Archive for September, 2011

In defense of career politicians

The latest TV ad attacking Republican candidate for governor David Williams isn’t only unfair, it’s an appeal to ignorance.

So many are, I know. But this one perpetuates an idea that I find particularly ridiculous: the belief that in government, unlike in any other profession, experience is a liability.

David Williams, left, and Steve Beshear, right are both career politicians. And that isn't a bad thing.

The ad quotes Williams, Kentucky’s state Senate president, as saying he’s been there longer than anyone else. And that’s too long, his detractors would have voters believe. Then the ad labels him with the ultimate epithet: “career politician.”

Yes, Williams is a career politician, but so is his opponent, incumbent Democratic governor Steve Beshear.

Beshear, a Lexington lawyer, served as a state legislator before becoming attorney general. Four years later, he was elected lieutenant governor. In 1987, he ran unsuccessfully for governor, then 20 years later, he ran again and won. Now he’s seeking his second term. He also was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate against Mitch McConnell in 1996.

The governor may have a better claim to being a career politician than Williams, who has served in only one office, that of state senator — although he also ran for the U.S. Senate, against Wendell Ford in 1992.

The fact that both Beshear and Williams have served for many years shouldn’t be held against them. Experience matters — in government, just as in business, academia and any other endeavor. We’re better for having had career politicians like John Sherman Cooper, Bert Combs, and Carl D. Perkins.

So let’s put an end to the nonsense about replacing all the government officials who have been on the job long enough to know what they’re doing.

A government without career politicians is a government of novices.


GOP enforcers crack down on dissidents

“You know, if there’s anything people are tired of today, it’s partisan politics,” former Congressman Larry Hopkins said recently when asked about his party’s threat to punish him for supporting Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s bid for re-election.


Former U.S. Rep. Larry Hopkins, R-Ky., shown here with First Lady Jane Beshear, has twice endorsed Gov. Steve Beshear, the Democratic incumbent, who is seeking a second term.

“That doesn’t really bother me,” he shrugged.

It should, though. It should bother every Republican who believes in freedom of conscience in choosing the leaders of our commonwealth and country.

Hopkins, a conservative Republican, served six terms, from 1981 to 1993, in what was then a heavily Democratic 6th District, because enough members of the majority party approved of the job he was doing to return him to the House time and again.

Like Ronald Reagan, who could not have been elected president without the “Reagan Democrats,” Hopkins enjoyed the support of some officials from the opposition. But now his own party wants to forbid its insiders from supporting Democratic candidates.

When it comes to party discipline, the Kentucky Republican Party takes a page from the playbook of the Politburo: independent thought and crossing the party line will not be tolerated.

After  prominent Republicans, including Hopkins and former Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, endorsed Beshear for re-election along with his running mate, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, the state’s Republican Executive Committee unanimously adopted new rules that forbid endorsements of Democrats in general elections by party insiders. It bars them from serving in leadership positions if they endorse or financially support any candidate who isn’t a Republican.

That means that Hopkins, who is automatically a member of the Republican State Central Committee because he is a former congressman, would no longer be allowed to serve.

“There is an expectation that if you want to be a leader in our party, you’ve got to have at least a recent track record of not opposing our nominees,” he said.

I can’t imagine, though, Democrats taking a similar hard line against allowing leaders to support candidates based on their abilities, character and proven performance. At least not since Tammany Hall.

It is not unusual for leaders who are normally loyal to their party to occasionally support a candidate of another party when they feel that person is the better choice. Republican Colin Powell, for example, endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 election, and in 2004,  Democratic Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia gave the keynote speech for George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention.

That seems to be the case in this year’s election for governor. There is no denying that state Senate President David Williams, the Republican nominee, is an intelligent legislator and a masterful politician. He has done more than anyone else to return two-party government to Frankfort.

Therein, however, lies the irony: He has done so with a heavy hand, ruling the Senate in what many have described as a dictatorial fashion, often excluding Democrats from participation. Kentucky has two-party government in the sense that the Republican Party now controls one of its branches, but it does not have bipartisan government — not in the Senate anyway.

And cooperative, bipartisan government is what Kentuckians need now to meet the great challenges facing us. With his abrasive personality and intense partisanship, it is doubtful that Williams can deliver. And some of his ideas, such as doing away with the state income tax in the midst of a revenue crunch, are indicative of how political his agenda is.

Beshear has shown that he is a moderate, collaborative leader who has a good track record of leadership in troublesome times. In the 2007 election, many Republicans supported him because they were embarrassed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s hiring scandal. That isn’t an issue today. It’s simply a question of who is the most competent person for the job.

