Archive for the ‘elections’ Category

It isn’t just the economy, stupid

First published Nov. 7, 2015

Matt Bevin, during his visit to Bardstown in late September for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, told me something that helps explain his nearly nine-point win over Jack Conway in last week’s election for governor.

“When I began this race, I was focused entirely on economic issues … . Yet in recent days and weeks … the social issues have moved to the forefront and probably will stay there,” he said.

This was right after a county clerk had been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples because it violated her religious convictions, and also after outrage over revelations that Planned Parenthood had been harvesting body parts of aborted infants.

The folk Bevin talked with in every hamlet care about these things, he said.

These are the same people President Barack Obama insulted when he said working class Americans “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them” because they’re frustrated with their economic situations.

Years before, Bill Clinton’s campaign guru, James Carville, came up with his unforgettable dictum for his campaign workers — it’s “the economy, stupid.”

But it isn’t, and never was entirely.

This may come as a surprise to most Democrats, but what bothers many rural voters even more than the economy is the mindset of secular urban liberals that people like them — who honor God, enjoy guns, trucks and church picnics, and cherish traditional family values — are cretins or circus freaks.

These common people care about the environment, but also care about unemployed miners and their families. They don’t want abortion to be a crime, but they know it’s a tragedy and can’t understand women who talk about their bodies as if babies weren’t also bodies and souls. They think government should give a helping hand to those who need it, but not endless handouts to those who won’t help themselves.

The Democratic Party calls itself the party of the people, but it hasn’t been that for a long time. It mostly represents an affluent, college-educated, culturally liberal, suburban white minority.

But who represents the black Baptist preacher who is concerned about out-of-wedlock births, the drug culture and youth violence?

Who represents the teacher who wants out because she can’t control her students who have never been disciplined by their parents and have no respect for authority?

Who represents the police officer that puts his life on the line every day to protect others, only to be treated with contempt because of the actions of the few who are a discredit to their code of honor?

Voters who support public education, fair wages, affordable health insurance and the promise of Social Security, but who also are socially conservative should be the natural constituency of Democrats in Kentucky and most other rural states, but almost no one is offering that choice anymore. Their choice is either a Republican Party that cares more about millionaires’ hedge funds than Head Start, or a Democratic Party that is liberal across the board. Is it any wonder that the fastest growing party affiliation is no affiliation at all — or independent?

It’s true that Kentucky Democrats are a little different than Democrats in San Francisco or Boston.

Jack Conway, to his credit, sued the Environmental Protection Agency over regulations intended to shutter coal-fired power plants. He took a cautious, wait-and-see approach on Medicaid expansion and listened to what the actuaries were saying. And he said he favored finding a solution that would protect county clerks’ rights of conscience while ensuring that those who are legally entitled to marriage licenses can get them. But every circular that came in the mail from the Republican Governors Association mentioned Obama’s name about as many times as Conway’s, because the president is not popular in Kentucky.

State Auditor Adam Edelen did almost everything right in his four years in office and had some significant accomplishments, such as putting a corrupt former commissioner of agriculture in prison, making special taxing districts more transparent and holding them accountable to elected officials.

Yet Edelen admitted during a campaign rally at Wickland that the policies of the national Democratic Party often make it hard to wear the brand in Kentucky.

He’s right. As long as they are identified with a party that is out of touch with the bedrock moral and cultural values of most people in this state, the influence of Kentucky Democrats will wane until they are politically viable only in cities like Lexington and Louisville.

In fact, after last week’s Republican landslide, I think Kentucky is already close to becoming a one-party state, as it was from the Jacksonian era until the 21st century, when it was solidly Democratic except for pockets of Republicanism in places like the 5th House District and affluent suburbs of Northern Kentucky. But this time, the one-party state will be red, at least until the millennials become the majority, assuming they don’t become more conservative as they age, as most generations do.

