Kentucky Democrats’ hold on the state House slipped further on Monday, when with another state representative switching to the ascendant Republican Party.
State Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence in Western Kentucky has switched from Democrat to Republican, House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover announced.
Democrats have for decades controlled the state House, the last legislative body in the South controlled by their party. But Gooch’s defection means Democrats now control 50 of 100 seats. Republicans hold 48 seats.
In a statement, Hoover said Gooch will seek reelection as a Republican in next year’s election.
“His extensive background in natural resources issues and unwavering support for our coal industry will be a tremendous benefit to our caucus, and I know he will continue to serve the people of the 12th House District, as well as the commonwealth as a whole, with integrity,” Hoover said. “He is a welcome addition to the House Republican ranks, which currently stands at 48 members.”
Gooch said his choice to switch parties was driven largely by his opposition to national Democrats, namely President Obama. In a statement, Gooch listed energy and gun rights issues that led to his defection to the Republicans.
“As I seek re-election in 2016, a Presidential Election year, I want to run as a member of a party that I can support that party’s nominee. I cannot support any of the Democrats running for President,” Gooch said in a statement.
“At a recent political gathering Speaker Stumbo acknowledged that the Democrat party was the ‘Party of Barack Obama.’ I deliberated that thought and I came to the conclusion that I could be a member of the party of Obama, but that I cannot be a member of the party that SUPPORTS BARRACK OBAMAS (sic) POLICIES! The majority of Democrats do support his radical agenda.”
The 2016 legislative session begins next week. Four seats will be vacant and will be filled in special elections. Two of those vacant seats were held by Republicans Mike Harmon and Ryan Quarles, who will this week assume the offices of state auditor and agriculture commissioner, respectively.
State Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat, was recently tapped to become the secretary of the Justice and Public Protection Cabinet in Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration. And state Rep. Tanya Pullin, a Democrat from South Shore, was appointed this month to an administrative law judgeship.
Gooch has served in the state House since 1995, according to the Legislative Research Commission. He’s been known, in part, for his staunch support of the coal industry. Amid the fallout of the John Arnold sexual harassment scandal, Gooch was also accused of past inappropriate behavior.
Gooch is the second House Democrat, after Louisville Rep. Denny Butler, to switch to the Republican Party this month.
Last month, Kentucky Republicans were emboldened by a string of victories in statewide elections, including Bevin’s. GOP leaders said they would next endeavor to take the state House, the Democrat’s last stronghold in state government.
In a short statement on Monday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said: “We’ll see them on Election Day.”
Earlier this month, following Tilley’s departure, Stumbo issued strong words for Republicans and Democrats considering a party change.
“There will be takers, we’ve seen that,” he said. “That’s true all throughout our society. There are those who don’t have the character. We see them every day, I see them in the court of justice. We call them criminals.”
This story has been updated.