Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Health Issues Focus on Kentucky’s Succession Process

Updated on August 17, 2023 at 1:50 PM ET

LOUIVILLE, Kentucky — The annual Fancy Farm Church picnic is a quintessential Kentucky political tradition, but when people began flocking to picnic grounds in western Kentucky earlier this month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: Many people didn’t know whether to participate in the picnic. will appear.

“I am not a personal supporter of Mitch McConnell, but I have been concerned for his health and well-being,” said a member of the politically independent Fancy Farm and Kentucky Moms for Medical. Cannabis CEO Kristen Wilcox said. “So if he shows up, I think it’s a good sign.”

Wilcox was referring to the recent health concerns of an influential Republican senator. At the end of July, McConnell suddenly froze for about 30 seconds mid-sentence during a press conference at the Capitol. He also spent five days in hospital with a concussion and minor rib fractures after a bad fall in March.

However, McConnell turned up and was confronted by the raucous Fancy Farm crowd. The event is well known for jeering, cheering, and ranting from the crowd. Mr. McConnell spoke for several minutes, receiving both applause and jeers.

“Elaine and I are absolutely thrilled to be returning to Fancy Farm to represent the strongest Republican team we’ve ever run in the state,” McConnell said. It’s my 28th Fancy Farm.”

Earlier that day, at a breakfast for local Republicans, Mr. McConnell assured the group that “this will not be the last time.”

Republican Daniel Ripley, who attended the picnic, said he was happy to meet the 81-year-old senator, but that McConnell’s health problems made him think more seriously about term limits and other issues.

“He looked a little weak on stage. Mitch McConnell has been there for a long time and has done a lot of good things, but I think he should have a term limit just like the president,” Ripley said. said.

The median age of U.S. senators is a record high at 65, and several health concerns within the Senate have brought questions over term limits, vacancies and party balance to the forefront. there is The growing awareness of an aging Congress has led some Kentuckians to ponder what would happen if there was a vacancy in the state’s Senate seat.

How Vacancy Filling Works in Kentucky

For most of Kentucky’s history, the governor only appointed someone until the next election. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution provided for direct election of senators by voters. He also said the state legislature could authorize governors to appoint governors in the event of a vacancy. It’s something that happens in most states, and it’s happened seven times in Kentucky’s history.

But in March 2021, the state legislature, backed by McConnell, introduced a new system. The party of outgoing senators presents the governor with a list of three options. And the governor may choose someone from that list.

Torres Watson, a Republican political consultant and former director of public relations for the Republican Party in Kentucky, said the system was designed to ensure incoming senators have similar views as outgoing senators.

“Voters would rather have someone who thinks like them rather than allow a Democratic governor to appoint a Democrat who doesn’t reflect those views at all,” he said. Ta.

Watson said Kentucky’s Republicans were horrified by Governor Andy Besher, who has often clashed with the state’s predominantly Republican legislature on issues such as abortion and transgender rights. said there is. Some Republicans recognize Beshear’s unwillingness to compromise with the state legislature, Watson said.

“Kentucky voters overwhelmingly chose Mitch McConnell for that seat,” Watson said, referring to McConnell’s victory over Amy McGrath by nearly 20 percent in 2020. Andy Beshear hasn’t always worked well in this Congress, so I think so.” There was also concern that such a collaboration would not materialize. ”

Only Kentucky, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming have this system. And even among those states, only one governor is legally required to elect a dissenting senator — Democratic Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal on the three-man list in 2007. When he elected Republican Senator John Barrasso from

Vikram Amar, a prominent law professor at the University of California, Davis who specializes in constitutional issues, said such restrictions on the governor’s appointment powers have not yet been challenged in court.

The 17th Amendment was enacted to explicitly remove the power to appoint senators from state legislatures, according to Amar.

“The reason we didn’t like indirect elections by the state legislatures is that we thought the state legislatures were too influenced by partisan bosses,” Amar explained.

Anna White, an attorney who worked for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said she sees this as simply a way to undermine the governor’s job and bolster one party’s power. White, she said, is concerned about her idea of ​​giving unelected party officials greater control over elected offices.

“Why would you want a transitional process in which a purely partisan figure would occupy that very important position, representing everyone in the state and not just one political party?” she asked rhetorically. Ta.

White said he expects Beshear, who is running for reelection, to challenge the law if McConnell vacates the seat. He could just ignore it directly, welcome challenges from state Republicans and Washington Republicans, and appoint himself to the seat.

“I would advise the governor to immediately stand up and challenge,” White said. “As soon as the question is asked, he doesn’t just pick one out of three lists and argue over who to make it.”

McConnell said he had no intention of leaving early in his term, which ends in January 2027. Without vacancies, the governor probably wouldn’t be able to bring this law to court.

Copyright 2023 Louisville Public Media. For more information, visit Louisville Public Media.

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