By ROGER ALFORD
10:37 AM AKDT, October 26, 2012
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear got rid of his chief political rival in the Legislature on Friday by luring him out of Frankfort with a higher-paying job as a circuit judge in southern Kentucky.
The Democratic governor appointed Republican Senate President David Williams to the judicial position Friday afternoon, ending a long and stormy legislative career.
Beshear said in a brief statement Friday afternoon that the appointment is effective Nov. 2.
"Sen. Williams is an experienced lawyer and is familiar with the district, having represented the area in the Legislature for more than 20 years," Beshear said.
Williams, a Burkesville attorney, ran against Beshear last year in a vitriolic gubernatorial election that showed an intense dislike between the two. However, Beshear has a record of appointing Republicans to more lucrative government positions to get them out of the Senate.
The salary for Williams' new job about $124,000 a year, more than double what he makes as a lawmaker. Taking the position could also double state pension benefits for the 59-year-old after he retires.
Williams said Thursday he would accept the position if Beshear offered it.
Previously, Beshear made Senate Floor Leader Dan Kelly a circuit judge and appointed Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Charlie Borders to the Public Service Commission.
Williams' appointment would fill the two years remaining in the term of Circuit Judge Eddie Lovelace, who died in September. To keep the seat, Williams will have to run when it comes up for election in 2014.
The Judicial Nominating Commission that recommended Williams for the judgeship had offered Beshear two other options, southern Kentucky lawyers Angela Capps and Stephen Douglas Hurt. But insiders knew Williams was the governor's pick even before members of the commission were appointed.
The move leaves Senate Republicans looking for a new president. Several names have been bandied about, including Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers II of Manchester who appears to be likely successor. Others being mentioned include Republican Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro and independent Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah.
Beshear has blamed Williams for thwarting a number of legislative initiatives, including passage of a constitutional amendment to lift a ban on casino-style gambling in Kentucky. The gambling proposal, which has taken several forms, has failed in every legislative session since Beshear was elected in 2007, and Williams took the blame each time.
Despite his often prickly nature, Williams has ardent supporters across Kentucky who bemoaned his departure.
"I appreciate what he's done and trust that he knows what's best for himself at this stage in his life," said the Rev. Jeff Fugate, a Lexington pastor and anti-gambling advocate.
Conservative Christians considered Williams the champion of the causes in the Senate where has served since 1987. He has been an unyielding opponent of abortion, gambling and same-sex marriage, and has led the opposition to legislation that would allow any of the three. Time and again, he has been at odds with Democrats on budget issues, which has led to stalemates, special legislative sessions and consternation of Democratic governors and House leaders.
"David Williams developed a reputation as a formidable politician, and he was," said The Family Foundation policy analyst Martin Cochran. "He may have been one of the best politicians this state has ever seen. But what most people didn't see amidst the political machinations, or at least didn't notice, was the principled mind operating behind it. Those of us who worked with him on issues always knew that he was our ally and that we could count on him. When it came to an issue which he had a deep conviction about, like the right to life or expanded gambling, you knew he would fight for your cause."
Williams helped to orchestrate a Republican takeover in the state Senate in 1999, in a move that propelled the small-town lawyer into one of the most recognizable faces in Kentucky politics. He became Senate president in 2000, earning a reputation over the years for a keen intellect and a sometimes prickly disposition. In last year's race for governor, Williams couldn't overcome a decidedly negative perception fostered by a decade's worth of political battles played out on the front pages of Kentucky newspapers and on the evening news.
The judicial appointment sparked more harsh criticism on Friday, even among Republican activists who faulted Williams for accepting it and the governor for offering it.
"Gov. Beshear set a new standard for getting rid of political enemies - promote them and let the taxpayers foot the bill," said GOP strategist Mike Karem of Louisville.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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