John David Dyche Sees Governor Steve Beshear "Lapsing Into Irrelevance ... After Casino Vote".
Written by John David Dyche
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s second term effectively ended last Thursday, 74 days after it began, when the state Senate rejected a constitutional amendment permitting casino gambling. The measure did not muster a majority, much less the two-thirds approval needed to put it on November’s ballot.
By losing his top priority right after winning landslide re-election, Beshear prematurely begins a long, lame duck descent. He will lose power with each passing day, becoming exponentially less influential until lapsing into total irrelevance except for dispensing patronage to friends and financial backers.
How did it this happen? Beshear’s biggest mistake was not campaigning on a particular gambling plan. If he had offered voters something specific he could have claimed a mandate for it. But that would have required boldness and imagination, qualities present only in the rhetoric of this timid administration.
At his most powerful just after inauguration, Beshear presented an “inadequate” budget. Kentuckians wondered why a governor would do that. A strong leader would have offered an adequate budget and fought for it. This one meekly settled for still more mediocrity.
Beshear then proffered a tepid tax reform initiative, put his loquacious lieutenant Jerry Abramson in charge of it, and appointed a task force on which expertise is conspicuously absent. Meanwhile, turmoil engulfs Beshear’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Its promises to produce child abuse death records go unfulfilled, implementation of statewide Medicaid managed care is disastrous, and there is no secretary.
Despite having had five years to develop an expanded gambling plan Beshear was amazingly still without one. Months that could have been used to build support passed with only promises and delays. When Beshear’s belated plan finally emerged it was ill-conceived and had little buy-in from legislators and stakeholders.
Some whined that the outcome would have been different if state Sen. Gerald Neal had been present to vote. Neal, last seen losing a lucrative minority set-aside contract from the Metropolitan Sewer District, was inexplicably away from Frankfort when the roll was called. Yet no one has explained how his presence would have meant victory or identified the senators whose votes would have changed.
Beshear reflexively, and ridiculously, blamed Republican Senate President David Williams for the amendment’s death. On Friday, the Capitol’s corridors were full of chatter that Beshear was also angry at fellow Democrat Greg Stumbo, the House speaker. Observers say the “no” vote of Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, a Stumbo ally, signaled the speaker’s reluctance to add gambling to a fall ballot already featuring unpopular Democratic President Barack Obama (whom Beshear recently embraced).
Stumbo’s concerns about conservative turnout this fall are exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday that state House elections cannot be held in the unconstitutional Democrat-friendly districts he drew. (This columnist is an attorney for the Republican plaintiffs in that lawsuit.) The GOP should now reduce, if not eliminate, the Democratic House majority.
Beshear’s ineptitude has accelerated speculation about the 2015 gubernatorial race. His efforts to install Abramson as his successor will meet the same fate as the gambling bill. That leaves former Auditor Crit Luallen, who has excluded a U.S. Senate bid, jockeying with Stumbo for inside position.
Republicans are regrouping. Rumors abound that Williams believes he can rehabilitate his image, fashion a “New Nixon” of sorts, and run again. Williams may indeed be vindicated as a better choice than Beshear last year, but the GOP will not bet on him again. The party desperately needs a fresh face and likable personality.
Names most often heard include Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Congressman Brett Guthrie, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, and Louisville businessman and tea party favorite Phil Moffett, who lost to Williams in the 2011 primary. Former Louisville councilman and mayoral candidate Hal Heiner, now touting charter schools, also merits mention.
Kentucky’s governors were once strong, especially compared to the General Assembly. But since gubernatorial succession, which was supposed to counterbalance annual legislative sessions, the last three — Paul Patton, Ernie Fletcher and now Steve Beshear — have lapsed into weakness for different reasons.
An impotent chief executive is not good for the commonwealth, especially in tough economic times. But that is what we have, now and for the next nearly four years.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney who writes a political column on alternating Tuesdays in Forum His views are his own, not those of the law firm in which he practices. Read him online at www.courier-journal.com; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.