It is too bad Hal Heiner's campaign is criticizing James Comer, a likely rival for that the Republican gubernatorial nomination, as a "career politician." That epithet may poll test well, but it is not accurate, fair, or wise.
Comer served in Kentucky's House of Representatives from 2001-2012, when he became agriculture commissioner, the position he currently holds. The Kentucky General Assembly meets in regular session for 90 days every two years, plus occasional special sessions and interim committee meetings.
During the time he has served in Frankfort, however, Comer was also a farmer. He actively worked a 950-acre beef cattle, timber and hay farming operation in his native Monroe County and co-owned a farming business with his father and brother.
One House colleague recalls Comer sometimes rising before dawn in Frankfort during legislative sessions, driving to Tompkinsville to tend his cattle, and then returning to the capital to do the people's business. Kentuckians rightly respect Comer's combination of hard work and public service.
Heiner is a successful businessman, but his political career essentially parallels Comer's. He was elected to Louisville's Metro Council (which meets year-round) in 2002, and ran for mayor in 2010.
So both men served a similar amount of time as legislators while also having prosperous private endeavors. The biggest difference between the two is not how long they have been in politics, but that Comer won when he ran for an executive position, whereas Heiner lost.
Going negative against a fellow Republican also undermines one of Heiner's best points. His persona has heretofore been a positive one, and his popularity is partly due to a reputation for not practicing politics as usual.
The mayoral campaign between Heiner and Democrat Greg Fischer may be the best one this commentator has witnessed for any office. The pair appeared together seemingly everywhere, debated the issues in a multitude of forums, and largely avoided negativity until a little bit crept in toward the end of the race.
Big ideas and a refreshingly constructive approach to politics are Heiner’s biggest assets. He appeals to people because he optimistically offers specific and well-considered policy proposals.
But when Comer recently said he was moving up his timetable for making a decision about the governor’s race, Heiner spokesman Joe Burgan, a good man, responded with an attack rather than welcoming a rival to a race about who is best suited to bring constructive change and real reform to Kentucky.
"As is often the case with career politicians, political expediency wins out at the end of the day," Burgan said to the Lexington Herald-Leader's Sam Youngman. "What experience, outside of being a professional politician, would [Comer] bring to the job? People are tired of politicians whose primary focus is their own political advancement, and not the advancement of Kentucky."
Most people acknowledge that Comer has done a very good job as agriculture commissioner. He has worked hard and in a bipartisan manner to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, Richie Farmer, and to creatively promote Kentucky agriculture.
Comer would be well within his rights to respond with criticism of the wealthy, but largely unknown, Heiner. There has been some of that, with lines about a Louisville millionaire who knows nothing about the rest of the state trying to buy the nomination. Heiner has apparently already put $4 million of his personal fortune into his campaign.
During his 1966 bid for California's governorship, Ronald Reagan issued what he called the "Eleventh Commandment." It forbade speaking ill of a fellow Republican. Reagan eventually broke it himself in his 1976 nomination battle with President Gerald Ford, still lost, and probably weakened Ford for the general election.
Kentucky's GOP history shows that a hard fought primary may make the winner a better general election candidate. It also shows that a bitter and ugly primary can help cost the party a victory.
Comer correctly focused some hostile fire on Democratic favorite Jack Conway.
"We disagree on everything. We are daylight and dark on every issue, whether it be economic or social." Now that's more like it!
You are both strong contenders who offer Kentucky a better future than Conway does. So, gentlemen, show your opponent the considerable respect he deserves. This is not a situation in which some upstart is quixotically challenging a powerful Republican incumbent.
Stay on the high road and stop any name-calling. Battle it out over issues and electability. It will earn you both the gratitude and respect of voters and keep you strong for November, 2015 and beyond. John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.