One logical solution to fill vacant Senate seat

Published:

The Kentucky Post

Although it was bitterly divided, the Kentucky Supreme Court came to the right conclusion Dec. 22 in a landmark case involving the Kentucky General Assembly.

The high court ruled that neither of the candidates claiming a Louisville-area 37th District seat in the Kentucky Senate are eligible to be seated. The court disqualified the Republican contender, Dana Seum Stephenson, because she didnt meet residency requirements laid out in the Kentucky Constitution. The Democratic contender, Virginia Woodford, cannot serve, the court held, because she did not win a majority of the votes in the November 2004 general election.

Although the courts ruling Thursday did not specify a remedy, there is only one logical solution one that could and should have been implemented a year ago: a special election.

The courts decision Thursday is important at several levels:

It provides the most definitive answer yet to a vexing question that has left one of the 38 seats in the Kentucky Senate unfilled for almost a year now.

If only because the Senate is narrowly divided in political terms 21 Republicans, 15 Democrats and one independent, not counting the 37th District seat the whole commonwealth has a stake in the outcome.

The court acted to assert its primacy in a fundamental dispute over jurisdiction.

Republicans, led by Senate President David Williams, had argued that the legislative branch alone had the prerogative to make decisions about seating its members.

Even though residency requirements are laid out in the Constitution, even though two lower courts had reached the same conclusion the Supreme Court did on Thursday, even though he had pledged to work with Democrats to reduce partisanship in Frankfort, Williams has insisted on making this a high-stakes power struggle that not only pitted Republicans against Democrats, but the legislative branch against the judicial branch. The Democratic response has been every bit as partisan.

Stephenson had the option of appealing the original challenge to her residency through the courts. Instead she chose to make her case before the Senate, where her fellow Republicans (one of whom was her father) voted to allow her to be seated. That gambit served to lengthen the time it took to resolve the dispute, and left 37th District residents without representation for all of 2005.

It revealed a disquieting personal rancor between justices on the Supreme Court. The dissenters in Thursdays opinion were the two newest justices, John Roach (recently appointed to the court by Gov. Ernie Fletcher) and Will T. Scott, and they did so in language that was distressingly strident. We hope thats not a portent of things to come.

The parties in the case now have 20 days to ask the Kentucky Supreme Court to reconsider its opinion something the court rarely does.

Fletcher who sided with Williams in the dispute, and who issued a statement Thursday calling the ruling disappointing has the power to schedule a special election. He should use it.

Meanwhile, the combatants on both sides should also be aware of something else. A whole lot of us out here in the real world those who are dutifully participating in elections, who are paying our taxes, who are trying to put food on the table are sick and tired of partisan fights like this in Frankfort. Kentuckys political leaders have shown time and time again in recent years that theyre more interested in arm-wrestling each other than they are in governing responsibly. If they dont clean up their act, voters should clean house and start over.

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