Dan Kelly, the former Republican Majority Leader in the state Senate, is still a state Senator — for now.

But his party has a new majority leader — Manchester attorney and Republican Sen. Robert Stivers. Stivers was chosen by a vote of the Republican caucus in a closed-door meeting Friday, winning over his only opponent, Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

Neither Republican Caucus Chairman Dan Seum nor Stivers would reveal the actual vote count. Seum, however, said Murray Sen. Ken Winters — who had previously expressed interest in the post — “chose not to have himself nominated.”

Kelly two weeks ago resigned as Majority Leader after submitting his name for a vacant judgeship in the 11th Circuit which covers Green, Marion, Taylor and Washington counties. The nominating commission was scheduled to choose three nominees on Friday and Gov. Steve Beshear will appoint one of them to the post. If it’s Kelly, Beshear will create another Senate vacancy in a previously Republican seat, creating another opportunity through special election for Democrats to narrow the Republican majority.

Beshear said he did not expect to fill the vacancy on Friday.

Kelly served as Majority Leader for nearly 15 years and Stivers said Kelly was his mentor for 13 of those. He credited Kelly with fostering a bi-partisan working relationship with Senate Democrats.

Democrats have voted with Republicans in recent sessions on several major pieces of legislation such as reforms to the retirement system but they have not agreed on how to assist the troubled horse industry.

Beshear wants to allow expanded gambling through electronic slots at the tracks. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, has led the Republican resistance to the idea. But if Beshear appoints Kelly to the judgeship and Democrats win a special election for his seat, Republicans will enjoy only a 19-18 edge with one independent. Williams has been harshly critical of Beshear’s actions in offering Senate Republicans jobs to create those opportunities.

Stivers sidestepped questions about that Friday. He said Kelly is qualified to be a judge and he hopes he is appointed to the position. He called Kelly a “class individual.”

“He has the appropriate mentality, the intellect and the appropriate disposition to be a judge,” Stivers said. “He will be a fine judge for that area.”

He wasn’t quite so effusive about Beshear’s strategy.

“What the governor is trying to do I think is apparent from his actions,” Stivers said. “The governor is political and he has an agenda. I don’t necessarily agree with his agenda all the time but that’s his agenda and the method and manner in which he tries to promote his agenda is what he has to live with, not me.”

Stivers praised both Thayer and Winters. He said he knows of no one with “more heart and more desire or more will to serve the Senate than Damon Thayer. With time and tempering, he will be a great leader for the state of Kentucky.”

He said no one “epitomizes the look and the class of a senator more than Sen. Winters.”

Stivers will immediately assume the post of Majority Leader, the person who controls the flow of legislation on the floor. He presently is chairman of the Judiciary Committee but it’s not known if he will retain that post.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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