Post-election fallout: three stories
What the 2016 election will mean for America has yet to be determined, but for three local politicians, the results will be both nearly immediate and long-lasting. Looking for work? Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, 37, wasn’t on the ballot Nov. 8, but the man he works for in his other job was, and when Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo lost, Traugott likely did, too. “It means I have to start polishing my résumé, I believe, or learn to live on the mayor’s salary,” Traugott said with a chuckle. Traugott, a part-time leadership aide to Stumbo, is one of many who said they expected Democrats, who entered the election with a four-seat majority, to lose their nearly century-long hold on the House. The Kentucky House was the last southern legislative chamber in which Democrats comprised the majority. “I was surprised by the magnitude of it. I expected a flip by a couple of seats, maybe. I did not expect a supermajority,” Traugott said. State House Democrats lost 17 seats Nov. 8. As the minority party, House Democrats will have three leadership positions to fill, rather than the five slots given to the majority party, and thus will lose several staff jobs. Technically, Traugott and other House and Senate leadership aides work for the Legislative Research Commission, but the jobs are non-merit posts – meaning their job security is tied to the will and position of the leaders. There’s a chance that Traugott, hired in 2001 by then-House Majority Whip Joe Barrows of Versailles, could be kept on by Democratic leaders. “It’s possible, and I would entertain any opportunity. Working in the minority would certainly be different,” Traugott said. “I have 15 years in the legislative process and I have a passion for that type of work, so I don’t see myself going far from the capitol building.” Asked what he thought the after-effects would be in the state, Traugott said, “It will mean a change of direction in social policy. The fiscal policy is what I’m interested in, because Kansas had a failed experiment with this type of governor, so I’m anxious to see how it works out. I wish them the best. I may not have supported them (House Republicans) as candidates; I support them as elected officials, and hopefully, they’ll do well,” Traugott said. He attributed Donald Trump’s upset to a national distaste of the process. “I don’t think it was a vote for him or necessarily against her (Hillary Clinton) as a person. That, to me, was the most unexpected result,” Traugott said. He credited State Rep. James Kay’s convincing victory to a positive, energetic campaign run by his fellow, even younger Democrat. “I think it shows how bright his future is. … It showed you can win without trashing people, so I’m proud of that,” Traugott said. Bright spot for Dems If he hadn’t won a second consecutive blowout race for reelection, you might consider state Rep. James Kay a member of the endangered species known as Kentucky Democrats. However, in an awful night for Dems, Kay’s 21-point victory stood out like a coal miner’s lamp in a dark shaft. Speaking of coal, Kay doesn’t attribute the Republican sweep across the state entirely to GOP television ads that used a quote from Hilary Clinton about putting coal companies out of business. “I think that the overall Trump affect that swept across the nation was sweeping across Kentucky, maybe even more powerfully in some parts of it, with or without that sound bite. But that sound bite was kind of the cherry on top for coal areas,” Kay said. Kay attributes his big victory to the result of hard work since winning a special election in 2013 and full two-year terms in 2014 and on Nov. 8. “I started out pretty green and new and the only way I knew to approach it was to work hard and try to get things done and I think that my success transcends, a little bit, the politics and the nature of our current political discourse, and it says, ‘We want good people that are doing the right things to work hard and get things done for the people,’” Kay said. The most recent election finance report showed Kay, who turns 34 Friday, Nov. 18, outraised Republican opponent Dan Fister, a political newcomer, by about a four-to-one margin. Monday, Kay said he’d been to a few committee meetings since the election and found his Democratic colleagues in better spirits than one might expect. “The folks that won and survived were still pretty upbeat about their communities supporting them, and those that lost, they had their regrets, but they’re already turning the page, I think,” Kay said. With his party in the minority, Kay will lose his vice chairmanship of the House Agriculture committee and the chairmanships of its Horse Farming subcommittee and the Education Accountability and Assessment Review (EARS) Committee. He could bid for one of the three minority leadership posts, however (minority leader, caucus leader and minority whip) and said he’d check the mood of the caucus at a Wednesday meeting. “We definitely need new leadership, that’s for sure,” Kay said. If his comments six days after the election are an indication, Kay does not intend to sit quietly while Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and GOP majorities in the House and Senate do their work. Leaders are needed, he said, and that’s what he intends to be, with an emphasis on maintaining legislative independence. “We’ve seen an erosion of legislative independence and the governor and executive branch growing more powerful. We just lost state Sen. John Berry from up in Henry County who led the ‘Black Sheep’ movement to take power back from the executive, and I think now, more than ever, we need to focus … on keeping the power in the people’s body and not putting it in one person and one branch,” Kay said. He said he’ll try to keep Republicans accountable for their claims to support term limits and reform political patronage. Chairman Barr? U.S. Rep. Andy Barr won reelection to a third term by about the same percentage as Kay, but unlike Kay, he’ll be a member of a majority that controls the U.S. House. Barr, 43, defeated Democrat Nancy Jo Kemper, whom he outspent by about a 5 to 1 margin, 61 percent to 39 percent. He noted that Fayette County, by far the largest in the Sixth Congressional District, went for Democrats Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Gray. “What I digest from that is that I earned a whole lot of votes from Hillary and Jim Gray voters. … That tells me I need to continue to do what I’m doing in terms of reaching out and representing all of my constituents, regardless of party,” Barr said. Barr’s victory puts him ahead, seniority-wise, of all the GOP “freshmen” and those elected for the first time in 2014 – and it could mean a chairman or vice-chairmanship of a House subcommittee. “We certainly hope we’re in the mix on that,” Barr said, referring to a top or number two spot in one of the House Financial Services subcommittees. “There were a number of retirements, and two of my colleagues were defeated in their reelections, which I’m sorry that they were. There are going to be changes in the Financial Services Committee. … We hope to play a more influential role in that committee, but those decisions will be made by others.” Barr said the results of the election are a reminder that the American people are still in charge. “Even when the pollsters and the pundits and the media basically were communicating that it was a foregone conclusion that Secretary Clinton was going to be the next president, the American people disagreed with them. Through the Electoral College, at least, Donald Trump won fair and square,” Barr said. “Secretary Clinton won the popular vote. So what that tells us also is that we remain a very divided country.” Even some of Trump’s admirers would admit the man who questioned President Obama’s citizenship and savaged GOP primary opponents, Clinton and his many critics is a divisive figure. Asked if he believed Trump could govern in a different fashion, Barr said, “We certainly hope he will and I think his victory speech was encouraging. It was a unifying talk about thanking Secretary Clinton for her service and being part of the process …” Barr said he appreciated Clinton and Obama’s gracious post-election speeches, during which they asked Americans to give Trump a chance to govern and bring the country together. “Our job as those who were reelected is to try and do the best we can to unite the country around a positive, solution-oriented agenda, and we’ve been working on that over the last year,” Barr said.