And both parties should focus their efforts on convincing voters and their own stalwarts that they have the best candidates, not dictating how they must think and choose.

No greater love: Blue Mass at St. Joseph

It was fitting that at the moment Bishop Ronald Gainer said to the police officers, firefighters and paramedics that when they hear the alarm, they respond to their neighbors — the  alarm sounded and they responded.

It  turned out to be only a minor incident, and most of the firemen were back inside the church minutes later. But it was a reminder of how we sometimes take for granted those who are ever vigilant in protecting and serving us at a moment’s notice.

Another reminder occurred as I was walking home  from the service and noticed first responders assisting someone on the sidewalk.

The Blue Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Winchester was held for the 10th year to commemorate those first responders whose lives were lost in the national tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and honor those who live to serve us.

It was a beautiful and moving eucharist service.

When we were singing “Amazing Grace” I choked up and couldn’t go on. Nor  could I read the words in the hymnal as my  eyes welled up, though I knew the words by heart:

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come.

‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,  and grace will lead me home.

I thought of the policemen and firefighters who were lost on 9/11, and of a young woman I  met years ago, Kristen Kuveikis, whose father, Thomas, a New York City firefighter, was one of the heroes who gave his life that day for others.

What greater love could there be than that?

I remember Kristen telling me that she wasn’t  a churchgoer, but since the death of her dad on 9/11, she had prayed. “I think it has made me stronger,” she said.

Faith will do that.

How could God let something like this happen? That’s the question we ask whenever any terrible thing occurs. But as the bishop explained, God made us as creatures with free will, and sometimes people don’t  choose life.

So much of what happens in this fallen world goes against the will of Go, but he is with us always in our suffering.

The Psalmist said that God is “close to the broken-hearted.” That should give us comfort.

We should also be comforted in knowing that when evil must be opposed, by force if necessary, or when natural disaster occurs, there are courageous women and men who are willing to put their lives on their line for us.

For that we should be forever grateful.

You may read my September  2006 column about FDNY firefighter Tom Kuveikis and his daughter, Kristen at the following link:






Whitman, Manhattan and a verse for 9/11

I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there …

I am the mash’d fireman with breast-bone broken,

Tumbling walls buried me in their debris,

Heat and smoke I inspired, I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades,

I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels,

They have clear’d the beams away, they tenderly life me forth.

— Walt Whitman

This excerpt from New York poet Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” was  written about the time of the Civil War, but his love of his city, country and the soldiers and firefighters who served it shine through in his verses. I found this in a thin volume published in 2001 by The Arts Council of England, called “I Hear America Singing: Poems of Democracy, Manhattan, and the Future.”

United we stand: 10 years after 9/11

Home of the brave — 10 years after 9/11

“Let us not measure our sorrow by their worth, for then it will have no end.” — William Shakespeare

On that brilliant, blue September morning, the thought that went through my mind was, “Everything is right in the world.”

Then the phone rang and shattered my naivete.

Three of us had attended a chamber of commerce breakfast at Asbury Theological Seminary and were returning to our jobs at The Jessamine Journal. DeAnna, an advertising account executive and sergeant in the Army reserves; Zoya, a reporter-photographer and immigrant from the former USSR; and I were riding through horse country with the windows down and joking about taking the rest of the day off to enjoy the weather when Veronica, our receptionist, called to tell us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Like everyone else, we thought it must have been a small plane that had gone off course. But then Veronica called again and said she had heard a second plane had struck the other tower.

I remember the look of confusion on the  women’s faces that must have been reflected in mine before the reality set in: This was no accident.

When I heard a short time later on the radio that there was a fire in the Pentagon, I knew: We were at war.

Ten years later, we are still at war against al Qaeda and its allies, including the Taliban in Afghanistan, although Osama bin Laden and other top leaders of his gang are dead. It is a fight we appear to be winning, but the sacrifices have been great. Just this morning, some 77 American servicemen were injured by a truck bomber in Afghanistan — in what has been the bloodiest year of America’s longest war.

Today, however, is a day to especially remember those first sacrifices on this date in 2011. The more than 2,900 victims include the men, women and children who died in the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, and the heroes of Flight 53, who put up a brave fight and forced their plane down on a field in Shanksville, Pa., rather than allow the terrorists to crash it into the White House or the Capitol. Those people represented the best of who we are.

This morning, like millions of Americans, I listened to the saddest roll call: the seemingly endless list of names of the victims, read by family members. Beautiful Irish, German, Italian, Hispanic, and yes, Arabic names.

