Saturday, March 10, 2018

Kentucky Politics: The Surreal and The Absurd

You know, there's a lot of jokes made about Kentucky, most of them are a bit stereotypical or biased, but, there are a few which still ring true. I think the best and truest joke about Kentucky comes from America's own "bard", Samuel Clemens, better known as "Mark Twain" who allegedly said " when the end of the world comes, I want to be in Kentucky because it's always twenty years behind the times".

 Now whether or not Mark Twain actually said that about Kentucky (which is the place the quote is usually attributed to), it's pretty accurate. Kentucky is usually rather slow and backwards when it comes to a number of things. Now, perhaps its' because Kentucky is a poor state and like to go with what they know, or because it's a conservative state and the people there just don't like a lot of change in general; they want to keep the slower, laidback, and friendly small town atmosphere, and who can blame them? Kentucky is a friendly place, but it's also a "mind your business" place too. Family and friends are all pretty tight knit.

There are a few exceptions, such as Louisville, which pretends to be a big city ("Louisville International Airport" with no international flights or "Louisville International Convention Center" with few or any international conventions, etc) but in reality is just a large, slightly Southern, country town. It's also a pretty cliquish town too, with a few individuals and groups pretty much calling the shots when it comes to politics and business. 

Louisville boasts a single newspaper, which was once a decent newspaper if you can stand to read through its Left wing rhetoric. At Derby time (the Kentucky Derby, the first Saturday of May), Louisville transforms into a full blown "Southern town" as it claims its two minutes of the national spotlight before nodding off again (I swear, I hear more drawls than I ever hear any other time of the year coming from locals). Of course, the Derby used to be a big ole hometown community event with folks renting out their yards for parking, selling t-shirts, homemade cookies, drinks, and holding street parties. That's largely all gone now. The Derby has gone "corporate".

Locally, its often used as a metaphor as a requirement to line birdcages, wrapping fish (left side up naturally), or for puppy training. The other media, such as TV and radio, tend to lean left as well, so if you're looking for conservative or balanced news, this isn't the best place to find it (WDRB-41 is probably the closest you'll come to "balanced and fair"). Of course, there are exceptions and few beacons of non-partisan or conservative news here and there (a friend of mine, Ed Springston, has a popular conservative talk radio show---"The Ed Springston Show" on Blogtalk Radio for instance), and of course, yours truly who tries to keep it non-partisan and honest.

Politically speaking, Kentucky is a pretty conservative state, even among Democrats. Heck, I've known Republicans from other states who were more liberal than some of the Democrats I've met over my 40+ years of political and community activism. Some of the more liberal "hotspots" have been in places like Lexington (home of the University of Kentucky), the Newport area (which is close to Cincinnati), and of course, Louisville (or rather, parts of Louisville.

 The southwest portion of Jefferson County, where Louisville is locate, and along the southern part of the county---Okolona and Fern Creek---are fairly conservative). Bowling Green and Paducah are also on the liberal side, and I guess you can include Frankfort, the state capital, too.

Kentucky's Democratic politics is dominated by the state party. Even in Louisville, which used to have a strong local party, the state party calls the shots and will often work against the local party when it comes to issues or candidates. I suspect that's pretty true across the state, especially in the more rural counties. 

On the Republican side, the state GOP is pretty strong, although the local parties seem to have more clout than the local Democrat parties, except in Louisville, which essentially lacks a strong party organization and is often considered a "East end clique" (the "East end" is where the upper middle class, wealthy and local ruling elites tend to live. For those living west of I-65, which is more working class, racially diverse, and/or poor, it's occasionally viewed as "derogatory" term).

Nevertheless, the local GOP party is often viewed as focused on East end issues and maintaining the status quo sans those west of I-65. I recall that when I ran for state representative at the behest of the state and local party, they actually worked against me after they reached a deal with my Democrat opponent. 

I thought it was a fluke, until I heard the same thing from a number of other candidates! Yet, we still get the projects no one else wants going to parts of downtown Louisville or in southwest Jefferson County. As an aside, myself and a few others fought for years to organize the southwest part of the county to keep this from happening. "Our" local newspaper accused me of "Balkanizing" the county while the power elites worked very hard to shut us down, including what many would consider some questionable elections.

Oh well, you live and learn...and don't forget (a dear friend of mine used to speak of the two corporate owned parties as essentially two mafia families who fight over turf and spoils, but always come together to protect their mutual interests and keep out the true reformers, and I was apparently seen as a "true reformer" and thus blacklisted) . Anyway, I believe other local GOP parties are more independent further out in the state, although I've often heard that some were fairly disorganized. 

However, several have shown some remarkable improvements---complements to their new party chair people and executive boards! Nevertheless, both parties have made it virtually impossible for Independents and third parties to challenge their iron grip on elections, including prohibiting referendums and requiring obscenely high restrictions to qualify for getting on a ballot.

Speaking of the two political "mafia families", there are a couple of recent stories which you all may enjoy which reflects both the stereotypical backwards nature of Kentucky which is reflected in some of the selected...I mean "elected"...politicians Kentucky has. The first concerns medical marijuana. 

Now before we go any further, I want you to know that I fully support the legalization of marijuana in general, but in particular medical marijuana as a substitute for the more dangerous and addicted pain medications now being prescribed (not to mention all the many other conditions it's been shown to successfully treat). To me, this is just common sense, and polls consistently show that it make good sense to the majority of not just Kentuckians, but to Americans in general.

