Election Leaves Political Fates Undecided

Nov 8, 2011

It’s an ancient tradition.  An election immediately sparks speculation on the political future of losers and winners.  Even as the final votes were counted, pundits wondered about the Governor’s next step.  Will he run for US Senate?  And what will become of David Williams, the all powerful head of the Kentucky State Senate.

No surprise in the gubernatorial race.  Polls predicted incumbent Steve Beshear would win by double-digits.  But, even if such surveys were disregarded, political scientist Steven Voss would not be surprised. In state elections, Voss says Kentuckians usually vote for Democrats. 

So, the University of Kentucky professor is careful not to read too much into the Governor’s victory.  Voss doesn’t see it as setting Beshear up for higher office.  Since Beshear ran for re-election as the safe choice, Voss says, he’ll have a harder time overthrowing either of Kentucky’s U-S Senators…

“You know winning because you’re okay, because voters want to stick with what’s safe doesn’t really give you much of a strong image to run that next race,” said Voss.

Nor does Voss believe the Democratic win will make much of a difference when the General Assembly convenes this winter…the partisan bickering will probably continue.

“The national government is extremely polarized.  I don’t think it’s notably worse here, but, yes, I expect we’ll see some more conflict between the parties in the future,” said Voss.

In his concession speech, David Williams promised to soon resume his push for major tax changes, for reduced government spending and for job creation. 

“We’ve got a difficult task in front of us, starting in January, we’re going to start working on that tomorrow and you may be assured that we’ll be there on the front lines making sure that your values are represented there,” said Williams.

As President of the Kentucky Senate, Williams remains in an excellent position to oppose the Governor’s legislative agenda.  However, political scientist Joe Gerschtenson suspects Williams will not emerge from this campaign unscathed.  The Eastern Kentucky University professor sees the Republican candidate’s 20-point loss as damaging his stature.   The result…Gerschtenson says Republican senators might feel a bit more rebellious.

“I do wonder about Senator Williams’ leadership in the Senate.  As this point, to what extent do the Republicans still want to align behind him and move forward,” said Gershtenson.

Likewise, Gershtenson says the Governor’s victory should give him a political boost when dealing with the General Assembly.  Democrats are more likely to join with him and Republicans may be more willing to negotiate…

“To what extent then can Republicans in the Senate continue to be at odds with the Governor or is the governor able to have a little bit more sway in Frankfort.  Is he going to be able to push through expanded gaming in light of these results?” asked Gershtenson.

So, for both candidates, the next important votes they’ll face will not be cast by the electorate, but, by state lawmakers.  This winter, they must write a new budget and undertake the politically tricky task of redrawing the boundaries of Kentucky’s legislative districts. And in large part, their votes will determine the political futures of Senate President David Williams and Governor Steve Beshear.