Why I am no longer a Republican

First published April 9, 2016

When Ronald Reagan became a Republican in 1962, he explained his decision like this: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”

I felt something similar when, several days ago, I went to the Nelson County Clerk’s Office and changed my voter registration from Republican to independent.

The party I joined when I turned 50 is not the same Republican Party we have today — although the transformation was already beginning with the birth of the tea party movement.

The Grand Old Party that attracted me as I became more conservative in my prime was one that balanced a belief in personal responsibility with a commitment to opportunity. It respected individual liberties, but also cherished community and traditional virtues. It practiced fiscal sobriety, but offered a hand to the disabled and disadvantaged. It had a rich heritage of racial equality going back to the time of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, when the Democrats were the party that elevated states’ rights above human rights.

The party’s compassionate conservatism was rooted in Judeo-Christian principles of justice. It can be summed up in these words from President George W. Bush’s first inaugural address: “Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities, and all of us are diminished when they are hopeless. … I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.”

That perspective has been evident in policies such as charter schools in inner cities to give poor children a chance at a better life, federal funding for faith-based initiatives that work because they address the root causes of poverty and addiction rather than money for big bureaucratic programs that don’t, enterprise zones that give businesses incentives to locate in depressed areas, and humanitarian and military aid to victims of brutality in other countries. It is based on the biblical belief that were are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

In the past seven years, this compassionate conservatism has been supplanted by radical libertarianism, which holds that our brothers and sisters are on their own and that selfishness is a virtue not a vice. It is rooted in the nihilistic philosophy of Ayn Rand rather than the traditional philosophy of her contemporary, Russell Kirk, the father of modern conservatism.

In the current election, though, we have seen something uglier than libertarianism at work. It is a populism that hearkens back to the Know-Nothing movement of the mid-19th century and the John Birch movement of the mid-20th. It stokes the fires of bigotry against anyone whose religion, skin color or country of origin is different than the majority’s, and it has an authoritarian attitude.

What other way is there to describe the faction of the party that wants a caudillo (strong man) like Donald Trump? He is someone who quotes the founding father of fascism, Benito Mussolini, who initially refused to reject the endorsement of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, who incites his followers to acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators, and has said that if he becomes president, he will undermine the First Amendment freedom of the press.

The likeliest alternative to Trump in this year’s presidential race is Ted Cruz, a tea party ideologue whose idea of governing is to repudiate efforts at bipartisan compromise — even compromise with the mainstream of his own party — and shut down the government if he doesn’t get his way. He wants to eliminate the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education and Commerce, as well as the IRS, and he favors a flat tax that would reduce the responsibility of the rich and increase the burden of the poor. He would deport Hispanic immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children. He would dismantle the law that prohibits insurance companies from refusing to sell policies to people with cancer and has added tens of millions of people to the rolls of the insured for the first time.

Health insurance has long been one of my concerns, and six years after the Affordable Care Act, I’m still waiting to see what “repeal and replace” means. The only specifics congressional Republicans offer would allow companies to sell policies across state lines — which sounds like a good idea, but means the policies won’t be regulated because the regulating is done by the states — and would replace guaranteed insurance with tax-free health savings accounts.

Really? That’s all they’ve got after six years?

The great irony is that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is a warmed-over Republican idea from the early 1990s that Republicans rejected en masse as soon as President Barack Obama accepted it.

I’m also embarrassed by Republicans’ embrace of absurd conspiracy theories, such as the notion that President Obama is not a natural-born American citizen or that he “hates America,” or that his wife ridiculed Old Glory — based on lip (mis)reading, or that fossil-fueled global warming is a hoax cooked up by the world’s climate scientists to keep government research money rolling in to pay their salaries. As one of my curmudgeonly college professors sometimes asked her students: How can you be so damned dumb?

I cannot return to the Democratic Party of my youth, because it now insists on a “right” to abort babies up until the moment of birth. It equates religious liberty with bigotry, and believes Christianity is something best practiced in private by consenting adults. It supports public sector unions that make it almost impossible to get rid of inept teachers. It seeks to confiscate the wealth of the nation’s wealth creators. But I can’t go back to the Republican Party — until it comes to its senses.