Well, this issue recently came up in the (I'm not sure if I should insert "august" or "aghast" here) Kentucky Legislature. There has been several Kentucky State Representatives (notably Rep. Perry Clark, D-37) who've been working for many years to make medical marijuana legal, along with a number of other individuals with a wide variety of medical problems, and various organizations (especially veteran groups). 

Of course, there are those with deep pockets who would like to see any type of legalization from happening, especially until they can figure out how to get a piece of the action. These are the types who put their interests first, regardless of what's good for anybody else. These are the people who usually pull the strings.

Kentucky House Bill 166 offered relief for those individuals, and the thousands and thousands of others who, because of increasingly draconian laws, are making difficult for individuals to obtain relief from chronic pain (sadly, many have turned to heroin or other, often more serious drugs, for relief and, as a result, have become involved in all sorts of crime). Leave it to the government to try and "fix" a problem by creating more and worse problems. The bill's main sponsor was Democrat John Sims of Flemingsburg. Going in, this bill looked like a "no brainer" and seemed destined to get out of committee without issue.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-33 from Jefferson/Oldham counties, moved to pass over the bill; promising to work out "compromise" language concerning some previsions he opposes, resulting the bill being shelved for now. "For now" in the world of politics can be a damn long time, especially for people suffering from severe chronic pain.

 Ironically, Rep Tom Burch, a Democrat from Louisville, said that while he expected Kentucky would eventually legalized medical marijuana, he also predicted that Kentucky would be last state in the nation to do so. Amen Tom, and you're in good company with Mark Twain too! As an aside, of the bill's 22 sponsors, three were Republicans (Reps. Jim Gooch, Gary Herald, and Bill Wells); the rest were all Democrats. Just saying.

The other bill that I want to mention, and seems to illustrate the stereotype backwardness of Kentucky through its Legislature, is Kentucky Senate Bill 48, which will prohibit children from getting married. Yelp, you read that right. The bill would ban individuals under 17 years of age from getting married, unless there is some mitigating reason---and approved by a judge and with parental approval if they are 16 or younger). 

Apparently, there has been an issue about little kiddies getting married! Seriously. I can't imagine anyone anywhere at any time agreeing to allow their 13 or 15 or even 16 year old son or daughter to get married. However, a hearing on the bill's merits brought out individuals who testified about being sexual abused at 12 or 13 years old, and later forced to marry their abuser at 16 (some mentioned that their parents were married at 15 or 16, or younger). So, since this has apparently been an issue, do they set at the kid's table or do they get to set at the adult's table...with booster seats? What about bed time---any curfews? Inquiring minds you know!

Fortunately, the bill made it out of committee and will move on, but not without some serious debate. Apparently there was a "language" issue concerning parental responsibilities for those under 17 which was too vague and needed clarification according to the conservative Family Foundation. The matter was addressed through an amendment to the bill clarifying the rights of the parents. The bill was sponsored by Republican, Julie Adams of Louisville and shepherded by fellow Republican Whitey Westerfield of Hopkinsville, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. The bill had five sponsors, three of whom were Republican and two were Democrat.

Now, Kentucky is trying to get ahead of the problems it created. Both of these bills illustrate Kentucky's politics, and in a broader sense, Kentucky itself. Kentucky has a serious drug problem, especially when it comes to abuse of opioids, as well as other drugs such as crack, alcohol, meth, and tobacco. Of late, Kentucky has cracked down on opioid prescriptions (especially "over-prescribing") in order to get a handle on the problem. However, like many (if not most) government "help", it's caused more of problem than it's solved.

As a result, there are more restrictions on doctors, insurance companies, and even producers of opioids. Many doctors have simply stopped prescribing pain killers, or greatly restricted the strength they'll write for and/or for the duration of the prescription. Who knew that state legislators were such medical experts they could over-ride medical professionals? 

By making it harder to obtain pain killers, it has made many (legitimate and illegitimate) users turn to other, more dangerous drugs, such as meth, crack, heroin, and it's getting worse as the government crackdown continues. This, in turn, has resulted in a increase in crime, demand for treatment (and often repeatedly treatments), not to mention deaths which are sometimes incorrectly attributed to the opioids instead of the underlining factors such as being forced to turn to other addictive substances due to the current restrictions.

The solution, as least for many, was medical marijuana which grows plentifully in Kentucky (as an aside, Kentucky was a top producer of industrial hemp back in the 40's and earlier---when it was legal). It's all natural with little care or harmful pesticides required. Kentucky has the perfect soil and climate for it. With the decline for tobacco, the state's primary legal crop, Kentucky farmers need to a new "money" crop. Hemp, whether for industrial or recreational use, fits the bill perfectly. It would also pump millions of new tax revenue into the state's dusty coffers. So my question to those Legislators who opposed this is, quite simply, "what the hell were you thinking?"

As for Kentucky Senate Bill 48, I don't know what to say (which is rare). I mean, here we are in 2018---the 21st Century---and we're discussing child brides? C'mon, this is Kentucky (a little slow I admit), but heck, it's not some Middle Eastern or third world country for Pete's sakes! Yet, here we are, with the whole wide world watching, as we debate the legality of children getting married! 

 I don't know how or why this is even a topic to be honest. Frankly, I would have thought that this issue would have been addressed before 1918, not 2018. All the same, kudos to Rep. Adams and other sponsors for stepping up to the plate. Now, we've just got to get pass the issues of proper dental care, wearing shoes and marrying first cousins! Anyone up for another sponsoring a bill?

Kentucky medical marijuana bill shelved by House committee

Medical marijuana bill gets more testimony, but no vote Tuesday

Kentucky Senate Hears Bill to End Child Marriage

Bill to outlaw child marriage in Kentucky passes Senate committee

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