Saturday, February 10, 2007

Politics Anyone?

Believe it or not, it’s already time for the 2008 races. It seems like it was just a few months ago were talking politics (well, actually, it was just a few months ago; November to be exact). So, what was learned from the November races? Well, we learned that the people are tired of Bush’s handling of just about everything. The Republicans lost across the board. Was it a cyclical fluke? A slight correction? Or was it a signal that the mood of country, and the political momentum, was swinging back to the Left? Are we, as a country, becoming more liberal, perhaps as a result of aging Hippies (yeah, that would include me) taking one more swipe at affecting the country’s political climate? Is this the decade of the “New” Democratic Party? Interesting questions all.

We do know that the voters turned out in droves to oust Republican incumbents (which is no mean feat). Especially hard hit were Republican Moderates, who ironically, helped the one time minority Democrats get through or soften certain pieces of legislations. In turn the Democrats targeted their one time allies. I guess it goes to show that the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy. We know the anti-war movement is growing, and Bush’s ratings keep getting lower and lower. We know too that the ultra conservative Religious Right movement didn’t show up at the polls. Many stayed away to voice their frustration with what they saw as an increasing hypocritical Republican Party.

We know blue collar folks, especially union workers in the auto industry came out heavily, no doubt to vote their opinion of the state of the automobile industry, especially Ford (which beg the question “Has anyone driven a Ford lately?”). With Bush’s continued refusal to admit the existence of global warming (he recently, albeit cryptically, acknowledged there may be some sort of climate change afoot but continues to deny the human impact despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary). This “head-in-the-sand” stance brought out thousands of environmentally concerned voters, including ironically Fundamentalists, who have joined with environmentalists because of their belief that we are “caretakers” and “protectors” of the Earth and all that’s on it.

On the other side of spectrum, we know folks are very concerned…and frustrated…over illegal immigration and the Federal government’s refusal to do anything. They are equally frustrated about the government’s unwillingness to require immigrants to learn English. We are finding ourselves as outsiders in our own country. We are the ones who are being forced to adapt to those who refuse to learn our language. We are the ones being required to “press one” for English (something I refuse to do). We are the ones spending millions of taxpayer dollars to train police, EMS, and firefighters to speak Spainish, not to mention hiring special tutors for students who don’t speak our language, as well as for those whose parents don’t want their children to be taught in English (seriously), and this doesn’t even include all the money spent on various social services. We know that we are very concerned about a nuclear Iran, as well as a possible nuclear Taliban, Hezbollah, or Al Qaeda. Are these “conservative” issues or simply issues of national interest? I don’t know frankly, but I do know they will impact the 2008 elections, and beyond. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some of the upcoming Kentucky races.


As many of you know, I’ve been active in politics for nearly 30 years. There’s not much I haven’t done in politics. I know how the Democrats operate, and how the Republicans handle themselves. I also know personally many of the candidates running. With that said, let’s look at the Governor’s race.

The GOP has big problems. Darrell Brock, head of the Kentucky Republican Party announced on February 9 that he’s resigning next month (he’s expected to be replaced by the highly competent Gail Russell). Darrell, never a big fan of Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher, easily survived a failed attempt at ouster by the Governor as you may recall. Still, it’s never a good omen when the head of the incumbent’s party quits at the beginning of a major election cycle (sends that “deserting-a-sinking-ship” message). Ernie Fletcher is the first Republican since 1969 to be elected governor, which is impressive given the 2:1 Democrat voter registration. Yet successfully got himself indicted over a hiring scandal, and managed to limp from one crisis to another (even his Lt. Governor, not to mention most of his staff, has quit). Fletcher’s running mate is virtual unknown Robbie Rudolph, a Cabinet Secretary. His chief benefactor and GOP “Godfather”, US Senator Mitch McConnell (who was instrumental in getting Fletcher elected) has dropped him, as has Senator Jim Bunning. Most of the GOP operatives (and financial heavy hitters) have also abandoned him. In what has to be highly embarrassing for an incumbent governor, he’s been forced into a Primary against two strong opponents.

The headlines for former 3rd District Congresswoman Anne Northup on February 7th could have read "Northup throws in the Towel" when it was announced that she canned her campaign manager, Cam Savage. Not so much for firing him, although his handling of her thus far lackluster campaign certainly warranted it, but by hiring former Kentucky Executive Director Michael Clingaman (officially Savage “resigned” for “personal reasons”). I had the…er…opportunity of working with Michael when I ran for 38th State Representative in 2004. His job was to provide assistance to all challenger State House candidates. Specifically, he was to be our liaison between the House Leadership, Party Leadership, and the Governor’s office.

