Matt Bevin, one of four Republican candidates for governor of Kentucky, recently published his campaign platform. Kudos to him for doing so.
Written platforms serve two political purposes, both of them positive. First, they help educate voters about the candidate's specific goals and positions. Second, they give voters a way to hold those candidates accountable if elected.
Bevin's document is titled "Blueprint for a Better Kentucky" and subtitled "It's All About Jobs." Creating jobs and economic opportunity in Kentucky are Bevin's top priorities. His blueprint does not deal with social issues like abortion, gay marriage, or gun rights (or, for that matter, cock fighting).
He proposes seven specific concepts for turning his aspirations into realities. They are: (1) enacting pro-business "right to work" legislation; modernizing Kentucky's tax code; resolving the state's pension crisis; reforming state government; modernizing the state's education system; improving Kentucky healthcare; and fighting federal government overreach. Bevin outlines several specific actions within each of these categories.
Bevin, like most Republicans, backs a "right to work" law. That would free employees at businesses with a collective bargaining agreement from having to join the union.
Several Kentucky counties, including some with Democratic legislative majorities, are already enacting "right to work" ordinances. But Bevin believes, rightly, that a statewide "right to work" law would "make Kentucky a more attractive place for new businesses and make the commonwealth more competitive with border and nearby states with which we compete for jobs."
Everybody talks about tax reform in Kentucky, but nobody ever does anything about it. Bevin offers four particular ideas: eliminating the state inheritance tax; recusing personal and corporate income tax rates; simplifying the tax code; and reducing the number of loopholes called "tax expenditures."
These things sound good, but Bevin does not "score" them. That is to say he does not show any actual numbers about how his reforms would impact the already strapped state fisc. Some Republican governors in other states who have tried similar "supply side" reforms have found themselves confronting big budget shortfalls.
When it comes to state pensions, which are likely to be the biggest fiscal challenge the next governor faces, Bevin has some good ideas. These include an outside audit, increased transparency, putting all new hires in a bona fide 401(k) type plan, and examining all options "for moving existing employees into the same plan."
However, his proposal that "all current employees should be required to make increased pension contributions" is incredibly vague. Even more importantly, his suggestions do not constitute a comprehensive proposal that would actually solve the problem of Kentucky's enormous unfunded pension liability.
As for reforming state government, Bevin wants to reduce the number of state employees, consolidate some agencies and boards, reduce the size of the governor's staff, increase competitive bidding for government services, and sell "excess government land, property and other resources" with the proceeds "returned back [sic] to the people of Kentucky." This sounds good, but begs for more specificity.
On education, Bevin would "repeal Common Core standards in Kentucky." This bad idea has become a conservative shibboleth. Except for his call for charter schools, for which his rival Hal Heiner has long been actively working, Bevin's other education reform ideas are pretty much platitudes.
Bevin calls for repealing the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, but he does not say how he would cover those who have obtained healthcare through it. His ideas of reforming the certificate of need regime and "scope of practice" laws make sense, as does his call for modernization of malpractice laws.
Fighting federal government overreach and refusing to "enforce onerous federal regulations" is another part of the platform that sounds good in theory while being fraught with potential practical problems. That said, Republican governors and attorney generals in other states have definitely done some good things in this area.
On the whole, Bevin's platform is a pretty accurate reflection of its author. His instincts are conservative, but his mastery of the issues and his ability to articulate and execute his vision are open to legitimate question.
Bevin has never actually been in government, unlike his adversaries, who include agriculture commissioner James Comer and former Supreme Court justice Will T. Scott in addition to former Louisville councilman Hal Heiner. Some may see such outsider status as an asset. Others may understandably ask whether he is up to the task of administering Kentucky's entire executive branch.
He deserves credit for setting forth his positions in writing and still has time to convince GOP voters that he can handle the job. To succeed in the latter, he must flesh out the former. Until he does, doubts will remain. 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.