Kentucky Politics

A Republican-sponsored bill in the Kentucky legislature would require the governor to replace a departing U.S. senator with someone from the same political party.

The proposal is supported by Kentucky’s 78-year-old U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell and comes as state lawmakers continue to try and chip away at Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s powers.

Senate Bill 228 would be a big change from how Kentucky governors currently fill senate vacancies — picking whomever they want.

Instead, the governor would have to pick a replacement from a list of three nominees selected by the state party of the departing senator.

The proposal is sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester.

Robert Steurer, McConnell’s spokesperson, wrote in a statement that the U.S. Senate minority leader has reviewed and supports the bill.

“Leader McConnell has discussed the legislation with President Stivers and is fully supportive of the measure,” Steurer wrote.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states, including Kentucky, allow governors to fill a vacancy created by a senator who leaves office before the end of their term. Only five of those states require the replacement to be a member of the same political party as the departing senator.

The other 13 states require the vacancy to be filled by special election.

The bill would all but ensure McConnell isn’t replaced by a Democrat if he decides to retire or is unable to complete his term while Beshear is still in office.

During a press conference on Monday, Beshear said he found the bill “concerning.”

“I believe that we’ve got to believe in the institution of government, of the separation of powers, more than we believe in our party,” Beshear said.

Beshear is the only Democrat elected to statewide office in Kentucky and has been battling a Republican-controlled legislature that has passed several measures to weaken his executive powers during this year’s lawmaking session.

Though there have been more Democrats than Republicans registered in Kentucky throughout history, Republicans have made big registration and electoral gains in recent years while Democrats have dropped off significantly.

The state’s party registration breakdown is currently 46.59% Democrats to 44.14% Republicans.

The state hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1992.

The proposal to change how Kentucky governors fill U.S. Senate vacancies also comes at a time when McConnell’s job has gotten a lot harder.

McConnell has led the caucus since 2007. After Democrats took control of the U.S. Senate this year, he was relegated to the minority party for the first time since 2015.

And since the defeat of former President Donald Trump, McConnell has been caught in the middle of a schism within the Republican Party on the state and national level.

He has both condemned the former president’s for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and called the impeachment trial over those charges unconstitutional.

This story has been updated.

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