Saturday, January 15, 2005

Power Corrupts (Kentucky Version)

A very interesting power play is going on in Kentucky between Republicans and Democrats and the legislature and the judiciary.

On election day, Republican Dana Seum Stephenson defeated Democrat Virginia Woodward by 1,022 votes. However, Kentucky's constitution requires that Senators be residents of Kentucky for at least 6 years prior to their election. Woodward sued before election day alleging that Stephenson did not meet that qualification, and thus was ineligible to be elected. (Stephenson apparently lived in Indiana from 1997 to 2001 while she attended Indiana University Southeast. She voted, registered her car, paid taxes and bought a home in Indiana.)

The judge who heard the case ruled after the election that Stephenson was ineligible, and that the votes for her were disqualified, thus making Woodward the winner. However, the Kentucky Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted along party lines not to seat Woodward and instead to seat Stephenson. The Senate Republican claim that only they have the power to decide who sits in the Senate, regardless of the Constitutional requirements. Senate President David Williams even said that "If 20 people in this body voted that someone was 30 years old, no court in the land could overturn that," despite Kentucky's Constitutional requirement that all Senators be at least 30 years old.

Such arrogance has already cost the party one member, who, after the Senate Republicans rejected his call for a special election, had threatening to resign, but instead has become an independent. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Stephenson's father is Dan Seum a powerful state Senator - so we have corruption and nepotism in this story.)

Woodward has continued her court challenge, and the Judge has now barred Stephenson from performing any duties of a senator, including participating in committee meetings, hearings and votes, until the dispute over the seat is resolved.

I am sure that this is an issue that will ultimately be heard by Kentucky's highest court, but it is a fascinating power struggle and raises some very interesting questions. If the Kentucky Senate is able to ignore the Constitutional requirement about its membership, can't it ignore everything in the state Constitution? Isn't that a slippery slope that ends up in chaos? One can only imagine that Tom DeLay is keeping a very close eye, and probably taking notes.

I will, of course, keep you updated steadfast reader.