Republicans seized control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century in a tidal wave election Tuesday, unseating House Speaker Greg Stumbo and many other Democratic incumbents to give the GOP control of every Southern state legislature.
The victory cements Republican control of the statehouse and gives GOP Gov. Matt Bevin a clear path to continue his overhaul of state government.
In a stunning loss that signaled his party’s vulnerability, Stumbo was defeated by Republican challenger Larry Brown in an eastern Kentucky district where the coal industry’s struggles became an insurmountable political liability for several Democrats.
“The voters have spoken, so I want to congratulate Larry Brown for his win tonight, and I want to thank the people of the 95th House District for a great career,” Stumbo said in a concession statement. “I hope only the best for the district, my county, my commonwealth and my country.”
At least 16 Democratic incumbents were ousted, including Reps. Hubert Collins, Brent Yonts, Fitz Steele and Tom McKee — all committee chairmen. Three Democrats who won special elections several months ago were among those unseated.
Capitalizing on Donald Trump’s resounding victory in Kentucky, Republicans easily picked up enough House seats to give them their first majority since 1920. They gained seats in eastern and western Kentucky.
Democrats held a 53-47 majority heading into the election.
“It was extremely difficult for any Kentucky Democrats to overcome the ‘Trump tide’ at the top of the ticket,” said state Rep. Sannie Overly, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.
With an overwhelming majority in the state Senate and Bevin in the governor’s office, Republicans will control the agenda when lawmakers convene in January. Bevin said Tuesday night he expects the GOPdominated legislature to pass laws overruling several recent court decisions that have struck down his executive orders, including the one that abolished and replaced the University of Louisville board of trustees.
It clears the path for some of his more aggressive priorities, including a “right-to-work” law and abortion restrictions.
Bevin told jubilant Republicans that “the roar has been delivered by the voters of the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
“All I can say is, it’s about time,” he said. “We hear your voice, the voice is going to be represented in the people’s house for the first time in a long time. We have work to do, that work is going to be done as part of the new majority.”
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the key architect of the Republicans’ rise to power in Kentucky, hailed the GOP’s state House takeover as “a historic win that will soon be felt throughout the Bluegrass state.”
In Bullitt County, Republican Dan Johnson defeated incumbent Linda Belcher. Johnson drew the ire of party leaders after posting photos on Facebook comparing President Barack Obama and the first lady to monkeys. Republican Minority Leader Jeff Hoover asked Johnson to drop out of the race, but Hoover said Tuesday that Johnson would be “welcome in our caucus.”
For years, Democrats won by distancing themselves from the national party, relying on their relationship with voters.
But in Scott County, 23-year-old Dustin Vest said he couldn’t vote for Democratic state Rep. Chuck Tackett even though he likes him. Tackett, who won a special election earlier this year, was defeated in a rematch against Republican Phillip Pratt.
“I work for a small business, it’s a family-owned, small business and I’m probably going to take over it one day,” Vest said. “I feel like the Republicans, they look out a little bit more for us.”
The GOP’s Kentucky House takeover completes a Republican sweep of the South, which for decades was dominated by Democrats. Kentucky Democrats resisted the trend for years through their strength in the state’s mountainous coal region the large population of union workers.
For years, Republicans had failed to flip the House even as they dominated the state’s federal elections. Two years ago, the GOP failed to pick up a single House seat despite Mc- Connell’s double-digit reelection victory.
The Senate Republican leader helped recruit more candidates for 2016, and Kentuckians for Strong Leadership — a Super PAC with ties to McConnell — spent more than $350,000 on broadcast TV ads supporting GOP House candidates, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.