After nearly 11 years serving in the Kentucky General Assembly, Dennis Parrett says his most satisfying moments have come when he was part of passing legislation which provided direct and immediate impact on people.
“We can help people’s lives as a legislator, and to me, that’s a wonderful thing to do,” the senator said.
The Elizabethtown Democrat, who has a final year yet to serve in his third term, has decided not to seek re-election. Parrett, 62, said it’s time to shift his focus.
“Health problems, that’s No. 1,” he said. “The main thing is slow down and spend more time with family and our four beautiful grandchildren.”
In March, Parrett collapsed in the Senate chambers and was rushed to a Frankfort hospital for tests and spent much of the final days of the session recuperating at home. His wife, Lisa, also is confronting breast cancer.
Parrett previously retired from business life, having sold Cecilia Farm Service and Kentucky Crop Insurance. A former Extension Service agent, Parrett still is involved in farming, working alongside his in-laws and other partners.
In 2010 when he defeated incumbent Republican Elizabeth Tori to win the 10th District Senate seat, Parrett said his goal was to serve two or maybe three four-year terms and he’s met that objective.
Along the way, he developed a reputation for bipartisanship and fairness. He said he approaches a bill based on its merits and never on whether it’s backed by Democrats or a Republican.
“I just try to do what I think would be best for Hardin County and is morally right,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “And I take it seriously.”
Parrett’s leadership ability has been noticed in Frankfort. Twice he was appointed by the Democratic caucus for a Senate leadership role. At the urging of colleagues from both parties, he also briefly entertained ideas of running for state agriculture commissioner in 2014.
Parrett said he eventually decided the time commitments away from home and family were too great. He quietly supported fellow legislator Ryan Quarles, a Republican, who won the seat and now is being discussed as a GOP gubernatorial candidate.
Parrett said highlights of his legislative efforts include ensuring special needs students receive a true diploma upon finishing high school rather than a certificate of completion and a requirement that all newborns be tested for blood oxygen levels to ensure they’re healthy.
He also sponsored the Brianna Taylor Act, which is now law. Before Parrett’s bill, it wasn’t until the fourth DUI conviction in five years under Kentucky law that the offense was treated as a felony. By increasing the look-back window to 10 years, DUI convictions remain on a person’s record longer for sentencing penalties.
He fought for financial literacy education as a high school requirement without success but was proud to vote for similar legislation sponsored by state Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown.
DuPlessis, who also has announced he will not seek another term in next year’s election, said he’s enjoyed his association with Parrett.
“He and I both worked for our county and not always our party,” DuPlessis said. “We need more people who will do that.”
Hardin County Sheriff John Ward, who serves on the local Democratic Party executive committee, said Parrett’s service should be celebrated and he cherishes their friendship and will continue to rely on him for guidance.
“Dennis is a tremendous person and has been an outstanding senator,” Ward said Wednesday. “You hate to lose a quality individual in the legislature who has represented all of his constituents and did a great job in doing that.”
In the collaborative and political legislative climate, Parrett said disappointments are to be expected.
“I still have some regrets,” he said. “Some bills I really, really wanted to see pass didn’t. But you can’t get everything you want passed. That’s the nature of the beast. But I’m very comfortable with what I’ve done so far.”
He has informed party officials of his plans to step aside after completing the final year of his term. The 10th District seat, which serves all of Hardin County and a few precincts in southern Jefferson County, will be on the ballot in the 2022 primary and general election.
Parrett, who was unopposed in two re-election campaigns, expressed appreciation to supporters for the opportunity to serve.
“My time in the Senate has been a wonderful thing for me and is something I’ll always cherish.”