Will Bevin, Kentucky GOP be ‘Happy Together’?

First published June 19, 2015

If you think Matt Bevin is a dour revolutionary, watch the video. It’s the funniest thing in Kentucky politics since Mitch McConnell’s hound dogs treed Dee Huddleston.

As the Turtles song “Happy Together” plays in the background, Bevin wakes up in a Team Mitch T-shirt, goes to work in an SUV with a Team Mitch license plate and gets a Team Mitch tattoo.

“Yeah, it stings a little bit, but it’s so worth it,” he says.

In one scene, he phones McConnell to warn him: “The word on the street is that Rand is going down to the Senate floor right now. He’s got his pockets filled with energy bars … .They say he’s going to be out there until at least Tuesday.” Then he adds: “Hey, that’s what friends are for, sir.”

It ends with Bevin talking to McConnell like a love-struck teenager.

“No, you hang up. No, really, you hang up,” he says.

Bevin, who won the GOP nomination by 83 votes in a four-way race, probably wasn’t McConnell’s first choice for governor. A year ago, Bevin challenged the Godfather for his seat and reportedly was ungracious after McConnell rolled over him and his Democratic opponent.

Then there was the bitter gubernatorial contest. I figured Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer would win the primary and beat Democrat Jack Conway in the general. Louisville businessman Hal Heiner might have had a chance, but I wouldn’t have placed a $2 bet on Bevin or retired Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, whose shoe-leather campaign never gained traction.

That was before the rumors about Comer’s woman problem.

Less than an hour before Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal broke the story based on an interview with Comer’s college girlfriend, a Heiner supporter called to tell me it was coming. When I read the story, I knew it was over for Comer — and probably for Heiner too, because his people were likely behind it.

That left Bevin, who had taken the high road, as the obvious beneficiary.

But Bevin?

Like Rand Paul, who ran against the party establishment and had to accommodate it once elected, Bevin must do the same. The video was a clever way of admitting it.

On June 10, I interviewed Bevin and his running mate, Jenean Hampton, on PLG-TV, and he told me he didn’t like labels.

“A tea party favorite? I’m not sure what that means,” he said.

He said he had never belonged to a tea party group, but was of “like mind” with them on constitutional government, lower taxes and individual responsibility.

He also said the bad blood between McConnell and himself was fiction, and he had “voted for the guy every time” except when he ran against him.

Make no mistake, Matt Bevin is the most far-right conservative who has ever run a race for governor in Kentucky. He has said he would like to reduce or eliminate taxes except for “consumption” (sales) taxes and reduce spending. He wants to make Kentucky a state where those who work in places that have won the right of collective bargaining wouldn’t have to pay for union representation. He is against raising the minimum wage and would end the prevailing wage. He would take away teachers’ defined-benefits pensions and enroll them in something like a 401(k).

His first executive order would be to abolish Kynect, the state’s popular health insurance exchange, and he would reverse Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid. He opposes Common Core and supports charter schools.

How this agenda will play out in a purple state where Republicans historically have been more like John Sherman Cooper than Ted Cruz remains to be seen. But if Bevin can take a page from McConnell’s playbook on how to pivot, he could succeed.

Politics and candor aren’t incompatible

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes are as different as apples and avocados.

The 72-year-old Senate Republican leader has evolved from Rockefeller liberal to Reagan conservative and is courting tea party libertarians in his toughest contest in 30 years. His 35-year-old challenger is a Clinton centrist like her daddy, a former Democratic Party boss.

One thing they have in common, though, is they’re intent on managing the message.

I became a reporter the same year McConnell became a senator, and I’ve been impressed and annoyed by his ability to stay on message. Ask him a question, and he’ll give you a scripted statement. Ask it in a different way, and he’ll repeat it.

That seems to be something Grimes has learned as well.

