FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Democrats gained another chance Monday to increase their numbers in the GOP-led state Senate when Gov. Steve Beshear opened up a seat by appointing a longtime Republican senator to serve as a judge.
Beshear, a Democrat, appointed Sen. Dan Kelly to be circuit
judge in Kentucky's 11th Judicial Circuit, which represents four
counties southeast of Louisville. Republicans held a 20-17-1 lead - including one independent who tends to side with the GOP - in the state Senate before Kelly's departure.
"I made the decision based on his qualifications," Beshear
Some critics, however, said the move appeared to be an attempt to sway the Senate's balance of power and win passage of one of the governor's pet projects: expanded gambling. Beshear wants Kentucky to legalize video slot machines at the state's race tracks to benefit the horse industry. He based his 2007 campaign for governor on the issue.
A Beshear-backed bill to allow video gambling machines at race tracks cleared the Democrat-led House earlier this year, but
stalled in the Senate.
The governor said he considered Kelly's appointment to the
$124,620-per-year job as circuit judge over the weekend. Kelly was among three candidates whose names were sent to Beshear late Friday by a nominating commission.
By picking Kelly, Beshear gives the Democrats a chance to narrow the GOP lead by one in a special election he has called for Dec. 1.
"I have made the comment that in order to move forward on that issue (gambling) and to save 100,000 jobs of hardworking
Kentuckians, we apparently either need to change the minds of some of the current senators, or we need to change some senators," Beshear told reporters. "I am still open to both of those approaches."
But Beshear said he didn't base his pick on politics.
Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican, had
predicted that Beshear would appoint Kelly to the judicial vacancy.
Williams said at the time Beshear was "poisoning" the state's
political atmosphere by dangling jobs to lure Republicans out of
Beshear has also recently appointed former Senate budget
committee chairman Charlie Borders, a Republican, to a $117,000 per year job on the Kentucky Public Service Commission. Republicans subsequently lost Borders' seat to a Democrat in a special election that hinged largely on the gambling issue.
"This is just another play in the governor's full-court press
to enable gambling interests to influence elections," Williams
said in a prepared statement.
Kelly said he appreciated both the nominating committee and
Beshear for appointing him to the bench and plans to run for the judgeship again in the November 2010 election. Kelly said he did not think his former constituents were upset by his move.
"I have not found that as I've gone about my district," Kelly
said. "I think most people have said that they appreciate what I
did as senator and they wish me the best in this new role."
Martin Cothran, a spokesman for the anti-gambling group "Say No To Casinos," said Beshear was making a politically motivated judicial appointment. But Cothran did not criticize Kelly for accepting the position.
"I don't think Senator Kelly is making a political power play
here, the governor is," Cothran said. "Dan wants to be a judge.
When someone offers you something that you think you're qualified for and that you've always wanted, it's hard to refuse."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)