Stories about Kentucky

Special election to be held June 23 for Kentucky Senate seat

A special election is being held on June 23 for District 26 of the Kentucky State Senate. Karen Berg (D) and Bill Ferko (R) are running in the special election. Party county executive committees choose nominees for state legislative special elections in Kentucky.

The seat became vacant when Ernie Harris (R) retired from the legislature on April 15. Harris had represented the district since 1995. He last won re-election in 2018, defeating Berg in the general election with 51.8 percent of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 28-9 majority in the Kentucky Senate with one vacancy. Kentucky has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Regularly scheduled elections are being held in odd-numbered Kentucky State Senate districts in 2020. A primary is being held on June 23. The general election will be held on November 3.

As of June, 47 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 24 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Additional reading:

McNeill appointed to Kentucky’s intermediate appellate court until special election

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) appointed public defender Chris McNeill to the Kentucky Court of Appeals on April 22 to serve the remainder of former appellate judge Christopher Nickell’s term. Nickells resigned after he was appointed to the Kentucky Supreme Court in December 2019.

At the time of his appointment, McNeill had already declared his candidacy in the special election to fill Nickells’ former position, the Division 1 chair on the bench in the court’s 1st Appellate District. The primary in the special election is scheduled for June 23 and the special general election will take place on November 3. Pending the results of the election, McNeill will serve at least until Nickells’ term ends on January 3, 2021.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in Kentucky. Prior to a 1975 amendment to the Kentucky Constitution that created the Kentucky Supreme Court, the Kentucky Court of Appeals was the only appellate court in the state. Appellate courts are defined as courts having the power to review the decisions of lower courts or tribunals. In Kentucky, the court of last resort is the Kentucky Supreme Court.

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Beshear appoints judge to Fayette County District Court

Kentucky Gov Andy Beshear (D) appointed prior Fayette County commonwealth’s attorney Melissa Moore Murphy to serve on the Fayette County District Court on April 16. Murphy was a candidate for the vacant seat on the Fayette County Court created by Judge Julie Goodman’s appointment to the Fayette County Circuit Court.

Murphy has served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, assistant McCracken County commonwealth’s attorney, and as an attorney with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s law department. In 2018, Murphy ran for a seat on Kentucky’s 22nd District Court. She was defeated by John Tackett.

Murphy will be sworn into office and assume her place on the Fayette County district court bench on April 24, 2020. She will serve the remainder of Goodman’s term set to end at the end of the year. Murphy will need to run for re-election for her seat in Kentucky’s November election. She is currently the only candidate running for the district court’s fourth division seat.

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Kentucky voters to decide constitutional amendment changing the terms and requirements for certain judicial offices

On the last day of its legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly certified the Terms of Judicial Offices Amendment for the November ballot. The amendment would make the following changes to the Kentucky Constitution:

  • increase the terms of circuit court clerks and commonwealth’s attorneys from six years to eight years starting in 2030;
  • increase the terms of county attorneys and district judges from four years to eight years starting in 2022; and
  • change attorney licensing requirements for district attorneys from two years to eight years beginning in 2022.

The amendment was sponsored by Republican Representatives Jason Nemes, Derek Lewis, C. Ed Massey, and House Speaker David Osborne. It was approved by the Kentucky House of Representatives on March 18, 2020, in a vote of 76-7 with 17 not voting. After suspending its legislative session for a week due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kentucky Senate reconvened and approved the amendment in a vote of 25-7, with six not voting, before the legislature adjourned on April 15.

The legislature referred to the November ballot one other amendment—the Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment. The amendment would add to the Kentucky Constitution specific rights for crime victims, together known as Marsy’s Law. Kentucky voters approved a Marsy’s Law amendment in 2018 with 63 percent of the vote, but it was overturned in KACDL v. Grimes and Board of Elections. Marsy’s Law amendments have received voter approval in 13 other states.

The Kentucky State Legislature can refer statewide ballot measures, in the form of constitutional amendments, to the general election ballot in even-numbered years. Kentucky requires a 60 percent vote in each legislative chamber during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. That amounts to a minimum of 60 votes in the Kentucky House of Representatives and 23 votes in the Kentucky State Senate, assuming no vacancies. Amendments do not require the governor’s signature to be referred to the ballot.

In Kentucky, citizens do not have the power to initiate statewide initiatives or referendums, which means Kentucky’s ballot measures are finalized for 2020.

From 1995 to 2018, 10 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Kentucky. Nine were approved, and one was defeated.

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Harris retires from Kentucky State Senate after 25 years

Longtime Republican Sen. Ernie Harris retired from the Kentucky State Senate on April 15, the final day of the Kentucky General Assembly’s legislative session. Harris represented District 26 in the chamber for 25 years. He first assumed office in 1995.

At the time of his retirement, Harris served as the chair of the state senate’s Transportation Committee. His professional experience includes working as a pilot for commercial airlines and the U.S. Postal Service. Harris also served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force.

Harris’ replacement will be chosen in a special election, which will take place on the same day as Kentucky’s primary elections on June 23. Kentucky’s primaries were originally scheduled for May 19 but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic and Republican executive committees in the district’s two counties will nominate candidates for the seat.

Additional reading:
Government responses to and political effects of the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 (Kentucky)