A view of the Kentucky legislative future from lawmakers leaving the House and Senate Chambers

Republished from WEKU.


The 2024 Kentucky General Assembly session will mark the end of public service, at least for now, for a number of senators and representatives. Several members of both chambers have opted to not seek re-election when their term concludes this year.

Day one of 60 at Kentucky’s Capitol includes some givens like swearing in of constitutional officers, approval of chamber rules-something which got more attention than usual, and the reading of a long list of bill filings. No major floor action on day one typically.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer surprised more than a few when he announced he would not seek another four-year term. The Georgetown lawmaker looks for the GOP number to grow, at least by one.

“On paper there’s only one district we could win and that’s Senator Webb’s district. I don’t think we could win it while she’s still in it but the day she decides not to run, we’ll pick up that seat. So I think we could get to 32. But, I don’t see us going backwards at all over the next few years,” said Thayer.

Senator Whitney Westerfield is also retiring from his senatorial seat after more than a decade in Frankfort. Westerfield, who chairs the much-watched Judiciary Committee, said the Republican majorities are likely to grow before, quote, “shrinking many years from now.” The Fruit Hill lawyer cites a current consumer privacy bill as a topic not on anyone’s radar when he came to the Senate.

“There are shifting thoughts and beliefs on different things. Other things are the kind of long-lasting close to permanent fixtures of our values that I don’t think change at all,” said Westerfield

That’s in the Senate. Over in the House the most senior representative among Democrats, Lexington’s Ruth Ann Palumbo is in her last session. The GOP- influenced legislative re-districting map was upheld by the State Supreme Court. Palumbo looks to the next re-drawing after the 2030 Census for political gains.

“Well redistricting always helps. So when we redistrict the next time we hope that there will be more democrats elected,” said Palumbo.

Palumbo believes her district will remain a “D” seat in the House. It may remain in the family as her son is running for the spot.

Northern Kentucky Representative Rachel Roberts is not seeking re-election, after two terms in Frankfort. She said Democrats running on policy issues can win seats in the House. Roberts cites voters rejecting the constitutional amendment on abortion.

“When we make just a binary choice for people and we say are you conservative or progressive..people are gonna answer one way. We saw that with amendment two. If you ask people are they pro choice or pro life and don’t give them other answers. But what we learned and what are constituents are learning is the nuance. So, I think that there is definitely middle ground that Kentuckians…Kentuckians are pragmatics,” said Roberts.

The capital city of Frankfort has been represented by Democrat Derrick Graham since 2003. He, holds the role of minority floor leader and is not seeking another term. Graham said whether Democrat or Republican, there’s more of a millennial feel to the legislature.

 “They are aggressive, which is nothing wrong with it. But when I got here I sat back and I looked and was mentored by others who had been here. And so, what we have now is younger people, who are being involved…which is great. I think it’s the best thing that could happen to both parties,” said Graham.

One approach to changing the makeup of a legislative body is implementing term limits, something discussed but never passed in Congress. Back in the Kentucky Senate, Damon Thayer said that would not be the answer at the state level.

“My birth state of Michigan…it has a horrible term limits law…essentially they turned over the state capitol to the non-elected bureaucrats. I’ve seen people I know ascend to become Speaker of the House in their fifth year and in their seventh year, they’re gone,” said Thayer.

The next opportunity for any change in legislative makeup will come along this November.

Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.