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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

John David Dyche: With Election Over, Kentucky's Real Politics Begin.

With election over, Kentucky's real politics begin
By John David Dyche

Kentuckians are always ready for two things: basketball season and a governor's race. Both are upon us.

When he ran for governor in 2007, Steve Beshear promised expanded gambling. He said he had the leadership skills to get it done, but has failed spectacularly and set back the cause.

His strategy was to change the state Senate's composition, and thus its leadership, to make passage of a pro-gambling constitutional amendment possible. So he got involved — ham-handedly — in state Senate races, lost repeatedly, and paid dearly in political capital.

This year, Beshear essentially sat out the state Senate races. He sucked $3 million out of circulation for those and other Democratic campaigns to use in his re-election bid instead. Kentucky now has the most Republican state Senate in its history.

Beshear cannot run on expanded gambling again, but has no other rationale for re-election. His choice of outgoing Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson as running mate is baffling, but may prove inadvertently brilliant.

Few expect Abramson, a verbose Jewish urban liberal, to run well in rural Kentucky, especially if his adversary is taciturn folk hero Richie Farmer, who is teaming with Senate President David Williams. A debate between Abramson and Farmer would be the state seal brought to life, with a dandified city slicker facing a rough-hewn frontiersman.

Democrats usually need no help winning Louisville. This time they might.

Williams believes, and has polling to back it up, that opposing the thinly disguised racial quota system that is the Jefferson County Public Schools student assignment plan, and supporting neighborhood schools, will make him competitive in Louisville.

Countering this populist appeal is where Abramson could come in. He remains inexplicably popular in Louisville despite a disastrous final mayoral term, and can still rake in money and votes, both of which Beshear may need to beat back a busing-based Republican attack in the state's biggest city and Democratic stronghold.

First, Williams must survive a primary challenge from Rand Paul wannabe Phil Moffett and maybe misguided others. Yes, Williams has voted to raise some taxes, but debt and unbalanced budgets are simply not the compelling issues statewide that they are nationally.

Solicitous of tea party support, Williams did not let so much as a sliver of light pass between him and U.S. Sen.-elect Paul in the campaign just past. And he somehow appeals to both allies and antagonists of Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate Republican leader.

While Moffett was in California for the Republican Governors Association meeting, Williams was raising $500,000 and working the influential crowds at the Kentucky Association of Counties and Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives meetings.

His negatives may be high, but this may be the best time ever for confrontational candidates. Williams would do well to imitate Chris Christie, the refreshingly direct governor of New Jersey.

Christie has butchered every sacred cow in the Garden State. Taxpayers like it when he speaks truth to powerful liberals like his state's teachers unions.

Look for Williams to do likewise on issues like Kentucky's massive unfunded pension liabilities and groups like the Jefferson County Teachers Association and pro-gambling elites.

The upcoming session of the General Assembly may be more campaign theater than a legislature. Playing two roles — as Senate president and gubernatorial candidate — the cunning Williams will contrive to put Beshear in as many difficult, defensive positions as possible. Their recent sparring over Medicaid managed care provided a preview.

Almost immediately after Auditor Crit Luallen issued a damning audit of Kentucky's only current Medicaid managed care organization, Beshear said he wants more Medicaid managed care. At an oversight hearing, Williams forced Beshear's Health and Family Services secretary, Janie Miller, to admit that the administration cannot show managed care saves the state money. Miller actually cites evidence suggesting otherwise.

But the player to watch is Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a superb political actor in his own right. Stumbo seems no fan of his party's leading man, Beshear, and harbors gubernatorial ambitions of his own. He could conclude that these would be best served if Williams won next year instead of Beshear.

Some influential interests have scores to settle with Beshear. So listen for some Shakespearean stage whispers, and watch to see if Stumbo plays the part of Brutus by leading a conspiracy to stab Beshear in the political back, thus clearing his own path to power.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney who writes about politics on alternating Tuesdays in Forum. He is the author of a biography of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. His views are his own, not those of the law firm in which he practices. Read him online at; e-mail:



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