GOP leaders in Kentucky won't commit to seating a Democrat who ousted a Republican incumbent by just one vote in a contested election, setting up a potential partisan clash when the legislature convenes next month.
Democrat Jim Glenn got 6,319 votes on election day while Republican state Rep. DJ Johnson received 6,318 votes. The State Board of Elections certified Glenn as the winner, and he says officials have already assigned him an office, parking space and nameplate.
But last week Johnson contested the election and asked the Republican-dominated House of Representatives to conduct a recount. Lawmakers are scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 8. Glenn filed a document Friday with the House clerk demanding he be seated while the recount is pending. But incoming GOP House Speaker David Osborne would not commit to that, saying it is "solely the prerogative of the House of Representatives to seat a member."
"We cannot commit to how the body will vote, but we can commit to following the constitution, rules, and precedents in a fair manner," he said.
Glenn's attorney, Anna Whites, said Republican leaders should follow the "will of the voters."
"The voters have already spoken and Rep. Glenn has won the election and should be seated," she said.
Kentucky is the latest example of partisan bickering across the country following a midterm election cycle that exposed the depth of the nation's political differences. In Wisconsin, a lame-duck Republican legislature passed laws designed to weaken an incoming Democratic governor and attorney general. And in North Carolina, election officials refused to certify the results of a Congressional race after allegations of fraud.
Kentucky's contested election will have little impact on the state's legislative agenda. Even without Johnson, Republicans will control the governor's office, 61 out of 100 state House seats and 28 out of 38 state Senate seats when the legislature returns in January. But a political fight over a disputed election could consume much of lawmakers' time in a session where it only has 30 legislative days to pass bills.
Johnson says a recount will prove he is the rightful winner of the election. His lawyer says six people who voted were ineligible because they did not sign the precinct voter roster as required by state law. Also, he says local election officials incorrectly rejected 17 absentee ballots because they lacked signatures matching that in the voters' applications.
Glenn's filing on Friday did not address those issues. Glenn declined to comment, referring questions to his attorneys Anna Whites and Pierce Whites. Both said they have not heard from Republican leaders whether Glenn will be seated in January, but said they filed documents on Friday as a pre-emptive measure.
"It's a motion for an orderly procedure on Day One since I'm afraid it will be disorderly," Pierce Whites said.
History shows they could have reason to worry. In 2004, Republican Dana Seum Stephenson defeated Virginia Woodard for a state Senate seat. But a judge later ruled Stephenson was ineligible because she did not meet the state's residency requirement.
Stephenson appealed to the state Senate. Shortly after Woodard recited the oath of office on the first day of the legislative session, the Republican-controlled Senate voted not to seat her because she had not received the most votes in the election. Later, the Senate voted to seat Stephenson instead.
Stephenson was eventually forced to resign after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled she was not eligible to run for office, prompting a special election.