One of the survivors, 12-year-old Patricia Smith, whose mother, Moira, an NYPD police officer, saved the lives of several people that day before she gave her own, said to her spirit: “You will always be my hero and the pride of New York City.”

And not only of New York we would add.

Ten years ago, we believed this shared tragedy would make us stronger and more selfless. Yet in recent years, we’ve forgotten that promise we made to ourselves.

The economic crisis of 2008 was a result of greed and freedom run rampant. We forgot that along with individual rights, we have responsibilities to ourselves and others.

There is a pernicious philosophy taking root in our society that says we owe nothing to the poor, the sick and the elderly at home, or to those who are struggling for their freedom against brutal tyranny abroad. It is a belief that is not consistent with our nation’s Judeo-Christian values and is not worthy of us as Americans.

We are supposed to be a beacon of freedom and justice — the shining city on a hill that John Winthrop, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan described. That is why, from Paris to Tehran, the world morning with us on that fateful day a decade ago.

And it is why we must remember today and always what those heroes of 9/11 taught us — that our lives are not our own, that we belong to one another, and to God.



Huntsman: the thinking conservative’s candidate

Jon Huntsman Jr. has been a leading business executive, one of the most successful governors in the nation, has worked in the administrations of every Republican president in the past three decades, and has more foreign policy experience than all the other Republican candidates combined. He is clearly the most qualified Republican candidate for president.

Jon Huntsman, at 51, has served every president since Reagan except for Clinton, has been ambassador to the second-most important nation in the world, China, and was the most popular government in the history of Utah, where he sharply cut taxes, had a better record of creating real jobs than Rick Perry did in Texas, and put in place a successful health insurance reform program that doesn’t involve individual mandates or government over-reaching.

He is an accomplished millionaire business executive, has more foreign policy expertise than all the other Republican presidential candidates combined, and has enacted more strong pro-life legislation than any other governor. He is a strong conservative, but not an ideologue. Like George W. Bush and Barack Obama in 2008, he favors same-sex civil unions, but not marriage, and unlike Perry, he is not anti-science. When more than 90 percent of climate scientists say that global warming is real and caused by man-made carbon emissions, Huntsman says we should trust the scientists.

So why isn’t the only serious candidate and the only candidate of presidential stature, being taken more seriously by Republican primary voters?

For more about Huntsman, read this article in the latest issue of The American Conservative.

Life after black ink: the post-newspaper blog

A newspaper cartoon from about the time I left my job as managing editor of my hometown daily made me smile, but also made me a little sad because I saw myself reflected in it. It showed an overwweight, balding, middle-aged man sitting on a sofa in his underwear and socks, pecking away at his iPad and surrounded by computers. On the wall behind him was a framed sign that said, “I blog, therefore I am.”

"The Post-Journalism Existentialist" by Wiley Miller for "Non-Sequitur"

The cartoon was labeled “The Post-Journalism Existentialist.”

What was ironic was that I had spent part of that  day with my former employer’s digital media manager, Johnny, who was trying to help me move my blog from the newspaper’s website to my own domain, which I had bought for about $125. Also, that day, my mother called to read  me the story in the newspaper about the executive editor taking over my duties. It read about the way I thought it would, and brought a sense of closure.

For six years I had managed the newsroom, written editorials, columns and features, planned projects and enjoyed the work. I was proud to be part of a tradition in my hometown that stretched back more than 130 years, and was one of only three editors in more than half a century. I thought I would retire from the company, leaving a legacy of  steady improvement. Yet I kept taped to the wall inside my office closet a clipping left behind by my predecessor, Bill, that reminded me there is no “indispensible man.”

I miss the newspaper, but there is life after black ink and newsprint.

Which brings me back to the blog. When the push came a few years ago for editors to blog, I resisted. I thought it was one more thing to add to a heavy workload. But the more I did it, the more I liked it. Many of the posts were columns or stories I had written for the paper, but I liked being able to add videos, photos and links to other websites that would give readers more information. 

It also provided an electronic archive of my work. So the day I left my job, one of my concerns was saving that archive. I appreciate the publisher for letting me keep it, and Johnny for helping me move it to a new site.

Having a blog is a good way to keep my writing skills sharp and share my thoughts with those who want to read them, whether they be many or few.

I don’t have to have a blog to be somebody, but being a writer is a part of who I am, and blogging is part of being a writer in this digital age.

Whether I remain a newspaperman or move into some other career remains to be seen, but in my heart, I will always be a journalist, and having a blog is one way – but  not the only way – I will continue that part of my life.

September 2011
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