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Kentucky's Senate Republicans to Choose Leaders Tuesday

Kevin Willis

After more than a decade under the same leader, Senate Republicans are poised to choose their chamber's next president Tuesday in Frankfort. But regardless of the outcome, insiders are predicting the GOP majority will maintain an aversion to gambling, the very issue that many believe triggered a change in leadership.

"I don't' think you're going to see any significant philosophical change," said Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville. "There will be even fewer votes for gaming in my opinion. I think we are firmly behind our same conservative agenda - no abortions, limited government, a watchful eye over education getting too liberal."

GOP Floor Leader Robert Stivers of Manchester is running for the Senate presidency, as is independent Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah.

The election was triggered by the resignation earlier this month of longtime Senate President David Williams, a gambling opponent who gave up his Senate seat when pro-gambling Gov. Steve Beshear appointed him to a judicial position in southern Kentucky.

Williams had been a hindrance to Beshear on some of his top legislative priorities, including a push to lift a constitutional ban on casino gambling. Beshear has a record of appointing anti-gambling Republicans to more lucrative government positions to get them out of the Senate.

Beshear has been pressing lawmakers to allow gambling in the state since he took office in 2007. He said he's hopeful lawmakers will pass the proposed constitutional amendment after they convene in January. If they do, the issue could be placed on the ballot in 2014 for voters to make the final call.

The vote for Senate president is expected to be taken during a closed caucus at 2:30 p.m. EST. The winner won't officially be seated until January.

Because Stivers is seeking the presidency, his position as floor leader is open. Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown and Sen. David Givens of Greensburg are vying for that job.

Senate President Pro Tem Katie Kratz Stine is unopposed.

Sens. Jimmy Higdon and Brandon Smith are running for Republican whip to replace Carroll Gibson of Leitchfield.

Republican Caucus Chairman Dan Seum of Louisville is facing a challenge from Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro.