Sunday, November 03, 2019

The 2019 Kentucky Election: The Main Event---Attorney General and the Governorship

The second most important political office in Kentucky is Attorney General. Although it's officially a "law enforcement" office, it's typically been used as the "Anti-Governor" office, depending on the political allegiance of the other occupant. It's also the office best suited for a future run for Governor. Again, this is another open seat. The two candidates are Daniel Cameron (R) and Greg Stumbo (R). Both candidates are, as required, lawyers; having both graduated from University of Louisville's Brandeis School of Law, but that ends the similarities.

Daniel Cameron is basically a political newbie. He clerked for Federal Judge Greg van Tatenhove in Eastern Kentucky for two years. He then served as Senator Mitch McConnell's general counsel, and is generally regarded as being McConnell's political protégé. Cameron regards himself as a strict Constitutionalist and says that he will try and "depoliticize" the office. He also says that he will work closely with "Trump-appointed" federal prosecutors, especially in going after drug traffickers (a major problem in Eastern Kentucky). He does not support expanded gaming and is strongly "Pro-Life". Finally, he cites having strong Christian beliefs and believes in active political engagement by fellow Christians.

Greg Stumbo is the quintessential Kentucky "good ole boy" in every way. A dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and icon of the state's backward status quo image. He's what Kentuckians call a political "retread". He has served as State Representative, State Senator (including Speaker of the House), and previously as the Attorney General opponent of Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher (the first GOP governor since 1969. Stumbo did everything in his power to challenge and derail Fletcher. As an aside, he had also served as AG under the previous governor, Steve Beshear).

He cites his 40 years as a trial advocate and prior experience as his best qualifications. Though he cites the importance of family values, it's worth nothing that Stumbo fathered a child out of wedlock, denied paternity, and was successfully sued for back child support. Stumbo is known to be very cunning; even devious, making him a tough opponent. According to Stumbo, he will focus on the opioid crisis, consumer scams, and Medicaid fraud. Although he acknowledges that the AG office has no role in expanding gaming, he's a supporter.

There's no doubt that Greg Stumbo knows the job. He knows it in ways that only an insider could. Stumbo is part of what's wrong with Kentucky in every sense of the word. While no political office should be "politicized", this is especially true of Attorney General, which should be a non-partisan office to begin along with most of the other Constitutional offices. Greg Stumbo, in my opinion, needs to be consigned to the Kentucky's "dustbin of history"; a product of a bygone and soon-to-be forgotten era. Nevertheless, despite Cameron's association with McConnell, his fresh approach may just be what Kentucky needs.

Matt Bevin is the least popular governor in America, at least according to a Morning Consult poll. In July 2019, his disapproval rating was 56%. He's now the second least popular governor. Massachusetts' Charlie Baker has that honor. As an aside, Mitch McConnell was the least liked US Senator. Still, Governor Bevin has brought Kentucky into the 21st Century, albeit kicking, screaming, and biting the whole way.

The Colorado born and New Hampshire raised governor is a businessman by profession. He earned a BA Degree in East Asian Studies from Washington and Lee University in Virginia on a ROTC scholarship, becoming fluent in Japanese. Bevin is also former military, having risen to the rank of Captain. Matt has been around the political block so to speak a few times at well.

In 2011 he considered a run against incumbent Representative John Yarmuth (D), but backed off after determining that partisan gerrymandering had made a run all but impossible to win (Bevin claimed that Senator Mitch McConnell had recruited him to run. McConnell's office denied it). In 2014 he challenged Senator McConnell for his seat and lost with 35.42% of the vote. As an aside, McConnell and Bevin haven't exactly been best of pals since.

In 2015, Bevin ran for governor, but unlike his opponents in the primary and general elections, focused on economic rather than social issues. He won, narrowing beating James Comer (R) in the primary by 30.90% to 30.87% (or 43 votes). He later beat Jack Conway (D), the state's Attorney General in the general election by successfully linking him with the hugely unpopular President Barack Obama.

There's been a lot of controversy during Bevin's tenure in office; some of it real while much of it smoke and mirrors by the local media such as over the delinquent taxes and a "sweetheart" sale of a house. However, Bevin did gut Kynect, the state's insurance exchange, cut Medicaid dental and vision coverage for about 460,000 Kentuckians (a computer glitch accidently included some children, disabled adults and pregnant women which made it worse). He also issued a cease and desist order to Planned Parenthood in Louisville, claiming that they lacked proper licenses and had "illegally" performed 23 abortions, although Governor Beshear's inspector general had just authorized their performance of the procedures prior to leaving office. Matt also caught a lot of flak by replacing his popular Lt. Governor, Jenean Hampton with Ralph Alvarado, a state senator with alleged ties to Senator McConnell.

Lastly, the teacher's strike. The Kentucky Education Association and the Jefferson County Teacher's Association are perhaps the state's most powerful unions. Bevin faced off with both over pension funding. For years , the pension system was grossly underfunded under Democratic administrations (and one Republican). Fed up, the teachers staged a series of "sick outs" and protests in Frankfort. Despite this, Governor Bevin was able, through the legislature, to fully fund the state's contribution portion, but you'd never know it by the response the unions and local media gave. Bevin has promised to continue work for long term sustainability of state pensions. He also increased individual funding per student to the highest amount in the state's history.

