Kentucky Politics

A Republican lawmaker has proposed eliminating Kentucky’s office of lieutenant governor and putting the president of the state Senate first in line of succession to the governor as a cost-saving measure.

The proposal comes as Kentucky enters another budget writing year when expenses are predicted to outpace the amount of money the state brings in.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, a Republican from Leitchfield, said it doesn’t make sense for Kentucky to have a lieutenant governor amid its financial struggles.

“You look at that particular office and it has no constitutional responsibilities other than to succeed the governor should he or she leave office,” Meredith said.

Since a 1992 constitutional amendment eliminated most of the duties of lieutenant governor, the office has been largely ceremonial.

But some governors in recent history have given their lieutenant governors official duties — current Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman also serves as secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and on the state board of education.

Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, who served under Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, had a dual role as the head of the state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Meredith commended Beshear for giving Coleman more duties, but said in the future the money would be better spent by hiring a standalone cabinet secretary.

“I think it’s strong evidence to the people of Kentucky that we’re sincere about spending our dollars as wisely and prudently as we can so that’s the primary reason for doing this,” Meredith said.

Towards the end of his one term in office, former Gov. Matt Bevin feuded with his lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton. Bevin passed over Hampton when selecting a running mate for his failed reelection bid and later fired two of her three staffers.

Hampton sued Bevin over the move, but a judge ruled that lieutenant governors don’t have the power to hire or fire their own staff.

Meredith’s proposal would make the president of the state Senate the governor’s successor if the governor dies, resigns or is incapacitated while in office — as long as that person is of the same political party as the governor.

If the senate president were not the same party as a departing governor, the line of succession would go to the minority leader of the senate.

Meredith said he hopes that element of the bill helps it get bipartisan support.

“It just makes sense to me that if the current governor were to leave office then it would go to the minority floor leader in the senate. It just seems fair to me,” Meredith said.

If it were to pass, the measure would apply to the next gubernatorial election in 2023. The General Assembly can consider it during the upcoming legislative session, which begins on Jan. 7.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.