Grimes has been criticized for being short on specifics. So when she came to Bardstown a few days before the primary, I prepared a list of specific questions. Before I could question her, an aide, Preston Maddock, questioned me about what I was going to ask her.

I had only a moment, so I rolled two questions into one. I noted that she had been attacked in ads linking her to President Obama’s “war on coal” and “Obamacare,” so I asked her to tell me one thing she would do to protect coal jobs and one change she would make to the Affordable Care Act.

I wrote that Grimes “didn’t directly answer the question” about coal jobs. On health reform, I quoted her as saying Congress should allow people to keep their doctors and “streamline the enrollment process.”

Short on specifics.

Matthew Fogle, our PLG-TV reporter, didn’t get to ask a question. He also tried to video my interview, but Maddock thrust his hand into the lens and said they were out of time. Fogle tweeted that Grimes didn’t have time for him, and I got a call from the campaign asking that we take down the Twitter feed and Facebook post.

Later I got a call from campaign press secretary Charly Norton asking that I “tweak” the line about Grimes not answering the coal jobs question. Didn’t I receive a copy of her jobs plan? Well, no. But that isn’t how I operate. I’m a reporter. I don’t eat handouts.

Norton sent me a link to the jobs plan. It was boilerplate. As a senator, Grimes would “spare no effort to persuade Washington’s policy makers that a coherent, rational energy policy must have a meaningful, long-term place for coal,” and would call on the president “to do the right thing.”

Short on specifics.

It hasn’t always been that way. In the 1980s, politicians gave detailed policy statements. A few, like Senate mavericks Rand Paul of Kentucky and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, still do, but they’re the exceptions. They’re also respected and popular. Maybe there’s a connection.

It’s hard to imagine a time before social media and sound bites when candidates said what they meant and meant what they said. In his 1968 presidential campaign, Bobby Kennedy sought the antiwar youth vote but had the guts to tell college students their deferments were unfair to poor black kids who were fighting in their place. He even admitted his culpability in the Vietnam debacle, quoting Socrates: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.”

Admit mistakes? Repent of pride? Unthinkable!

Kennedy also talked to hostile medical students at Indiana University about providing health clinics for poor neighborhoods. When one student asked where the money would come from, Kennedy pointed his finger at him, and said, “From you!”

Specific, honest and to the point.

We need that kind of candor again.

Changing parties should be easier

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The beginning of the new year is when we think about making changes, but if you’re thinking about changing your political affiliation, think again. You’re too late.

It’s hard to believe, but the cut-off for changing your party registration for the 2014 primary elections was last year, on Dec. 31, and the Nelson County Clerk’s Office was closed for New Year’s Eve.

I didn’t read anything about it until that day. The press release from Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ office was dated Dec. 17, but who’s thinking about politics or elections a few days before Christmas?

Maybe it’s to the advantage of the majority party’s leaders that we don’t think about it. After all, the Democratic Party has a nearly two-to-one advantage in registration in Kentucky, and it’s higher than that in Nelson County. But nearly seven in 10 recent new voters have registered as Republicans, and I suspect this isn’t the only county where that’s happening.

Nationally, the number of people who consider themselves independents (that is, people who choose not to identify with a political party) make up 44 percent of us, according to a Dec. 5-8, 2013, Gallup poll. That figure dwarfs the number who call themselves Democrats (30 percent) as well as those who identify as Republicans (24 percent).

And the number of self-proclaimed independents is almost evenly split when they’re asked which way they tend to lean in voting: 42 percent considered themselves Republican “leaners,” and 44 percent tend to lean more toward the GOP.

Party loyalty isn’t what it used to be, and partisan state officials shouldn’t effectively exclude people from choosing which primary they want to vote in by having the registration deadline so far ahead of the election that almost no one is yet paying any attention.

It’s also wrong to have the voters’ party affiliation deadline occur before they even know who’s going to be on the ballot. Candidates have until Jan. 28 to file for election and can decide then whether they will run as Republicans or Democrats.

