By John David Dyche
If you are visiting Kentucky for Derby, welcome. Good luck handicapping the horses. Here is your political tip sheet on our beloved commonwealth.
Kentucky does some things brilliantly. Basketball, Bluegrass music, bourbon, and thoroughbreds are among the best examples.
These are big businesses, but also forms of amusement and diversion. They help take our minds off more fundamental matters at which we are not nearly so good -- like educating our children, the health of our citizens, and creating broad-based prosperity.
Recent U. S. Census data ranks Kentucky 47th among states in the percentage of population with a high school diploma (82%) and the percentage having a bachelor's degree (21%). America's Health Rankings puts Kentucky 44th. Kentucky is also 44th in per capita personal income in Commerce Department figures.
In the competitive, high stakes race of the states, Kentucky is running as far behind the leaders as the 1973 Belmont field did Secretariat. Unfortunately, there is no basis for betting that our commonwealth can make a come-from-behind charge down the homestretch. Kentucky has improved in important areas, but not nearly fast enough to catch and pass states with more dynamic political leadership.
The governor and legislature are like a state's jockey and the trainer. The citizens are like the ownership syndicate. An average reader of the political racing form can clearly see that Kentucky's owners should seriously consider changing the state's stable and rider.
Democrats dominated Kentucky government as the state dropped to the back of the national pack. A few Democratic governors were bold and innovative. The last Republican chief executive, Ernie Fletcher, was thrown from the saddle. Self-inflicted mistakes caused his feet to slip from the stirrups, and then fouls by partisan Democrats knocked him under the thundering hooves of a hostile liberal press.
The state Senate has been Republican since it first went to the GOP in 2000, but the state House has been in Democratic hands for the state's entire history but for a pair of two-year exceptions long ago. That tells political railbirds all they need to know about why Kentucky lacks the policy pedigree to weave its way through the traffic of other states and challenge the leaders.
The blinkered political philosophy of the current Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, and Democratic legislative leaders like Greg Stumbo and Larry Clark, is the same smelly stuff that has littered House stalls since the New Deal. Kentucky's lower legislative chamber is long overdue for a mucking out!
Soon to be six years in office, Beshear still has no discernible policy agenda. He has yet to deliver on the one thing he unconditionally promised – expanded gambling – which, depending on whom you listen to, will either kill or save the racing industry. Preservation of their own power is the top priority of House Democratic leadership.
Meanwhile, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia -- the best-governed of the states surrounding Kentucky -- gallop forward with Republicans holding all the governmental reins. After tearing up so many tickets in futile hope that something would change while the House remained the same, Kentuckians should try a Republican trifecta of their own for once.
There are some fine Democrats and some lousy Republicans among partisan herds at the Frankfort farm. There have been some significant bipartisan accomplishments, too. But until the GOP can set the agenda in the lower chamber and save good Senate bills from dying in the House, however, Kentucky will not progress at the rapid pace required to finish in the money.
Republicans have so many reform ideas that their legislative starting gate would need an auxiliary. They include right-to-work legislation, repeal of prevailing wage, charter schools, merit pay for teachers, tort reform, more accountability for Medicaid recipients, pro-growth tax reform, limiting state debt, making government pensions more like private ones, waiting periods for reviewing tax and spending bills, and later legislative election filing deadlines.
Thanks for coming to Kentucky. The odds are good that you will find Kentuckians friendly and fun. But we can also be provincial. Sometimes we seem to celebrate our shortcomings simply because they are ours. To celebrate more successes, we must change our politics.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com.