Republican gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner has campaigned long and hard all across Kentucky. It appears to be paying off.
Many who had not heard of Heiner two years ago are now poised to vote for him in the GOP's four-candidate May primary. Some Democrats think he would be the toughest foe in the fall general election against their Frankfort insider candidate, Attorney General Jack Conway.
Some of Heiner's success stems from the more than $4 million of his own money he has invested in his campaign. Heiner has been airing television ads for months. They have obviously had an impact.
A hostile "newspinion" writer for a formerly powerful Louisville newspaper recently tried to denigrate Heiner's contributions by repeatedly using a form of the derogatory verb "dump" to describe them. That negative word better describes the liberal paper's staffing trends than it does Heiner's willingness to put his money where his mouth is to make Kentucky a better place.
This column recently considered the published platform of Matt Bevin, one of Heiner's rivals for Republican nomination. Bevin's position paper is good not great, but it is better than Heiner's meager counterpart called "Kentucky First."
The cover of Heiner's document emphasizes three undisputed adjectives about him: "conservative," "job creator," and "Frankfort outsider." He is indeed each of these things.
Heiner's plan proclaims that "Job Creation is Priority #1." This is a perfectly appropriate and laudable objective, but Heiner's means to that end leave a lot to be desired.
He says he will "cut taxes and simplify Kentucky's tax code" by reducing "the income tax rate" and making "the tax code fairer for every Kentuckian." These promises raise more questions than they answer.
Heiner does not offer specifics for his tax cuts or explain how they will impact either economic growth or state revenues. Some Republican governors who have gone down similar "supply side" paths have found themselves facing big budget shortfalls.
There is nothing in Heiner's document about either transitioning away from taxing income toward taxing consumption or broadening the tax base by covering the growing service sector of the economy. Perhaps he is providing more detail on the stump, but as set forth here the Heiner tax plan is a proverbial "pig in a poke."
Heiner's other job creation ideas are a state right to work law, more education choice for parents, and promotion of career and technical education. Tort reform does not merit a mention.
The next big Heiner topic is "Accountability Budgeting." In general terms he promises to take spending decisions off of autopilot, make agencies justify their budgets, and improve transparency.
Another Heiner plank is headed, "Stand up to Washington, D.C." In it, he pledges to "put an end to the war on coal," "reject Common Core," and "repeal Obamacare."
Kentucky's governor cannot actually do the first and last of these things, but can only take some actions around their edges. Rejecting Common Core sends thrills up some conservative legs, but it is a bad idea, especially in Kentucky and without offering better alternative academic standards.
Finally, Heiner vows to "Protect Kentucky Values." He says he will protect "the life of the unborn," the Second Amendment, and "marriage in Kentucky" as being "between one man and one woman."
That's it, at least for this document. On his website, Heiner offers a little bit more on some other issues.
There are generalities about reforming the pension system, creating a culture of honor and respect, implementing an "E-Verify program" to allow employers to check the immigration status of potential hires, and accelerating mine reclamation.
Heiner is sincere, smart and in politics for all the right reasons. People respond to that when they meet him. Still, it is surprising that he did not put more meat on the skeletal policy bones of his "Kentucky First" platform.
None of the other GOP candidates has done much better, however. Some have not done as well. Democrat Conway is and will remain an idea vacuum who seeks office in order to be something rather than to do something.
Kentucky confronts a lot of really big problems. Creating jobs is definitely a challenge, but so are unfunded public pension liabilities, paying for the voracious Medicaid monster, financing education at all levels, improving student achievement, enhancing health, and caring for the most vulnerable.
Television ads may win votes, but a big decision like who should be the next governor ought to be based on more and better information. It is up to voters to demand it.
(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.)
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