Kentucky Politics

Republicans in the Kentucky legislature are pushing for a bill that would make Louisville’s mayoral and Metro Council elections nonpartisan.

Louisville is one of a handful of cities in Kentucky that elect partisan city officials. A Democratic stronghold, the city — technically a consolidated city-county government since 2003 — hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1969.

The measure is sponsored by Lexington Rep. Stan Lee and Elizabethtown Rep. Jim DuPlessis, both Republicans and is viewed by some Democrats as a power grab from the GOP-dominated legislature.

Bill Dieruf is the nonpartisan mayor of Jeffersontown, an independent city within Metro Louisville. A registered Republican rumored to be considering a run for Louisville mayor, Dieruf said that on a local level, people shouldn’t care about political parties.

“Jefferson County has not moved the needle one inch amongst our competing cities. We need to do something, we need to have it where the ability to move forward is not stymied by the local law that says it has to be partisan,” Dieruf said.

Democrats hold 19 of the Louisville Metro Council’s 26 seats and the city’s electorate is comprised of 57% Democrats and 32% Republicans.

Kentucky’s second largest city, Lexington, also has a merged city-county structure but has a nonpartisan mayor and city council. The vast majority of Kentucky’s city governments are nonpartisan.

But Louisville Metro Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat, said that as a merged county government, Louisville should remain partisan like the rest of Kentucky’s 120 county governments.

“Are we really suggesting that those governments don’t work well and aren’t moving the needle for their constituents?” Hollander said. “And no one has file a bill to make those county elections in those counties nonpartisan.”

Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from Louisville, said that city elections need to remain partisan, accusing Republicans politicians of not being attentive to majority-black west Louisville.

“I know that representation matters and that we’re not well-represented unless we’re part of the party that we’re a part of,” Scott said.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican from Louisville, said that citizens should vote based on issues, not party.

“I absolutely object to anybody saying that a class of society is not smart enough to know how to vote unless they see a label,” Miller said.

House Bill 605 passed out of the Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday and can now be considered by the full House.

Correction: The year of Louisville’s county merger was 2003.

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