Saturday, October 11, 2003

State Rep. Kerr switches to GOP

Conservative has supported Republican issues, candidates

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Northern Kentucky Republicans scored another coup Friday when veteran Democratic state lawmaker Tom Kerr of Taylor Mill defected to the GOP.

Kerr, 53, a lawyer who has been in Frankfort since 1985, has established a record as one of the General Assembly's most conservative Democrats.

He often has crossed the aisle to support Republican-backed issues and GOP candidates over the years.

"The Republican Party's stance on issues of importance to me, including pro-life values, the right to bear arms and the size and the role of government most closely resemble my own beliefs," Kerr said Friday during a press conference at state GOP headquarters in Frankfort.

"If you compare that to the Democratic Party's liberal platform, it is easy to see why I can no longer call myself a Democrat," said Kerr, who attended the press conference with his wife, Janice. "I'm not leaving the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left me."

Kerr has been courted for years by Republicans to make the switch and his move was not unexpected. He said he did it Friday so he could openly support Ernie Fletcher, the Republican's gubernatorial candidate.

Kerr had a coming-out party of sorts Thursday in Lexington, when he attended a state party fund-raiser featuring an appearance by President Bush.

"We're absolutely delighted," said state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, the vice chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party.

Thayer and Kerr represent many of the same communities in Frankfort.

"Tom campaigned for me when he was still a Democrat in sub-freezing temperatures this year," said Thayer, elected during a special election in January.

"I thought that was a good sign that his party switch might be imminent."

Even with Kerr's move, Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the Kentucky House of Representatives, 65 to 35.

A Democratic leader said he isn't sorry to see Kerr go.

"The guy has not supported, endorsed, voted for or attended functions for Democrats for years," said Kenton County Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Smith, now charged with helping recruit a candidate to run against Kerr next year.

"Maybe he'll do more for his district as a Republican because he sure didn't do much for it as a Democrat," Smith said.

"He is so no-profile."

Kerr's defection leaves six Democrats in the 18-member Northern Kentucky legislative caucus the party once dominated. Among them is House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan of Wilder.

Callahan said he isn't surprised with Kerr's decision.

"That rumor had been out there for a while," he said.

"I'm more disappointed that as a friend and colleague I had to hear it elsewhere. That's uncharacteristic of Tom. Usually he's pretty straightforward.

"I was just with him (Thursday) morning and he said nothing."

Other Northern Kentucky elected officials who have switched parties while in office include Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson, Kenton County Coroner Dave Suetholz, Boone County Sheriff Mike Helmig and former Boone County Jailer John Schickel, now a U.S. marshall.

Campbell County Commissioner Dave Otto bucked the trend in 1996 when he switched from Republican to Democrat.


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