FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — State Rep. Johnny Bell, a member of House Democratic leadership, said Monday that he has decided not to seek re-election this year as his party tries to maintain its fragile majority in the chamber.
Bell’s decision creates another open seat for Democrats to defend in the November election as Republicans attempt to consolidate their power in the Kentucky Capitol.
Bell, a Glasgow attorney, said it was a difficult decision he had been pondering for some time.
“I’ve just got business interests at home that I want to go home and take care of,” he said.
Bell serves as House majority whip, a role that includes rounding up votes for bills supported by Democratic leadership. Bell said his decision to not run again won’t affect the remainder of his current term.
Bell’s legislative district covers Barren and part of Warren County in south-central Kentucky. He was first elected to the House a decade ago, unseating Republican incumbent Steve Nunn.
Bell’s announcement came a day before the filing deadline for candidates to run in the primary and general elections this year in Kentucky. Bell said he helped recruit a Democratic candidate, Joe Trigg, to run for his seat. Two Republicans — Steve Riley and Freddie Joe Wilkerson — also have filed so far for the seat.
Most House Democratic incumbents will be on the ballot again this year. Another veteran Democratic House member who previously announced his decision not to seek re-election was Rep. Mike Denham of Maysville. So far, one Democrat and three Republicans have filed to succeed Denham.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Monday he understood the business demands on Bell’s time and said he would respect whatever decision Bell made. Bell said fellow Democrats had urged him to run again.
Stumbo said he feels good about the lineup of House Democratic candidates statewide for November, and Bell said he was confident Democrats would retain control of the chamber.
“Because they stand for the right things,” Bell said. “They stand for public education. They stand for the working people of the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Republicans also have been upbeat about their candidate recruitment for the House.
House GOP Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said he was confident Republicans will pick up Bell’s seat. Hoover praised Bell as a good lawmaker but said Bell’s decision comes at a time of “changing political times.”
“Democrats in the House opting out of re-election campaigns is recognition of a changing political dynamic in Kentucky,” Hoover said.
All 100 House seats will be up for election in November. But crucial elections are looming before then.
Democrats are clinging to a 50-46 advantage in the House, not including four vacant seats. Special elections to fill those seats are scheduled for March 8.
Republicans have not held power in the House in nearly a century. The GOP is in solid control of the Kentucky Senate, and Republicans gained the governorship last year with Matt Bevin’s election.