DYCHE OPINION | Ky. GOP 2015: Primary Foes or Dream Team?
By John David Dyche
Most of the post-Fancy Farm media buzz is about the 2014 U. S. Senate race. There will be fifteen months of relentless, mind-numbing negativity until that contest concludes next November.
The next most important story from the annual Graves County gathering concerns the potential Republican field for the 2015 race for Governor. The GOP got a glimpse of potential foes, or possibly a ticket, for that tilt.
The appearance of former Louisville councilman and mayoral candidate Hal Heiner at Fancy Farm caught some Republicans off guard, as did his apparent interest in the gubernatorial race. Although he has been working for charter schools and educational reform since losing a close election for mayor in 2010, last weekend marked Heiner's very welcome return to the realm of elective politics.
Heiner is as good a guy and as high quality a public servant as one can hope to meet in the rough and tumble arena of modern politics. The campaign that he and the victorious Democrat, Greg Fischer, waged for Louisville's leadership post was perhaps the best for any major Kentucky office in a very long time.
The duo debated frequently and in various formats, focused on the substantive issues, and stayed positive (at least up until the campaign's very end). In an interview at Fancy Farm with Jonathan Meador posted on WFPL radio's website, Heiner showed his considerable class by acknowledging that Fischer has done a good job in a lot of ways.
Heiner admitted giving "a certain level of consideration" to the gubernatorial race because of "concern for the direction of Frankfort." He cites Kentucky's declining credit rating and refusal to make needed education reforms as reasons.
But Heiner, a realist, had to be impressed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer's performance at Fancy Farm. Comer did everything but formally declare for the Governor's race and got good bipartisan reviews (many of which he apparently spent the ride home from the Jackson Purchase re-tweeting on Twitter).
Despite his many assets, financial and otherwise, Heiner is from Louisville, has little name recognition across the commonwealth, and has never run a statewide race. Comer, on the other hand, hails from rural Kentucky, did good service in the General Assembly, won a landslide victory for Agriculture Commissioner, and has distinguished himself in that office.
Comer has amassed lots of allies in both parties and not just through his efforts to legalize the growing of industrial hemp. He is fluent in the language of ordinary Kentuckians.
Perhaps most exciting to Republicans, his Fancy Farm talking points included references to bold leadership and new ideas. Both things are on display in other states with Republican governors, but are altogether absent in the sclerotic, status quo administration of the current Governor, Democrat Steve Beshear.
Some see Heiner as a potential sidekick to Comer on a ticket, but someone with his impressive policy chops would have to be assured of a really meaningful role in the administration to leave private life for the second slot. Running mates have posed problems for the GOP in recent years, but Heiner was vetted in his mayoral campaign and is light years of ability beyond the party's last Lieutenant Governor nominee, the disgraced Richie Farmer (whose Agriculture Departmental mess Comer cleaned up).
While Kentucky has elected only one person from Jefferson County as Governor in over a century, being from the state's largest county could be an asset in the second spot, especially if the Democrats nominate Attorney General Jack Conway, also Louisvillian, for Governor. Having Heiner on the ticket could help Comer minimize the margin of defeat there while he rolls up offsetting votes in the rest of the state.
Other Republicans, including some who harbor various reservations about Comer, would reverse the order on the GOP ticket. Too bad Kentucky's current slating law does not allow primary rivals to pair up for the general election.
Bluegrass State Republicans will be asking themselves which of these impressive men stands the best chance of winning; which would be the best Governor if he did win; and is either of them willing to join the other on a ticket for the greater good of the common conservative cause of a better, more prosperous Kentucky. Unsuccessful 2011 candidate Phil Moffett also figures into the conversation, but with Heiner's expression of interest it becomes harder to see where.
In either order, the combined last names of Comer and Heiner do not exactly roll off the tongue like poetry, but the sound of them together would be music to the ears of Republicans. The twosome has plenty of time to consider forming a GOP Dream Team in 2015.
John David Dyche is an attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com.