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Birthdays are a good time to sit back and reflect on the past: Remember your accomplishments, admit your defeats and prepare for the future by learning from your mistakes.
So it was on his 57th birthday on the last Wednesday of 2010 that retiring state Sen. Gary Tapp (R-Shelbyville) sat down with Landmark Communications and talked about walking away from 12 years of work in Frankfort as first a member of the House and for the last eight as a senator.
Tapp chose not to run for re-election this year, instead opening the door for Republican Paul Hornback of Shelby County to win the seat and continue the county’s control of the 20th District.
Three weeks earlier, Tapp said his office was packed up and moved out.
“I took everything home, all the awards and honors, and it’s all sitting in a box,” he said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.”
Finding a place for those memories will be tough – in more than one way.
“It’s been a little bit emotional,” he said. “I’ve put in 12 years of my life and dedicated a lot of time and effort, especially since joining the Senate.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve the district.”
Most of what he will miss, he said, is the friendships built through, and despite, legislation.
“I’ve made a lot of really good friends up there. I may have to get back up there a time or two,” he said.
But will he get the itch to return when the regular session convenes early next year?
“Probably not,” he said. “We’re about to have our sixth grandchild, and some are getting to the age of little league and such.
“If I stay in the Senate, I miss a lot of those things, and those are opportunities you can’t get back.”
And Tapp nearly missed the chance to make the most of his Frankfort memories.
The last minute
After Tapp had served in the House for three years, his wife, Beverly, had gotten sick, and he had decided not to run for re-election.
But, at the last minute, the Senate came calling.
Veteran Shelby County Sen. Marshall Long was retiring, and the district including Shelby County was being redrawn.
“The night before papers had to be filed for election, [current Senate president] David Williams called me at about 10:30 or 11 at night. we were in session,” he said. “He wanted to talk about the Senate, and I told him, ‘David, I told you, I’m not running.’
“But I went up there, and this is when they were redistricting. They had changed the district to include Shelby, Bullitt and Spencer, because Franklin County used to be in this district.
“I said, ‘It looks like a fine district,’ and he told me, ‘We drew it for you.”
Tapp said he told Williams he had to go home and talk to his wife and pray on the decision.
“On my way home, [U.S. Sen.] Mitch McConnell calls, and I told him the same thing. I said, ‘Mitch, I’m not making a decision on that tonight.’”
Tapp said when he got home and talked to Beverly, she essentially told him what he needed to hear.
Her health had improved dramatically, and much faster than had been expected, and he said she told him, “I never told you to step away the first time.”
He filed the next day and won his first Senate seat against Larry Belcher of Bullitt County.
A big change
That first year, moving from the minority party in the House to the majority in the Senate, Tapp said, was a monumental change.
“As a freshman, I had a seat on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee and the I was the chair of the License and Occupations Committee,” he said. “It was pretty wild, and the work load was tremendous.”
However, he said that first year also shaped the senator he would become.
Tapp continues to hold the co-chair position on License and Occupations and the seat on A&R. And since he has added the chair on the Administrative Regulations and the vice-chair on the Economic, Development, Tourism and Labor along with several other interim and session committees.
But it has been his work for small businesses and in construction that has left the largest mark.
He has worked on legislation to help small businesses provide health care, regulate electrical licensing and HVAC inspections and has helped in-state construction companies with getting bids against out-of state companies.
But don’t think he has been relegated to business only.
He was one of the primary sponsors for the Marriage Act, introduced the fire-safe cigarette legislation, helped find bio-diesel credits and helped introduce the legislation for the $5,000 Kentucky home buyer’s tax credit.
“And I helped get an executive order passed to get the Jewish Hospital built in Bullitt County,” he said. “I’ve helped on a lot of stuff. It’s hard to remember all of it.
“I’m really going to miss being in session.”
The next phase
Without that second job securing free time, Tapp said now he’ll move on to more hobbies.
“This is probably the first time in about 30 years that I haven’t had two full-time jobs,” he said. “I used to love to play golf, but I haven’t had time in the last several years, and with the grandkids getting older, I still might not. But that’s OK.”
Now he and Beverly will have more time to focus on what they want to do.
“We’re going to try to travel more and ride our motorcycles. We’re both big motorcycle riders,” he said. “And I can focus more time on the business [Electric City, where he’s a co-owner].
“I’ve had really great partners in John Parker and Ronnie Webb and great employees over the years that have let me take the time to serve this district. I’ve been very fortunate.”
But when that Frankfort itch comes calling, he may still have an outlet.
“I’ll probably help David Williams with his campaign for governor,” he said, “and maybe I’ll do a little consulting. We’ll see.”