David Williams’ exit as Kentucky State Senate president will likely stir a recurring major issue: gambling.
The leading Kentucky state Senate Democrat said senate President David Williams’s departure should bring new life to efforts to bring casino gambling to Kentucky racetracks, while a leading voice against expanded gaming said the move was politically motivated.
“David’s been the lead opposition to the constitutional amendment,” said R.J. Palmer, the minority leader in the state Senate. ”He believes that it’s not the best move for the state. We’re not saying we’re not instituting gambling, we’re saying that this is one of those issues that rises to the level that it needs to be decided by the people of the state.”
On Friday, Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Williams — the senate president since 2000 and Beshear’s 2011 election opponent — to the vacant 40th Circuit Court judgeship.
Palmer, who lives in Winchester, said Williams’ exit plus the possible addition of new state senators in the upcoming election will boost efforts for a referendum to amend the Kentucky constitution and allow expanded gambling. Last year, an attempt to put a constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling failed to pass the General Assembly.
Martin Cothran, a spokesman for The Family Foundation, hailed Williams as a “staunch defender of the family” and lamented his departure.
Cothran accused Beshear of making the appointment to remove a formidable opponent to expanded gambling.
“This is an attempt by the governor to decapitate the opposition to his expanded gambling agenda in the General Assembly,” Cothran said in a statement issued after Williams’ appointment was announced.
“The governor is clearly executing his marching orders from the gambling industry. If we didn’t know better, we’d be expecting the next announcement from the governor to be that Churchill Downs was moving its executive offices to the State Capitol.”
Brett Hale, Churchill Downs’ chief lobbyist, would have no comment, said Courtney Norris, director of corporate communications for the Churchill Downs Inc.
In the Family Foundation statement, Cothran said he didn’t blame Williams for taking the post, but also said, “If lawmakers are smart, they will be lining up to oppose the Governor, hoping for a regular paycheck and a good retirement package. This provides us with a great recruitment tool in the General Assembly.”
In a statement announcing Williams’ appointment, Beshear said he chose the senate president because he’s an experienced lawyer who is familiar with the district.