DYCHE | Beshear's Speech: A Response - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | Beshear's Speech: A Response

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By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

In his eighth and last State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday night, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear lauded his own leadership. To hear Beshear tell it in his distinct dulcet tones, he found Kentucky in anarchy and has guided it into a glorious new era that rivals Periclean Athens or Renaissance Florence for civic excellence.

When the President delivers a State of the Union address, the opposition party gives a formal response. That tradition has not taken hold in Kentucky. The best Kentucky Republicans could muster after Beshear's valedictory was Senate President Robert Stivers's joint interview on Kentucky Educational Television with Beshear's fellow Democrat, Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo.

So here is a response to Beshear, who has had indeed done some things well during his two terms.

He has been a good manager during tough budgetary times, run an administration free of major scandal, achieved some bipartisan successes through want he calls “collaborative leadership,” and stayed fairly popular with the state's people.

When he was campaigning in 2007, Beshear's top priority, and the only thing he actually promised, was expanded gambling. But he did not keep his promise and get it done, and he made no mention of the subject in his boastful speech.

Beshear blames partisanship and the Republican-controlled state Senate, but when the issue came to a vote in that chamber he could not even get all his Democratic allies to show up. The issue looks dead after eight years of Beshear's failed leadership on it.

When Beshear first took office, many “folks” (a frequent term in his speech) in both parties thought he would be bold. Unlike many Kentucky governors past, he did not appear to harbor ambitions to be a U. S. Senator, so he could take risks without worrying about how they might affect any Washington ambitions.

The only area in which Beshear has actually been bold, however, is his embrace of Obamacare and expansion of Medicaid. Beshear again made his case for those actions in his speech, but amid his exultation about expanded coverage he still has not answered some fundamental questions.

How will Kentucky pay for expanded Medicaid when the federal subsidy shrinks? What is the plan for reforming this inefficient program that is already voraciously cannibalizing money from other state purposes? Why is it wise to make millions more dependent on Medicaid when the best studies indicate that it does not improve health outcomes? Why is it fair for taxpayers to pay for Medicaid when its recipients remain free to squander their limited resources on improvident or unhealthy things like alcohol, drugs, lotteries, and tobacco?

Beshear has apparently commissioned an expensive taxpayer-funded consultant study to support his argument that more Medicaid is an economic development asset. This bought-and-paid-for report will probably reach the result that its purchaser desires. They almost always do. And he will be gone by the time the fiscal pain really hits home for future governors, legislators, and Kentuckians.

Job creation is picking up in some regions and sectors. Kentucky's unemployment rate has gone down like the national one. Yet one often ignored reason the reduced rate is that Kentucky's labor force has actually shrunk since Beshear took office (2,036,910 to 2,000,040). Fewer people are actually employed in Kentucky than when he arrived (1,936,835 to 1,883,900).

Virtually everyone agrees that Kentucky's tax system hurts economic growth. Beshear has done nothing to try to reform it. He appointed yet another task force, but ignored its recommendations.

Another enormous problem on which Beshear failed the basic leadership test is Kentucky's dangerously underfunded ($30+ billion) public pensions. They are among the nation's very worst and portend dire budget consequences after he leaves office. He and the legislature did enact a modest reform measure, which he touted in his speech, but its impact is greatly exaggerated.

Near the end of his address, Beshear recalled that as a student he read “with awe about the coming-of-age era of this fledgling nation, and how Kentucky was seen by those looking westward as a bastion of education excellence; the home of brave explorers; a place for religious leadership; a laboratory for medical pioneers; and the training ground for political statesmen.” He said that the state had then been “a hub for transportation, commerce, industry and agriculture,” and “was a place of promise, a leader in this nation's pursuit of its awesome potential.”

“I don't need to tell you that somewhere during the centuries since, Kentucky lost its way,” Beshear added. But he did not identify the one constant factor throughout this extended period of Kentucky's descent into mediocrity and worse: the almost total domination of state government since the Civil War by his Democratic Party.

Beshear claims, “Kentucky is back, and we're back with a vengeance. Once again, we are the talk of the nation.” Really, Governor?

As the sun sets on the Beshear administration, even Republicans must admit that he has been a better than average governor by Kentucky standards. In some respects, he has even been a good one. But he has not been a great one, and his record simply will not support the over-the-top, self-congratulatory rhetoric of his speech.

Kentucky, which started from far behind in so many respects even before the economic downturn, needs better, bolder, more dynamic leadership and distinctly different policies to truly replicate that long ago golden day that Beshear described. Such are the stakes in the campaign now underway among those who hope to be the governor who gives the next State of the Commonwealth address.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.

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