State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said in an email this week that it should be the same for voters; they should have until Jan. 28 to make that decision prior to the May 20 primaries. I would like to see it be a few days later, on Jan. 31, so voters know who the candidates are and can choose a primary based on that knowledge. Or just simplify it and make it April 21, the same day as the regular registration deadline for voting in the May 20 primary.

At least 10 states allow voters to wait until they go to the polls to decide which primary to vote in. I don’t like that idea. It negates the reasons for having parties and creates opportunity for mischief.

If that were the case, I could envision, for example, thousands of Democrats crossing over to vote for Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican U.S. Senate primary because they believed he would be easier for their candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, to beat in the general election in November. If Ashley Judd had entered the Senate race as most of us expected, I could see thousands of Republicans crossing over to vote for her because they thought she would be easier to defeat in the fall.

Having the cut-off a few days before the primary also isn’t a good idea, for the same reason.

But having the registration deadline 30 to 90 days out, as almost all other states do, seems about right to me.

No other state makes its voters choose their party affiliation as early as Kentucky does. Connecticut comes closest by having the registration deadline three months before the primary. Kentucky’s is more than four and half months prior to the election. That is unacceptable, and someone should write a bill for this year’s regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly to change it.

Hindering popular participation in democracy and maintaining rigid partisan structures aren’t areas in which Kentucky should want to be first in the nation.

Will Scotland turn its back on Britain?

Imagine the Union Jack without any royal blue.

This is what the flag of the United Kingdom could look like if Scotland leaves the union.

There would be a white field with two red crosses — St. George’s, for England, and St. Patrick’s, for Northern Ireland. But the blue field and white cross of Scotland’s patron, St. Andrew, might be missing if the Scots were to decide next year to become an independent republic.

Saturday was St. Andrew’s Day, the day we celebrate all things Scottish.

Yet the icons we associate with Scotland — beautiful thistle and heather, stirring bagpipes, lively Celtic dances, military pageantry, Scotch whiskey, warm woolens, colorful tartans, stunning landscapes and patriotic poetry — are also part of Great Britain’s heritage.

Without Scotland, there could be no Great Britain. The nation was created by the Act of Union in 1707, although England, Wales and Scotland had already been united under Scotland’s King James VI a century earlier.

I should add that without Great Britain, there would be no United Kingdom because it was formed by Ireland and Britain in 1800. The secession of the Irish Republic in the 1920s is understandable because of the long history of discrimination against Catholics. But discrimination hasn’t been the case in Scotland for centuries.

Scotland’s cultural and historical contributions to Britain are remarkable considering its size. With a population half that of metropolitan London, the northern kingdom is stronger because it is part of Britain — and so is Britain.

That could change on Sept. 18, 2014, if a majority of those eligible to vote — including non-Scots living in Scotland, but not native and ethnic Scots living in other parts of the U.K. — vote for full independence. Most polls for the past several months have shown a slight majority against division, but the undecideds are a large enough factor to tip the balance.

Recently, I was talking about this with Matthew Spandler-Davison, a local Baptist preacher. He’s from Scotland, and his church does evangelism and missions there. He isn’t confident most Scots will vote “no” on the referendum because Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, the leader of the socialist and republican Scottish National Party, is a crafty politician who is doing everything he can to affect the outcome — like changing the law to give starry-eyed 16-and-17-year-olds the vote, and timing the referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland’s greatest victory over the English. But this isn’t 1314, and David Cameron isn’t Longshanks.

I don’t want to see the further balkanization of the U.K., our closest ally and the cradle of democracy and capitalism. Why would Scotland want to be just another tiny country in the European Union when it is an equal partner with England in comprising one of the greatest nation-states in history?

The Scots already have their own educational and legal systems, parliament and home rule, yet also enjoy all the benefits of being part of a world power.

Maybe I don’t have a Scottish terrier in the fight. Though I’m descended from a Scot who was born in Edinburgh the year after the Act of Union and died in Lancaster, Pa., 70 years later, I’ve never set foot on those shores. I hope to, though, while Britain is still great.

