority leader is not leaving. 

“Dr. Paul fully intends to serve out the remainder of this term and the next one too,” said Kelsey Cooper, Paul’s spokeswoman.

In comments to The Associated Press last week, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R) acknowledged that the bill had fueled speculation about McConnell’s health. Stivers said he raised the prospect with McConnell. 

“Let me make this definitive statement: He is not sick, he is not leaving — maybe to some people’s chagrin — but he plans to be there,” Stivers told the AP.

Paul’s seat comes up for election in 2022. McConnell won reelection to a seventh term in 2020, with 58 percent of the vote. 

Kentucky would be the seventh state to require a governor to choose a member of the former senator’s political party, following Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming.

Tags Andy Beshear Kentucky Mitch McConnell Rand Paul

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