Perhaps the cold shoulder was because Bevin moved to make Kentucky a "Right to Work". Kentucky has always been a blue collar state, and while it was never exactly a "pro-union" state, it did have quite a few strong unions. However, those faded as the state lost many of its manufacturing companies and railroads, but it remains very much "working class". He has lower personal and corporate taxes by 17%, at least according to his website. Bevin also declared that Kentucky would not permit any so-called "sanctuary" cities or communities; this despite attempts by certain mayors. Lastly, Matt Bevin has tied his coattails to the President Trump as I pointed out earlier. Given the decline in the president's popularity, this may prove to be a curse more than a blessing.

Andy Beshear (D) is the son of the former governor, Steve Beshear. Like Matt, Andy sees education as a key issue in this election. He promises to increase teacher pay and further increase funding for schools. How? He doesn't say, but I suspect it will mean a tax increase for somebody. He also promises to reduce class sizes, which means we'll need more teachers and classrooms.

Beshear also promises to reduce drug costs for seniors, aggressively pursue the opioid crisis, stop robocalls and scammers, increase funding for the Seniors Health Insurance Program, restore voting rights for felons who've served their time, reduce the costs of attending public universities and technical schools, expand gaming, support medical marijuana, end "Right to Work", promote marriage equality (ie: gay marriage), and attract more decent jobs. Finally, Andy Beshear is on the record as being pro-choice.

I couldn't find any specific details about how he intends to accomplish any of these, which will obviously require the support of the legislature (the Kentucky Senate is controlled by the Republicans and the democrats narrowly control the House). It will also require a great deal of money, and that means tax increases. Kentucky is ranked 24th in highest taxes (23rd for businesses). You can't attract businesses by raising corporate taxes. That means personal and consumption taxes---gas, property, sales, and a myriad of others. Kentucky's infrastructure is ranked 34th in the nation while its quality of its healthcare and financial stability are ranked 44th and 45th respectively (the state is ranked 40th overall).

Beshear's choice for Lt. Governor is Jackie Coleman, a teacher and current assistant principal from Mercer County. She is also founder of Lead Kentucky, a non-profit which helps women in college obtain leaderships positions both on and off campus. She is also a participant of Emerge Kentucky which trains Democratic women to seek public office.

Finally, we come to the third candidate in the governor's race. Libertarian John Hicks. John is a Vietnam Era Army veteran, a former school teacher, and currently an IT consultant. He has a BA Degree in Political Science and History. He has never held political office, but ran previously for State Representative (District 43) in 2018. John is pro-life and believes government should stay out of personal issues.

John supports the legalization of marijuana, expanded gaming, and the development of hemp as sources of additional state revenue (better than raising taxes!). He also believes that the best way to compensate for budget shortfalls is to reduce the size of government and streamlining operations. Additionally, John Hicks supports election reform; specifically by introducing run-offs, using ranked choice voting, proportional representation, multi member districts which would end partisan gerrymandering.

On education, Hicks supports expanding education and, as he says, "removing any barriers" to obtaining access to education. Thus, he supports expanding work-visa programs for immigrants wanting to study at state schools. Regarding illegal immigration, he believes the current immigration system is "absurd" and those here illegally should be treated with "respect and humanity". He is also pro-Second Amendment, and stresses the need for individual liberty as well as limited government. His choice for Lt Governor is Ann Cormican, a factory employee. She has a BS Degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Wyoming. She previously ran for State Representative (District 72) in 2018.

So, there you have it. I've met Governor Bevin on several occasions. I like him. He's interesting to listen to and has the necessary acumen of a successful businessman (and the same learning curve when it comes to politics). I agree with many of things Bevin has done as governor. However, there are also several things I disagree with (specifically his handling of the insurance crisis, dropping Jenean Compton, and his opposition to legalized medical marijuana).
As for Andy Beshear, I'm not impressed (I wasn't impressed with his father either). He talks a lot about what he opposes but not much about what he supports and how he's going to pay for it. That's something I'd like to know before casting my vote. His failure to provide details makes me nervous. I don't want to pay more taxes. I'm sure other Kentuckians don't either.

I do agree with Andy's positions on some issues (such as legalized marijuana) and expanded gaming (provided it doesn't all go to Churchill Downs). I think that gaming reform could be a major boon for increased tax revenue if it's done right. Same with legalized marijuana, which would also go a long way to ending the state's opioid problem. I've never met Andy, but the impression he creates is one of a privileged brat. He's depending heavily on his daddy's name (and he wasn't all that popular). I don't care for the negatively of either individual's campaigns, but understand that if the other side throws dirt, you throw manure. That's politics.

I do like John Hicks. Like him, I'm big on keeping government out of my personal life. In theory, I support a small government, but in practice believe government should be more elastic, depending on the economy. I am pro-Second Amendment, and I believe Kentucky has to do much more in terms of education. Employers are attracted by low tax rate, but they are equally attracted to a educated and trained workforce. Until we can provide that, the good paying jobs aren't coming. Kentucky need serious government, election, and tax reforms too. John's biggest flaw, as I see it, is his support of illegal immigration (which is a federal issue), and the fact that he's woefully underfunded. The fact that the media has all but ignored him doesn't help.

Lastly, I want to remind you that the local newspapers will be doing their "endorsements". I urge to completely ignore these. The media should be in the business of reporting the news fairly, honestly, and balanced, not trying to manipulate public opinion and influence elections in support of their agenda. Do your own research and make your own decisions. Don't let someone else---even a newspaper---decide for you. Voting is too important.

Stumbo's family values theme is plain phony

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