People of the U.K. would do well to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln, leader of another great federation: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

An apology:

In my last column, I offended an elder at Redeemer Fellowship Church, Franke Haydon. That was not my intention, but I’m sorry. To clarify, not all those who taught the Alpha course at Redeemer are Calvinists. Franke isn’t. And I don’t think Calvinists are all wrong.

My purpose was to show that I was open to learning something about a Christian tradition I knew little about, though it left me with more questions than answers. What I meant by using Apostle Paul’s words, “We see through a glass, darkly,” is that we will never understand everything we want to know about God this side of eternity. We are all fallible and finite. God is infallible and infinite.


Politico: Independents now largest registration

One of the things that makes tomorrow’s New Hampshire Republican primary — the first in the nation — different from other primaries is that independents (people who have no party affiliation) can vote in the partisan contests.

In recent years, the number of independents in this country has been growing, and according to a new poll published on, those who describe themselves as independents is now 40 percent — the largest affiliation in the country — if choosing no party can be considered an affiliation.

According to the recent Gallup poll, Democrats are now 31 percent of elected voters and Republicans are 27 percent. Read the full story at

Kentucky voters rejected tea party politics

Kentucky tea party activists got one thing right in handicapping the results of the Nov. 8 election: The GOP’s stinging defeat that night was not a rejection of conservatism.

David Williams was doing better in the race until he lurched to the right.

The tea party movement holds itself up as the last arbiter of who is and isn’t a true conservative and tries to purge from the Republican Party anyone it deems a heretic. The irony, though, is that its partisans don’t understand what true conservatism is, nor do they understand that America is a center-right country.

Despite the sour economy and sour mood that fueled the rise of the tea party in 2009, a majority of voters rejected its most strident candidates, such as Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller, in favor of establishment Republicans or Democrats.

One notable exception was Rand Paul of Kentucky, who benefited from his father Ron Paul’s organization and donor list and had a Democratic opponent who ran a poor campaign. Jack Conway allowed the tea party to depict him as a liberal, which he is not, and his TV ad that dredged up one of Paul’s college pranks and questioned his faith turned many voters off. So did his arrogant statement at Fancy Farm that he was “one tough son of a bitch.”

James Comer ran a bipartisan campaign

Since then, polls have shown an increasingly negative public perception of the tea party movement. A survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Nov. 9-14, shows that 27 percent disagree with the tea party and 20 percent agree, while more than half didn’t know enough to have an opinion. The same poll shows the view of the Republican Party has also become more unfavorable, especially in tea party districts, during the time the tea party’s influence has grown.

Still, the movement’s leaders in Kentucky are saying that all but one of the Republican candidates lost in the 2011 general election because they didn’t toe the tea party line.

In a front-page article in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Nov. 12, Lexington radio talk show host Leland Conway said Republican candidate David Williams was defeated by Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear in a landslide because he was “an establishment candidate” who got “rejected by the tea party.”

“The establishment part of the Republican Party needs to learn that its candidates have to be true conservatives for the tea party to line up behind them and to win,” he said.

And David Adams, who manages GOP campaigns, took the same tone, saying, “The tea  party just wants to make sure the Republican Party stays true to conservatism.”

I’ve known Adams and Conway for a long time, and consider them friends, but I have to wonder what’s in the tea they’ve been drinking.

Adams’ candidate for governor in the primaries, tea party favorite Phil Moffett, lost to the more moderate Williams. Normally, GOP candidates appeal to their ideological base in the primary and moderate their stance in the general election contest to gain cross-over voters from the majority of Democrats and independents. Williams did the opposite.

In the primary, for example, he advocated forming a commission to study Kentucky’s tax structure and suggest changes to make it more business-friendly. But in the fall race, he lurched far to the right, advocating the abolition of the state income tax. That would likely have meant a higher sales tax or insufficient revenue to run even a smaller state government.

