- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Unhindered by a state Democratic Party reduced to rubble on election day, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin claimed a bold mandate from Kentucky voters Wednesday and vowed to overhaul state government in ways he couldn’t during his first year in office.

Bevin’s to-do list after Republicans seized control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1920 includes overhauling the state’s tax code, making it illegal for companies to force employees to join a labor union, letting parents send their children to private schools with the help of public dollars and getting rid of the Common Core educational standards.

And late Tuesday night, Bevin said he expects the new Republican majority to pass laws reversing several court decisions that blocked some of his executive orders - including one that abolished and replaced the board of trustees at the University of Louisville.

“The people are already seizing this chance before them,” Bevin said during an appearance on WHAS radio. “Over the next generation you will see Kentucky become a beacon to America for what it means to be open for business.”

Democrats will be hard pressed to stop Bevin and his Republican allies after their numbers dwindled from 53 to 36 in the 100-seat House of Representatives. The drubbing comes one year after Democrats lost four of the state’s six statewide constitutional seats, including the governor’s office for just the second time in the past 40 years.

Nationally, Republicans already control two-thirds of state legislative chambers. Tuesday, they added three more governorships to their list: Missouri, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Democratic state Rep. Brent Yonts blamed the abrupt end of his 20-year state House career on a trend in his western Kentucky district to vote straight Republican, spurred by the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton atop the Democrats’ ticket.

“We had the worst presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket we’ve ever had,” Yonts added. “The believability factor was what killed her and killed us.”

Former state auditor Adam Edelen, swept from office last year by a lightly financed opponent who rode another Republican election wave, said state Democrats find themselves in “uncharted territory.”

“We have never, in anybody’s memory, been the total minority party,” he said. “We’re going to have to be an effective opposition party.”

Edelen predicted Republican policies will reduce wages, weaken workplace protections and make it harder for workers to get health coverage. If that happens, Edelen said Democrats must be ready to speak out.

“The challenge for the Democrats is to take advantage of that second look that we’ll get as a result of the hard-right agenda being implemented here and the controversy that will ensue,” he said.

Republican legislative leaders urged caution Wednesday. Likely House Speaker Jeff Hoover noted the caucus gained 23 new members Tuesday, ensuring a steep learning curve for nearly a third of the majority party when the legislature convenes in January.

Hoover didn’t dispute Bevin’s policy agenda, but said he couldn’t guarantee it would pass. He said the new Republican caucus would have its first closed-door meeting Thursday to begin setting priorities. Two bills could come up quickly: restricting transgender bathroom use at public schools and a “religious freedom bill.” Similar legislation has caused problems in other states.

“Our focus is going to be on policy that drives Kentucky economically that makes Kentucky a better place to live and to work and to attract business and create jobs,” Hoover said.

Hoover and Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said they’re willing to work with the new Democratic minority. They both paused to praise Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, whose 36-year career ended Tuesday when he lost to Republican Larry Brown in eastern Kentucky.

“I consider him a friend, and I do believe a man who has devoted more than 30 years of his adult life to serving in the General Assembly deserves accolades and appreciation,” Hoover said.

But Bevin was less generous, saying he was “delighted” that Democrat Yonts lost his seat and bid Stumbo “good riddance.”

On WHAS, Bevin said Democrats should “expect to be respected, expect to be listened to, expect to be part of the public discourse.” But he ended by denouncing “all these yahoos and whiners” who have bemoaned the election results and took to social media to announce they were moving to Canada.

“They can leave,” he said.


Schreiner reported from Louisville.

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