KY House GOP leader: Governor shouldn’t appoint US Senate vacancies

A Kentucky Republican legislator filed a bill Wednesday that would strip the governor’s authority to appoint a replacement US senator should a vacancy in that office occur.

And it has nothing to do with Sen. Mitch McConnell, he says.

House Bill 622 from House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, would repeal the current law dictating procedure around gubernatorial appointments to fill a vacancy in one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats.

Instead, the bill calls for those vacancies to be filled via special election.

US Senate vacancies would be filled under the same process that Congressional seats are filled, which necessitates a special election.

The bill’s filing comes months after questions about the health of Senate Majority Leader McConnell rippled from Washington, D.C., to Frankfort. Over the summer, the 82-year-old McConnell twice publicly froze up on camera.

Rudy said he believed the senator’s health “is greatly improved.”

“It has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me thinking this is the best and preferred public policy,” he said.

Rudy said he had not conferred with either McConnell’s office or the office of Kentucky’s junior U.S. senator, Rand Paul, about this bill. Rudy filed a similar bill in 2021, when the legislature changed the procedure governing U.S. Senate vacancy appointments, but that measure did not get a House floor vote.

Kentucky’s government is politically divided with a Democratic governor in Andy Beshear who just won re-election and an overwhelmingly Republican state legislature and slate of federal elected officials. However, Rudy said the bill is not about blue or red.

“This, I think, is truly what the people want and expect should there be a vacancy in their United States senator,” Rudy told the Herald-Leader. “If there’s a vacancy, the people should be able to select their U.S. senator.”

Rudy said that the intention of the bill is for state parties to pick their own nominees in the event of a special election to replace a US Senator.

The current law, passed by the GOP-led legislature in 2021’s Senate Bill 228 from Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, dictates the governor select a replacement for any US senator vacating the office from a list of three provided by the state executive committee of the vacating senator’s party.

Prior to that law’s passage, there were no such restrictions on gubernatorial appointments to replace US senators.

Beshear has not directly said whether he would follow that law should a vacancy occur following a hypothetical McConnell exit, instead predicting the senator will serve out his term.

Some Democrats in Kentucky have speculated Beshear would flout the law and either challenge it in court or appoint a Democrat instead of a Republican.

McConnell is serving his seventh term as a US senator. Last year, he made history when he became the longest-serving Senate party leader in American history.

Rudy said he’s been against gubernatorial appointments for vacating senators after former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell former president Barack Obama’s senate seat when he left his post for the White House.

Rudy lives just across the Ohio River from Southern Illinois.

Rudy said that he wasn’t sure if the House or the entire General Assembly would pass the bill. He did add that many members believe his bill, which is much shorter than the bill passed in 2021, “makes sense.”