DYCHE | An early Thanksgiving as Autumn comes to Kentucky
By John David Dyche WDRB Contributor
A lot of good things are going on in Kentucky as autumn begins. This column so often emphasizes our state's problems, it is only right from time to time to accentuate the positive. Here are a few highlights.
Philanthropy is alive and well, especially in higher education. Businessman Bill Gatton recently gave $20 million to the University of Kentucky toward renovation of its student center. His total giving to the state's flagship institution of higher learning tops $45 million.
Marlene and J. David Grissom recently made the largest donation to Centre College in its 195-year history. Their gift of an undisclosed amount will establish a full-tuition-plus scholarship program for ten first generation college students in each entering class.
These generous donors, and others large and small, are enriching the lives of many others whom they will never know.
In K-12 education, Kentucky's bold commissioner Terry Holliday has won broad praise for the job he has done. In Jefferson County, the state's largest school district, superintendent Donna Hargens has likewise changed the culture and implemented important initial reforms to pare administrative costs and put more resources into classrooms.
These are tough and too often thankless jobs. Kentucky is fortunate to have these and lots of other good education leaders.
State auditor Adam Edelen is doing a great job holding school districts and other public agencies accountable for their stewardship of taxpayer money. Edelen has done fantastic work to educate board members, promote best practices, and reform government and quasi-governmental bodies too long immune from scrutiny.
Edelen's work as auditor produces a lot of bang for fairly little bucks. Students and taxpayers are the beneficiaries.
Kentucky has almost recovered the jobs it lost during the recession. The state's preliminary unemployment rate for August was down to 7.1 percent, which is still higher than the national rate, but is more than a point better than the rate a year ago.
In a dramatic about-face, Kentucky climbed from 49th last year to fourth this year on the State Entrepreneurship Index issued by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In a sign of potential agri-business expansion, the state's first industrial hemp crop was recently harvested thanks to the efforts of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and others.
Several positive developments are on the way in downtown Louisville. Two new hotels will soon adorn a steadily improving Fourth Street, Brown Forman is bringing yet another bourbon distillery to Main Street, and there is at long last some movement toward rehabilitating the treasure that is Louisville Gardens and returning it to useful service.
Bourbon continues to boom elsewhere across the state, too. Diageo is building a big new plant in Shelby County, and other distillers and their communities are both expanding production and capitalizing on Bourbon tourism.
The horse business also has its positives. Keeneland just completed a September sale that continued "a healthy trend toward market stability and confidence in the thoroughbred industry," has installed a new dirt racing surface, and will be hosting its first Breeder's Cup next fall. Kentucky Downs in Franklin had record handle and purse numbers for the second consecutive year at its short meet.
Arts of all sorts are prospering almost everywhere in Kentucky. Shakespeare experienced an invigorating summer revival in Louisville, fine new Kentucky-related writing (like my nephew David Connerley Nahm's debut novel Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky) abounds, and all varieties of music are flourishing, as evidenced by events ranging from Owensboro's outstanding ROMP Bluegrass festival, to the Lexington Philharmonic's interesting 2014-15: Pure Emotion season, and everything in between.
Next to Washington, Kentucky may be the most interesting place in American politics. The eyes of the country are focused on the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell (who is now airing one of the best "constituent service" ads you will ever see) and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Rand Paul remains an object of intense presidential fascination and only two other states will have governor's races next year.
These candidates and races bring the state attention, economic activity, and, potentially, political power. These will be especially significant if McConnell becomes Senate majority leader, Paul remains a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and both parties have spirited multi-party primary contests for governor.
If the gubernatorial campaign is as substantive as it should be, it can help Kentucky attack its many problems and become an even better place. In the meantime, however, as our beloved commonwealth dons its colorful fall finery, it is fitting and proper to briefly pause, acknowledge our bounteous blessings, and celebrate all that is right and good about this place we call home.
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.