Now why I can only speak for myself, many of my fellow candidates voiced these same concerns. The walk sheets Clingaman provided were incomplete, and usually outdated. The phone lists were incomplete (I received only a partial list—even my name wasn’t on it--though I was assured it was a complete list. This resulted in me paying more my phone banking than I should have and yet reaching fewer people). Although he was supported to arrange to get “names” to come out and walk with us, he never did. He was supposed to arrange photo-ops with the Governor and others, but failed to do so. He was supposed to notify party and House members of our fundraisers, but never did. And, by the way, money specifically set aside for challengers, was diverted to help the incumbents. His demeanor was rude and arrogant. His advice to the less politically experienced was disastrous. While I was not active in the ’06 races, my understanding was that Clingaman offered more of same. Her saving grace may be her running mate, House Minority Leader, Jeff Hoover. Jeff is a popular politician who knows the ins and outs of Frankfort politics better than most. But even his popularity and expertise may not be enough to overcome Clingaman.

Paducah businessman Billy Harper is making a name for himself with his self-funded campaign commercials. Barely was the ’06 election over when Harper started running his ads. Harper’s inexperience may have already caused a fatal error in his election bid. As everyone who follows Kentucky politics knows, to win a gubernatorial race, you need someone on your ticket from the “Golden Triangle”, that is, Louisville, Lexington, or Northern Kentucky, which are the main population centers of the state. Harper made the mistake of selecting Dick Wilson, also of Paducah. Wilson may be a great guy and all, but it could show Harper’s lack of statewide appeal and experience.

On the Democratic side, they smell blood in the water, and we have quite a selection of sharks to pick from. Former Lt. Governor Steve Beshear is running with State Senator Dan Mongiarino. Not much to say about Steve. Good guy. This may be last try at the top job. Perennial candidate Gatewood Galbraith and retired highway engineer Mark Wireman are giving it a go. Galbraith is best known for wanting to legalize Pot. Guess we should call this the “Doobie Brothers” ticket. Former Lt. Governor Steve Henry finally decided to jump in the pool. I’ve known Steve for many years. Steve has had a lot of troubles lately. He was indicted, and later acquitted of Medicare billing fraud. He’s also being investigated for possible campaign finance violations over his failed 1998 bid for US Senate. Steve’s best asset is his wife, former Miss USA, Heather French Henry. Heather has made a reputation of caring for veterans, especially disabled veterans. Steve and Heather regularly come out to veteran events (including a few of mine). However, Heather has her own baggage. Several years she accidentally hit and killed a bicyclist on her way home. While it was determined she wasn’t at fault, this is Kentucky politics, and it’s bound to come up. All in all, Steve and Heather would make a great First Couple for Kentucky.

Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford is running with Attorney General Greg Stumbo. While this is a classic example of using the “Golden Triangle”, both men have serious baggage issues. Like Harper, Bruce is a self made multi millionaire. He ran for governor is 2002, and then quit toward the end of race. While bad enough, he endorsed Republican Ernie Fletcher. In Democratic circles, that’s tantamount to political suicide. Stumbo has made his term of Attorney General a crusade against Fletcher. Despite repeated denials of a “witch hunt”, including a public statement denying any interest in running, Stumbo accepted Lunsford’s offer for the number two position. Stumbo, of course, has a number of personal issues, among which comes his failure to pay back child support.

State Treasurer Jonathan Miller and Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze are also weighing in. Both are good guys. Jonathan and Irv are very likable. I only see two possible flaws with their race. Jonathan is Jewish, which (sadly) may not play well in heart of the Bible Belt, and neither have the fundraising ability it’s going to take to win this race, which is too bad. Jonathan is without a doubt one of the best the Democrats have in their current stable of raising stars. As for Irv, this is possibly his last shot at higher office.

Finally we come to House Speaker Jody Richards and former Secretary of State, John Y Brown III. Jody comes off as dull and uninspiring, which belies a very intelligent man. Jody too is reaching the end of his political career and this may well be his last grab for the golden ring. I went to school with John Y. Let’s just say he wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box. I have to admit, I always delighted in debating him in every class we had together. After his tenure as SoS, John publicly admitted to having a serious drinking problem; something I seriously hope he’s got under control.

Missing from our list of political “Who’s Who” is current Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Trey considered a run for governor but wisely decided to seek reelection for SoS instead. Trey has done a great job as SoS and should win. Trey quite possibly represents the best of the Republican Party in Kentucky, and its future. He has everything one needs to be successful, except experience, and time will take care of that. I know that when I needed his help, he was there—no questions asked. And that says a lot in my book.

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