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January 31, 2006

Warming up ...

A campaign that began with an ironic bang climaxed with a day dominated by women in the Republican-controlled state Senate last week. Last Wednesday, Democrat James E. Keller, who beat Larry Forgy in a 2000 non-partisan Kentucky Supreme Court race, filed to unseat Forgy’s sister, State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington). With Keller’s entry fresh in Thursday’s press, Kerr harnessed some horsepower from the House — and premium publicity.

The fastest car traveling through the Capitol was House Bill 283, driven by Rep. Darryl Owens of Jefferson County. Owens was steering his measure — to infuse the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program with $5 million — through the Senate Budget Committee when Kerr offered an amendment. Stunned, Owens cradled his head in his hands; this stunt had the odor of a clever carjacking. But Kerr turned out to be a kind, if uninvited hitchhiker. To term her amendment “friendly” would be an understatement; it doubled the fuel in Owens’ vehicle to $10 million.

On Friday, the amended bill advanced to the full Senate, which became a historic day for women in the legislature. In the absence of President David Williams, President Pro Tem Katie Stine, a Northern Kentucky Republican, presided. The two bills on the agenda were carried by GOP women: Kerr (House Bill 283) and Elizabeth Tori (Senate Bill 30). It was the first time women outnumbered men in the governance of a chamber session. Had no man spoken on the bill Kerr introduced, only one man’s voice, that of Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly, would have been heard during the Senate’s legislative actions (orders of the day).

For Owens, the odyssey ended happily. “The important thing is that the people get help with their heating bills,” he told me on the Senate floor, moments before he received a standing ovation. Others pondered how much the GOP may depopulate or de-mythify the Kentucky Democrats’ big tent, as Republicans deepen their inroads into traditionally Democratic domains: gender equality, help for military families and assistance for the disadvantaged.

BY STEVE SHAW
leo@leoweekly.com