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GOP expands lopsided legislative majorities in Kentucky

FILE - The Latest: Kentucky Lawmakers Agree To Pension Plan
Posted at 2:43 PM, Nov 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-09 14:43:39-05

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republicans expanded their overwhelming majorities in Kentucky's legislature with sweeping victories that included the ouster of several House Democrats in districts stretching from the suburbs to Appalachia.

Taking advantage of new legislative districts they had redrawn in their favor and a surging tide of conservatism across the Bluegrass State, GOP lawmakers registered gains in representation even as Kentucky voters rejected a ballot amendment that would have strengthened a near-total state ban on abortions. Republican legislators had put the measure on the ballot.

Rep. Angie Hatton, a high-profile member of the House Democratic leadership team, lost her eastern Kentucky seat to Republican challenger Jacob Justice in voting that concluded Tuesday.

House Democrats managed to keep a slight foothold in eastern Kentucky. Democratic Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty withstood a strong GOP challenge to win reelection in another Appalachian district — a region where former President Donald Trump's popularity remains a boost for Republicans.

But Republican dominance in legislative races spanned across rural Kentucky. The GOP also displayed strength in the suburbs, including some Louisville-area districts where Republicans won with a message focused on inflation and crime.

It means GOP lawmakers will maintain their policymaking supremacy as Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear gears up for his reelection campaign next year. Republican lawmakers have used their lopsided numbers to push through their agenda on education, taxes, abortion and other issues, often overriding vetoes from Beshear.

The GOP gains this year came after Republican lawmakers reshaped legislative boundaries, in some cases adding Republican-friendlier territory to the districts of Democratic incumbents to defend.

Other Democrats who lost on Tuesday included Reps. Patti Minter of Bowling Green, Charles Miller of Louisville and Jeffery Donohue of Fairdale.

House Democratic leaders said Wednesday that their party's candidates faced considerable headwinds in the midterms, including the GOP's strategy of nationalizing state and local races. Republicans tried tying their opponents to Democratic President Joe Biden, a strategy the GOP has signaled it will try to use again next year against Beshear.

In their statement, the top House Democrats also pointed to a “flood of ‘dark’ money from out-of-state donors" that was used against Democratic candidates, along with a "clearly gerrymandered state House map” as other obstacles for their party.

"Despite these challenges, we are proud of the races our candidates ran, and these results will not stop our caucus from continuing to fight for laws and budgets that benefit families, strengthen public education, improve our collective health and promote justice and fairness for all,” the statement from House Democratic leaders Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham and Hatton said.

Graham, who won reelection Tuesday, is the only one of those three set to return to the House next year. While Hatton was defeated, Jenkins decided not to seek another term.

Republicans built House and Senate supermajorities by turning rural Kentucky districts into strongholds. That continued this year as rural GOP candidates cruised to victory. Democrats have seen their numbers shrink to legislative districts mostly in urban and suburban areas.

The GOP gained total control of the legislature after winning the House in the 2016 election, when Trump was at the top of the ticket. Republicans added to their majorities in subsequent elections.