Ex-House Speaker Jody Richards decides not to seek new term

Ex-House Speaker Jody Richards decides not to seek new term
Jody Richards (Source: LRC)
Jody Richards (Source: LRC)

FRANKFORT, KY (CNHI) -- Jody Richards, who served as Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives for longer than anyone in history, announced Monday he will not seek re-election this year.

The news came on the same day another long-time House Democrat, Darryl Owens of Louisville announced that he, too, will retire at the end of the current term.

Richards, 79, a Bowling Green Democrat, served as Speaker for 14 years before narrowly losing the job to fellow Democrat and one-time Majority Leader Greg Stumbo in 2008. Richards returned to leadership as Speaker Pro Tempore in 2015 but lasted only one term as Republicans took control of the House in the 2016 elections.

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Richards was first elected to the General Assembly to represent the 20th District in 1975.

"It has been an unbelievable honor to represent the wonderful Bowling Green-Warren County community in the Kentucky General Assembly for more than 42 years," Richards said.

Richards, a one-time journalism instructor at Western Kentucky University, was known for championing education, his support for the Kentucky Teachers Association and his ability to direct state resources to Western and the Warren County area.

Last year, Western named its mass media and communication building Jody Richards Hall. The Warren County Board of Education previously named one of its elementary schools for Richards.

Richards co-chaired a curriculum committee which helped write the sweeping Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990 and he was a sponsor of the 1997 Postsecondary Education Reform which separated community colleges from the University of Kentucky, designated UK and the University of Louisville as research institutions, and set goals for producing more college graduates in the state.

He also led the way in the legislature for the creation of the Gatton Academy for Mathematics and Science at Western which enrolls high school juniors and seniors and provides both high school and college credits. Gatton has twice been named the nation's top high school. Richards received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from WKU and was named to the Kentucky Wesleyan College Hall of Fame last year.

Richards was an advocate for business and economic development in his district as well. He helped secure authorization and funding for the Kentucky Transpark, Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center and the Warren County Justice Center.

Richards championed expanding Interstate 65 to six lanes from the Tennessee line to Louisville and expanding U.S. 68 to five lanes from Bowling Green to Lake Barkley.

"I believe the secret of our success is that our local and state officials and our educational and business leaders have worked so well together to make this the best community anywhere," Richards said.

Richards also served in numerous roles for national legislative associations.

Two years after his election to the House in 1975, Richards was named Chair of the House Education Committee, holding that position until he was elected Majority Caucus Chairman in 1986. He held that job until 1995 when he was elected Speaker.

Richards ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in the 2003 primary, finishing a close second to Ben Chandler.

"I want to extend the warmest thanks to the voters of the 20th District for allowing me to represent them in state government for so long, Richards said. "It has meant the world to me."

Owens, a Louisville Democrat, also announced Monday he won't seek re-election to the 43rd House District. Owens — an attorney — also previously served as a District Judge, Assistant Attorney General and Jefferson County District Commissioner.

Owens becomes the third member of the Jefferson County Democratic delegation to announce he won't seek re-election. Steve Riggs and Jim Wayne previously announced they are not seeking re-election as has Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.

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