- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

JAMESTOWN, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s first Republican House speaker in nearly 100 years says his biggest job will be managing the expectations of the state’s restless GOP leaders 7/8- starting with the governor.

Jeff Hoover says the new Republican-controlled government will act swiftly to pass a right-to-work bill and anti-abortion legislation. But he says he plans to move carefully on the more unwieldy topics of tax reform and a ban on transgender bathroom use as he seeks to manage an unpredictable caucus through an unprecedented transition.

“It is going to take some adjustment on everybody’s part,” Hoover told The Associated Press in an interview.

That includes Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who on the night the GOP won a House majority said he expected the legislature to overhaul the state’s tax code and approve some of his executive orders that replaced the board of trustees at the University of Louisville. Bevin did not respond to AP requests to comment on Hoover’s transition.

Hoover says: “I intend to maintain the independence of the House as an institution. I think that is critical regardless of who is governor.”

A criminal defense attorney who owns a country music radio station, Hoover was first elected to the House in 1996. In 20 years, he has transformed a small GOP caucus into a 64-seat super majority in what was the last remaining legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats.

Hoover will be the first Republican speaker since 1921. He has been a steadying influence amid volatile GOP politics over the years, often joining with Democrats to pass legislation - for example to combat heroin addiction and to borrow money for a cancer research center.

But he’s been willing to resort to drastic measures too, including orchestrating a dramatic walkout of the House chamber in 2004 to protest a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that Republicans said was designed to be thrown out in court.

He’s sometimes been at odds with more conservative members of his party. In 2014, northern Kentucky Rep. Adam Koenig challenged Hoover for minority leader. And in June, the United Tea Party of Kentucky called for Hoover to step down as minority leader, citing his “abysmal” voting record. Hoover never responded.

“I will be the first one to stand up, as you know, and yell and scream and try to give a fiery speech,” Hoover said. “At the same time, you have to maintain those relations to solve problems that need to be solved.”

Hoover still owns the radio stations his parents purchased in 1966 and, until recently, he served as play-by-play announcer for the local high school basketball team. His law office in Jamestown is near the town square, where Hoover often walks to get a haircut from his father-in-law and lunch at the Jamestown Cafe. He’s known to most here as “Bucket,” a nickname bestowed by a high school football coach frustrated that none of the helmets would fit him.

“One of his coaches said if we can’t get a helmet for him we’re going to have to get you a bucket for that head,” said Tony Kerr, the Russell County Circuit Court Clerk and one of Hoover’s closest friends.

Hoover deflects most questions about his agenda, saying that will be discussed at the Republican Caucus retreat in Bowling Green next month. But he told The AP that there’s no question the caucus will pass abortion restrictions, possibly a bill requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. Such measures are more likely to be challenged in court than in the GOP-controlled legislature, where most agree more restrictions are needed.

Hoover also said he believes there are enough votes to pass a right-to-work law, which would ban companies from requiring employees to join a labor union.

But the most complicated issue could be a bill to ban transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice in public schools. A similar bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate in 2015, but died in the House. Since then, North Carolina enacted a similar law, prompting the NCAA to remove postseason basketball tournament games from the state.

Hoover vowed to keep economic policies at the forefront, but noted that the Republican caucus he leads would have the final say in such matters. Regardless of the outcome, he said the state’s citizens can count on one thing: “We will be a caucus that will share the values of Kentucky.”

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