Sen. Damon Thayer

Sen. Damon Thayer

Anne M. Eberhardt

Thayer Elected to Key Post in Kentucky Senate

The Republican lawmaker will serve as majority floor leader in 2013.

Republican Kentucky state Sen. Damon Thayer, who has been involved with most legislation involving the horse industry in recent years, was elected majority floor leader Nov. 28 during a GOP Senate leadership caucus.

Sen. Robert Stivers was elected to replace David Williams as Senate president. Williams has accepted a judgeship from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

The floor leader in either house controls which bills are brought up for discussion and action. Earlier this year, Thayer worked in a bipartisan fashion with Beshear to get a constitutional amendment on casino gambling through the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which he has chaired, but the bill failed on the Senate floor.

Thayer, who was re-elected earlier in November, moved to Kentucky 20 years ago this month and said he finds it hard to fathom being elected only the third Republican floor leader in the history of the Kentucky General Assembly. The floor leader acts as a spokesperson for the Republican caucus and plays a major role in setting policy, he said.

The General Assembly has important issues to deal with, including pensions, during its short 30-day session in 2013. It remains to be seen whether expanded gambling will be addressed.

"I don't know how my election as floor leader affects the gaming issue, but one thing is clear: This issue is unlikely to go away," Thayer said Nov. 28. "My position on it hasn't changed; I still feel it should be decided by a vote of the people. But for it to move forward, the language will have to be different from what was presented earlier this year."

The 2012 measure proved too specific for many lawmakers who prefer to have details decided by companion legislation. Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, elected in 2010, also has said he expects expanded gambling to come up again, and if so, the constitutional amendment language should be basic.

Thayer defeated Sen. David Givens, who opposes expanded gambling, for the floor leadership. Thayer said he wouldn't sponsor the bill again but would be open to sending it to the floor should it clear committee.

If a constiutional amendment were to pass in 2013, it couldn't be on the ballot until 2014. There has been no indication expanded gambling could pass the General Assembly without a referendum.

"I think proponents will be talking to the governor (and lawmakers) on a strategy going forward," Thayer said of a gambling bill. "I'm happy to be a part of it but that doesn't mean I would sponsor it again."

Because leadership doesn't chair committees, Thayer said he's out as chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which would hear a constitutional amendment. He said Republican leadership is in the process of selecting committee chairs.