Former State Rep. Robert Benvenuti elected as next Ky. Republican Party chairman
Robert Benvenuti, a health care lawyer and former state representative from Lexington, is the newest chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky. He replaces Mac Brown, who held the position for eight years before announcing his resignation last week.
In a Saturday meeting of the Republican State Central Committee, a group of local party chairs, elected state officials and others, selected Benvenuti to oversee the future of the Republican Party in Kentucky.
Before his election to the state House of Representatives in 2012, Benvenuti was appointed inspector general for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services by former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Benvenuti chose not to run for reelection as a state representative in 2018. His former seat is now occupied by House Democratic Caucus Chair Cherlynn Stevenson of Lexington.
Benvenuti takes the helm as Republicans hold 80 out of 100 seats in the House and 31 out of 38 seats in the Senate.
"There is no doubt that through the hard work and diligence of many, the growth of the Republican Party in Kentucky has been remarkable," Benvenuti said. "However, there is much more work to be done.”
During his time in office, Benvenuti was a supporter of the death penalty, saying a bill proposing its abolition would “never, ever have my support.” He also stood in opposition to a bipartisan felony expungement bill that would have allowed people with the lowest level of felony to petition the court for an expungement, saying it went too far.
Benvenuti was also staunchly anti-abortion. He sponsored a resolution to honor “pregnancy help centers,” also known as crisis pregnancy centers. He also warned that legalizing medical marijuana would be a slippery slope to legal recreational use, saying he could fill a committee room with “first responders, law enforcement officers and parents of dead children based on the effects of marijuana.”
Benvenuti replaces Mac Brown, who oversaw the party during one of its periods of largest growth. The new chairman called for unity and reliance “upon the wisdom of our conservative forefathers” in a news release.
The emphasis on unity reflects similar appeals from Brown as he prepared to leave the position.
“The key to our future success is for the Republican Party to come together and not fight each other,” Brown wrote in an email to members of the state central committee. “Help the next chairman build the party.”
Fractures have deepened in the Republican Party over former president Donald Trump, election integrity and policy issues like Kentucky’s near total ban on abortion. Some members of the party have tried to push it further to the right, while others, like Secretary of State Michael Adams, have called on fellow party members to pull away from polarizing social issues.
The primary function of a party chair is to fundraise, according to Republican strategist Tres Watson. And to do that well, you have to get along with everyone in a big camp.
“How do we keep the party together with the growing numbers of registration and elected officials, and make sure that doesn't devolve into infighting?” Watson said. “The real job of the chairman is to be someone who's personable and can make friends with people in all the camps.”
Benvenuti is coming into the position just ahead of the 2024 election cycle, as the Republican Party struggles to select its next presidential candidate and current members of the statehouse and hopefuls officially announce their candidacy for November.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer from Georgetown said he was glad when Benvenuti threw his hat in the ring for the chairmanship. Thayer said he and some of his colleagues felt Benvenuti’s career in Frankfort “ended too soon.”
“We were sad when he left because he's a very level headed, reasonable guy. All of us who were disappointed when he left the house four years ago were happy that he was ready to jump back into a statewide leadership role,” Thayer said.
Thayer said he believes Benvenuti will begin to lay the groundwork for the governor’s race in four years, which Thayer said is the party’s next big hurdle.
“We want to make sure that Andy Beshear is the last Democrat governor elected in Kentucky for a generation,” he said. “We've got elections in 2024 and 2026, but I think there's no better time than the present to start thinking about 2027.”
Sean Southard, a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said the party hopes to continue building on the foundation Brown left behind in the coming year.
“With the 2024 cycle already upon us, Robert is hitting the ground running as we work to maintain our legislative supermajorities and reelect our strong Republican congressional delegation,” Southard said.
Benvenuti did not immediately return a request for comment.