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Monday, March 26, 2012

Joseph Gerth: Governor [Steve] Beshear Hurt By His Low Profile.

Gov. Beshear hurt by his low profile
Written by Joseph Gerth

FRANKFORT, KY. — As the 2012 General Assembly session comes to a close, the name you just don’t hear much of in the halls of Frankfort these days is that of Gov. Steve Beshear.

His limited legislative agenda left by the Senate on the side of the road like so many old fast food containers, Beshear’s presence hasn’t been felt here since he testified before a Senate committee in February in favor of his expanded gambling legislation.

It’s a laissez-faire approach that he has adopted since he took office in December 2007 which, combined with a Republican Senate that hasn’t wanted to give him any victories and a horrible budget situation that’s given him no money to work with, has seen him pass few of his initiatives in his five legislative sessions.

“That’s his style,” said Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat who laments that not enough is being done on big issues like tax reform. For that, he blames legislative leaders along with Beshear for Frankfort’s failure to act decisively on such issues.

“It’s his style and if he were to ask me — and I’ve actually mentioned this to him on occasion — I think it would be much easier for him … if he had more personal relations with the legislators of both parties and mixed with us more, had us over to the mansion for informal discussions to create some common ground that doesn’t exist right now, I think he could be a much more effective governor,” Wayne said.

“And I hope he can still do that,” Wayne said.

Former Gov. Paul Patton was a master at that. He held informal gatherings — often to watch University of Kentucky basketball and football games — in which he built support for his agenda.

Defenders note that for the past three weeks, Beshear has been tied up dealing with the tornadoes that raked the state March 2, the strongest of which ravaged communities like West Liberty and East Bernstadt.

“I don’t want to be critical of the governor,” said Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, whose district is home to East Bernstadt. “I traveled with the governor to these sites. I saw a man with a lot of compassion getting things done. …

“I was so impressed with that because I know he has a lot on his plate,” Jensen said.

“The way he handled that, the meetings that he had and said, ‘Just tell us what you need.’ … Under that circumstance and the pressure of all that in the short time he had, I think he acted (as) a very good governor — a very good governor,” said Jensen. “I thought he really elevated his performance in a tough time.”

Beshear has gotten high marks during times of crisis but has failed on passing legislation to achieve his goals.

One lobbyist who has watched numerous governors argues that the most effective ones of the past 65 years have had one thing in common: They’ve all been former county judges.

“They learn there that they can’t get things done alone,” he said.

With the help of the General Assembly, Gov. Earle C. Clements, a former Union County judge, raised taxes on liquor and pari-mutuel wagering and used the money to build a dozen large state parks. He raised the gas tax and expanded the state’s road system, building the Western Kentucky Parkway and the Kentucky Turnpike, which is now known as Interstate 65.

Republican Gov. Louie Nunn, who had been Barren County’s judge-executive, worked with a Democratic legislature to raise some taxes and lower others. He added to the state park system, elevated the old Northern Kentucky Community College into the state college system and increased services to people with mental health problems.

And Patton, the old Pike County judge-executive, used his influence to wrest control of the community college system from the University of Kentucky, instituted the “Bucks for Brains” program that brought high-powered talent to state universities, and persuaded a legislature full of black-lung lawyers to revamp the state’s workers’ compensation laws.

Those types of accomplishments might be out of reach for any governor faced with a divided legislature as fractious as the one Beshear has, but a little shindig in the governor’s mansion every now and then couldn’t hurt.

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