In an election in which the Republicans should have had a huge advantage, they lost every state office but one, that of commissioner of agriculture. State Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, got more votes than any candidate, Democrat or Republican, in any other race. Leland Conway said it was because Comer “ran unequivocably as a tea party candidate.”

It’s true that Comer did have the support of tea party activists like Mica Sims of Lexington, and it was a smart decision to appeal to the tea party, because like any minority movement of true believers, its troops are disciplined, well-organized and highly motivated. But in the general election campaign, Comer was also smart to run as a bipartisan candidate and avoid taking extreme positions.

I covered the state Republican rally in Lexington on election night for The Associated Press and got an interview with Comer before the results were in, but when it was clear he was going to be the winner. What he told me doesn’t jibe with Conway’s explanation.

According to Comer, he won because he ran a positive campaign, reached across party lines to get the backing of Democratic as well as Republican county officials, and enjoyed the support of farmers and young professionals — who tend to be the most progressive voters.

The other Republican who came closest to winning, treasurer candidate K.C. Crosbie, also ran as a moderate conservative and rejected the politics of division. Like Comer, she had the endorsement of influential Democrats, including Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

Except for Williams and his running mate, Richie Farmer, those Republicans who lost by the largest margins were the ones who identified most closely with the tea party: Todd P’ Pool for attorney general, John T. Kemper III for auditor and Bill Johnson for secretary of state.

Of course, money always is a major factor in politics, and except in the treasurer’s race, Democratic candidates had more of it than Republicans did. Could it be that business owners and the affluent, who provide most of the cash in campaigns, didn’t like the new direction of the Republican Party and gave to Democrats instead? That’s certainly plausible, considering that Beshear ran as a centrist, supported the coal industry and had the backing of prominent Republicans such as former Congressman Larry Hopkins.

In an Oct. 24 cover story in Time magazine, “The Return of the Silent Majority,” Joe Klein wrote that what he found in his recent travels through the American heartland was that most Americans he talked with long for a more civil and more moderate political climate. They want results, which requires bipartisan cooperation and compromise. What they reject is the radical notion on the far right that Republicans must burn the country down to save it.

And when you think about it, incendiary politics is a most “un-conservative” notion.

If you look up the definition of “conservative” in the dictionary, you’ll find that its synonyms include “moderate” and “cautious.” And conservatism is defined as “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.”

What the tea partisans espouse is the opposite of stability, respect for institutions and gradual reform; they want a revolution. But few Americans are following them to the barricades because that isn’t the conservative way.

Libertarianism is not conservatism. If you want a conservative country, think of Andy Griffith, not Ayn Rand. True conservatives put more emphasis on tradition, community and authority than on radical individualism and unbridled freedom.

As one of my favorite political writers, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative, wrote in 2006: “Traditional conservatives know that, absent the restraining hand of religion, tradition or the state, there is nothing to prevent human beings from acting in ways contrary to their own best interests or those of the community.”

The tea that was piping hot only a short time ago has grown cold and bitter, and many who found its flavor inviting then have lost their taste for it.

And that’s good for American democracy.


Kentucky Senator Gatewood Galbraith?

Gatewood Galbraith said that he would see me in hell, but I don’t hold a grudge.

If he’s right, I’ll be in good company. He said the same thing about David Hawpe, former editor of The Courier-Journal and Tim Kelly, former editor and publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader.


The cover photo for Gatewood Galbraith's 2004 autobiography, "The Last Free Man in America."

Galbraith, who garnered 9 percent of the vote as an independent candidate for governor in the Nov. 8 election, gave the three of us “hell” because we didn’t consider him a serious candidate in past elections.

During his 2003 race for attorney general, I wrote an editorial or column for The Jessamine Journal asking: Do we really want someone as the state’s top prosecutor who is a criminal defense attorney best known for advocating the legalization of marijuana?

