Kentucky's GOP Legislature Ends Dem Governor's Power to Choose Anyone for Senate Vacancies

Kentucky's Republican-controlled legislature has stripped Democratic Governor Andy Beshear of his independent power to fill vacancies that arise in the U.S. Senate.

On Monday, state lawmakers overrode Beshear's veto of SB 228—a measure that will limit a governor to choosing a replacement from a three-name list provided by leaders of the same political party as the senator who formerly held the seat.

The bill has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the 79-year-old Kentucky lawmaker who in November was elected to his seventh term in the upper chamber.

Beshear described the legislation as "really concerning" during a news conference in February, adding: "We've got to believe in the institution of government, of the separation of powers, more than we believe in our party."

When the governor vetoed SB 228, he argued that the measure violated the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which he said aimed "to remove the power to select U.S. senators from political party bosses."

Under the previous Kentucky law, Beshear could choose anyone he wanted to temporarily replace McConnell or Senator Rand Paul if either left office suddenly. If he were to choose a Democrat to fill either senator's seat, it would be the first time a Democrat has represented Kentucky in the Senate in more than two decades.

Democratic Caucus Chair Derrick Graham told his conservative colleagues on Monday that "because you can do it, you're doing it. But it sets a bad precedent."

Gov. Andy Beshear Kentucky Democrat
Governor-elect Andy Beshear celebrates with supporters after voting results showed the Democrat holding a slim lead over Republican Governor Matt Bevin at the C2 Event Venue on November 5, 2019, in Louisville, Kentucky. Beshear's attempt to veto a bill that curbs his independent power to fill Senate vacancies was overridden by the state legislature on Monday. John Sommers II/Getty Images

Republicans expanded their supermajorities in the Kentucky General Assembly during the 2020 election. The state is also represented by two Republicans in the U.S. Senate: McConnell and Paul.

SB 228, and McConnell's support for it, sparked speculation that the longtime senator was eyeing an exit. But Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, a sponsor of the legislation, said that's not the case.

"Let me make this definitive statement: He is not sick, he is not leaving—maybe to some people's chagrin—but he plans to be there," Stivers said during one committee meeting, according to the Associated Press.

The bill's passage makes Kentucky the seventh state in the U.S. in which the governor's Senate appointee must be of the same political party as the senator leaving office. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states fill Senate vacancies by gubernatorial appointment and 13 states fill the seat with a special election.

Newsweek reached out to Beshear's office for comment on the override of his veto on the bill but did not receive a response before publication.