Democrats won three of four House seats up for grabs in Tuesday's special election, increasing their majority status in the House chamber by one for the rest of the 2016 General Assembly, including the all-important process of writing the next state budget. The House will have 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans through the fall elections. It is the final state legislative chamber in the South to remain in Democratic control, and it is the last bastion of Democratic Party power in Kentucky, which otherwise has been trending Republican in state and federal elections.
Republican dominance over the South is quite extraordinary, but there's one entity in the region that Democrats have managed to hold onto: the Kentucky State House, which Dems have controlled since 1921. This week, Republicans hoped to change that.
When Kentucky's General Assembly convened in January, Democrats still controlled the chamber, 50 to 46, but there were four vacancies that needed to be filled. The state's new, right-wing governor, Republican Matt Bevin, announced there would be special elections on March 8 to fill those four seats, and quite possibly erase the Democratic advantage.
"I want conservative people," Bevin declared at the time, adding, "I will do everything in my power to make sure that the people who I think embody the values that I was elected to represent are elected. I do think they'll be Republicans."
The governor thought wrong. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported overnight:
Democratic candidates not only won the two seats that had been held by other Dem lawmakers, the party also flipped a seat that had been held by a Republican.
For Bevin, who campaigned aggressively in these special elections and helped the GOP candidates raise money, it's a real setback. In fact, it's arguably a rebuke -- if the governor and his agenda enjoyed broad support, his party likely would have fared better yesterday.
But just as important is the fact that Bevin was counting on total Republican control of the state government to do what far-right governors have been able to do in states like Michigan, Kansas, and North Carolina: implement a radical agenda without regard for Democratic objections.
At least for now, that's not an option.
* Postscript: The Louisville Courier Journal reported that the Democratic National Committee "sent out a robocall to Democrats in Kentucky's 8th District with Obama's voice telling them they should go out and vote for Jeffrey Taylor. They listened, pushing Taylor to a 1,025-vote victory."