Several months later, in his autobiography, “The Last Free Man in America Meets the Synthetic Revolution,” Galbraith struck back, saying most newspaper editors lack intelligence, have never held “real jobs,” can’t relate to real people, “lack courage” to question their “masters’ agenda,” favor the “status quo,” refuse to do anything that might “upset their apple cart,” and get “more ignorant” the longer they hold their jobs.

I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t know of any group of professionals who enjoy upsetting apple carts more than newspaper editors do, or who are more likely to risk going against their paymaster’s agenda.

Cannabis stupida

As for not appreciating the benefits of cannabis, that’s nonsense. Nearly every newspaperman I know who came of age in the time of Hunter S. Thompson conducted herbal experiments, and many would “wake and bake” before their coffee was brewed.

In my case, it never cured my asthma or alleviated anxiety, and it didn’t make me a better writer or interviewer. It just made me dumb and giddy. I gave it up long ago and don’t recommend it to aspiring journalists — or anyone else.

Nor do I think it should be made legal for recreational use, although the latest poll shows I’m in the minority. I know it helps cancer patients with the nausea and other effects of chemotherapy, and for such purposes, it should be available with a doctor’s prescription. But not for treating boredom and other common ailments.

Enough about that.


Right and righteous

Gatewood may be wrong about marijuana, and his fondness for machine guns makes me uncomfortable. But he’s right about a lot of other things.


2011 independent gubernatorial candidate Galbraith, left, with Republican nominee David Williams, president of the Kentucky Senate, at a KET debate.

What’s important for me as an evangelical Christian is that he’s pro-life and favors increased funding for faith-based initiatives. He’s also a Catholic and a former altar boy, which are two marks in his favor.

He’s also generally conservative in the old-fashioned sense, and not a neocon or a free-market flat-earther.

While he praises marijuana, he has been outspoken about the scourge of prescription drug abuse and would require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, which is used to make meth.

He advocates charter schools for children, greater accountability for teachers, pension reform for state workers and tax reform for all.


The environmental costs of mountaintop removal mining far outweigh the benefits, but Galbraith was the only candidate willing to admit that in the last election.

As an environmentalist, I appreciate the fact that he was the only candidate for governor in the last election who had the cajones to stand up to the coal barons and state unequivocally that mountaintop removal mining is an ecological catastrophe and should be outlawed.

And as someone who believes we all have a moral obligation to care for the disadvantaged, I respect him for wanting a 30 percent cap on loans made by payday lenders who prey on the poor.

Finally, as an independent, Galbraith was able to state the truth that most of the problems in government are caused by partisan gridlock and politicians being in the pockets of special interests.

I considered voting for Galbraith this time but didn’t, mainly because of his lack of experience. With their knowledge of state government, both Gov. Steve Beshear and Senate President David Williams were more qualified than Galbraith to manage and lead.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there shouldn’t be a role for him to play in state government if he wants it.

The question is, does he?




Galbraith is wrong about recreational marijuana, but he's right about other things.

Galbraith’s inclination to seek higher offices that he’s unlikely to win reminds me of a story I read this week about the conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr.

When Buckley, the journalist, ran for mayor of New York in 1965, he was asked if he really wanted to be mayor.

I have never considered it,” he playfully answered.

How many votes did he expect to get, a reporter asked.

Conservatively speaking, one.”

And what would he do if he were actually elected?

Demand a recount,” he replied.

He lost, of course, and took enough votes away from the conservative Democrat in the race that he elected the candidate he least wanted as mayor, the liberal Republican John Lindsay.

That’s usually the risk of running for higher office as an independent or third party candidate. For example, we can thank or blame Ross Perot for electing Bill Clinton and Ralph Nader for electing George W. Bush.

In a contest where the stakes aren’t so high, however, having a maverick third candidate can change the status quo — or, as Gatewood would say, upset the apple cart.

For Gatewood Galbraith, winning a seat in the state legislature would provide an opportunity for his voice to be loudly heard beyond the campaign.

And we could be sure that a “Senator Galbraith” would say some things that need saying and that people would pay attention.


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.


June 2017
« Apr