Politics

Kentucky Republicans are a member closer toward their goal of wresting control of the state House from the Democratic Party.

Democratic State Rep. Denny Butler of Louisville on Thursday filed to run for re-election in 2016 as a Republican, and House GOP leaders welcomed him into their caucus.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Rep. Butler as the newest member of the House Republican caucus,” House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover said via Twitter Thursday. “Outstanding representative and person.”

State GOP Chairman Mac Brown added: “He is a principled man with a strong commitment to his constituents, and he will be a great addition to the House Republican Caucus as we work to move Kentucky forward in 2016.”

Butler, a retired police officer, has held the seat since 2013. The House district includes the Iroquois Park area. He’s the son of longtime Democratic state Rep. Denver Butler and the brother of Democratic Louisville Metro Councilwoman Marianne Butler.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he was disappointed by Butler’s party-switch.

“In short, I find it hard to believe that he made this decision, but we will field a strong candidate in this district, which has been reliably Democratic. Our caucus remains strong,” Stumbo said in a statement.

The Democratic edge in the state House stands now at 53-47. But Republican Reps. Ryan Quarles and Mike Harmon are leaving the House because they were elected this month to statewide offices.

Scott Jennings, a political operative who has advised prominent Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said it’s another sign the Kentucky Democratic Party is losing ground.

“The state of the Democratic Party is a crisis” Jennings said. “It’s an emergency.”

Earlier this month, Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin defeated Democrat Jack Conway by nine percentage points. Republicans also took control from Democrats of the state auditor and treasurer offices.

Bevin will become only the second Republican governor of Kentucky in four decades.

“The people of Kentucky are moving rapidly away from the Democratic Party,” Jennings said.

The state Senate has been under Republican control since 1999, and Republican Party leaders have set their sights on the state House. The 2016 election is nearly a year away, but the task of flipping the House is made easier by the incumbents switching parties.

But Jennings said the GOP will still have to fight it out for votes.

“There are party switchers and there may be more, but another thing that is important is recruiting candidates,” he said.

“We shouldn’t just assume that they are just going to hand us this. This is a political party that has essentially controlled Frankfort for the last century.”

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he was surprised by Butler’s switch to the Republican Party.

McGarvey said Butler’s decision was “very individual and personal,” but he does think it will have larger repercussions.

“Losing Rep. Butler in the House of Representatives makes it harder for Democrats to hold the House,” McGarvey said. “There is no question about it.”

This story has been updated.

(Featured image: Rep. Denny Butler, right, with Rep. Tommy Turner. Credit: Legislative Research Commission)