(The Center Square) – Kentucky state Sen. Tom Buford, a Nicholasville Republican who served 30 years in Frankfort, died Tuesday, according to a statement from Senate President Pro Tempore David Givens.
Buford was 72. According to WTVQ-TV, he died in Pensacola, Fla.
“Tom was a dedicated public servant who proudly represented his constituents in the 22nd District and brought an abundance of insight and experience to some of the Commonwealth’s most complex issues over 30 years of service in the General Assembly,” said Givens, R-Greensburg.
After winning his first election in 1990, when he defeated Democratic incumbent Bill Clouse by 602 votes, Buford quickly took on a leadership post. He served as the minority whip when his term began in 1991, and then he became the minority caucus chair two years later, serving in that role through 1996.
In some ways, his election helped portend Kentucky’s switch in politics at the state level. Before he was elected, there were just nine Republicans in the state Senate. A decade later, the GOP would take control of the chamber for the first time.
Republicans held a 30-8 advantage in the 2021 session.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, considered the architect of the GOP’s rise to power in Kentucky, called Buford “a giant of the Kentucky Senate” and a dedicated public servant.
“Tom was unafraid to take on tough issues and fought hard for Kentucky’s most vulnerable, with a special focus on the disabled,” McConnell said in a statement. “The impact of his work could be felt far beyond the borders of his State Senate district, improving the lives of Kentuckians throughout the Commonwealth.”
Buford’s district included Jessamine County, his home county, as well as parts of other central Kentucky counties, including Fayette.
“He was always respectful to public education advocates here in Fayette County and elsewhere and willing to listen to questions and concerns,” tweeted the Fayette County Education Association, which represents teachers in Lexington.
Condolences poured in from both sides of the aisle as Buford’s colleagues remembered him for both his service and his personality.
“He was a public servant, and always injected an appropriate dose of humor and wit on policy issues,” state Rep. Patrick Flannery, R-Olive hill, tweeted Wednesday morning. “If you have spent any amount of time in the halls of Frankfort over the last 25 years you probably have a good Tom Buford story to tell!”
“He was a true public servant who was full of life, laughter and had a contagious smile that could light up any room,” the Senate Democratic Caucus said in a statement.
Under Kentucky law, Gov. Andy Beshear will call a special election in the district with voters selecting a candidate to serve the remainder of Buford’s term.
Senators serve four-year terms in Kentucky, with the 22nd District seat one of 19 up for election in 2022.
Buford is survived by his wife Carol, two children, Stephanie and Beau, and grandchildren.