- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Meet the newer, tougher state Senate Democrats.

Less than a month after taking a drubbing at the polls and seeing their numbers dwindle to historic lows, Senate Democrats on Monday chose Sen. Ray Jones, a fiery attorney from Pikeville, to lead their caucus during the next two years against a super majority of Republicans.

“From time to time there has been some complacency among the Senate Democrats to sit back and take what’s been dished out,” Jones said. “That’s going to change.”

Jones replaces Sen. R.J. Palmer of Winchester, who was defeated by Republican Ralph Alvarado in a close race last month. Jones will be joined by new Democratic caucus chairman Gerald Neal of Louisville, who is replacing Sen. Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg. And Sen. Julian Carrol of Frankfort, a former governor, is returning to Democratic leadership as the minority whip, replacing Sen. Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville, who did not seek re-election.

Jones blamed the party’s poor showing at the polls on the deep disapproval most Kentuckians have for Democratic President Barack Obama. He said Democrats have “failed miserably” at recruiting quality candidates and promised a better showing in future elections.

Democrats will have a tough time getting around the Republican majority, which controls 26 of the chamber’s 38 seats and whose numbers could grow after a special election scheduled for early next year. Last week, Republicans re-nominated Robert Stivers for a second term as Senate President. And they chose as floor leader Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican who has no trouble matching Jones’ passion.

“We feel like we have a mandate to implement and pass bills based on the conservative principles all 26 of us were elected on,” Thayer said last week after his re-election as majority leader. “We have an historic majority. Twenty-six, in case you hadn’t counted. And we intend to do something with that.”

Senate Republicans have not released their agenda, which could be finalized next week during their retreat in Owensboro. But it will likely include past Republican proposals of outlawing mandatory memberships in labor unions as a condition of employment and eliminating the prevailing wage rate paid to contractors on government projects.

Republicans say eliminating the prevailing wage and passing so called “right-to-work” laws would attract more businesses to the state that would hire more workers. But Jones indicated Monday that Democrats would take a tougher stance against those issues on the Senate floor.

“It benefits the wealthiest people in our state that own these corporations that don’t want to have to pay a reasonable wage with reasonable benefits,” Jones said. “And we have not been effective in carrying that message.”

Republican proposals often die in the state House of Representatives, where Democrats enjoy an eight-seat advantage. But Stivers said GOP gains in the Senate are signs Republicans will soon take control of both legislative bodies, giving them an easier path to passing their proposals.

“(Democratic House) Speaker (Greg) Stumbo is standing in a tunnel. And that light he is seeing is not the end, it is a train coming at him,” Stivers said last week after being re-nominated as Senate president. “It is just a matter of time before that body changes.”

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