Sometimes Jack Conway does not do his own job. Sometimes he wants to do the job of others. But he always likes a podium and cameras so he can feign whatever persona fits his political purpose of the moment.
Conway manifests as many mock moods as he does highlights. Although his political talents are meager there is no disputing that he has displayed in his myriad campaigns a Clintonesque aptitude for simulating sincerity.
In 2009, with the U.S. Senate already in his sights shortly after being elected attorney general, Conway offended his Catholic church hosts and others at the Fancy Farm picnic by proclaiming himself “one tough SOB.” He did not use the acronym, but he did have to apologize.
Recently, the tough guy Conway gave way to a sensitive, teary-eyed doppelgänger. Conway focused maximum attention on himself in announcing he would not appeal a federal court ruling striking down Kentucky's traditional marriage regime.
His refusal compelled Governor Beshear to hire private counsel at $200,000 of taxpayer expense. They won the appeal and the case is currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now Conway is running for governor. Coupling this with his 2010 Senate loss to Rand Paul he has spent about half his time as attorney general running for other offices.
Kentucky's Democratic Party used to produce plenty of gubernatorial hopefuls. Apparently Democrats are so convinced of Conway's strength, however, that nobody else noteworthy filed for the nomination.
That is good for Conway since he is not enduring negative ads and need spend to win a primary (but he is burning through campaign cash anyway). It is bad for him in that his potential Republican rivals are getting more attention than he is.
Unwilling to cede the spotlight, Conway decided just before the primary to announce that he is suing Marathon Petroleum Co. for alleged anti-competitive practices that supposedly inflate gasoline prices in Kentucky. This opportunistically-timed suit comes after Conway has spent several years of ineffective, but attention-getting, theatrics on the issue.
Conway claims he should not refrain doing his job just because it looks political. “Yes, my name is on the ballot this fall, but if I see that consumers are being treated unfairly at the pump, I think I have a duty to act as the Attorney General of Kentucky.”
According to Conway, he is acting now because he got tired of waiting for the Obama administration Democrats he supported and helped put in power, like former Attorney General Eric Holder, to do their jobs. Evidently Conway lacked the clout to get federal action even with fellow Louisville liberal Democrat Jerry Abramson in a cushy White House post.
Conway claims that his pre-primary timing was because his office lacks antitrust expertise and, after seven years of showboating, did not have its case prepared. At least he did not make a deal for one of his trial lawyer colleagues to handle the case on a contingency fee basis as on other occasions.
The plaintiffs' bar, of which Conway is a card-carrying second-generation member, is perhaps the Democratic Party's most powerful patron in Kentucky and elsewhere. It shows.
Kentucky's Chamber of Commerce recently asked the candidates for governor if they supported “common sense liability reforms to limit the devastating impact meritless lawsuits have on Kentucky businesses and healthcare providers.” Conway evasively demurred and did not give a straight answer.
So after his many years of marathon grandstanding about Marathon, Conway held a jut-jawed press conference designed to get his face on screens and name on the news lest voters forget about him while focusing on the GOP contenders. He neglected to mention that while he reaps immediate publicity from filing the suit, he will be long gone from the attorney general's office before it is over.
The entire charade is quintessential Conway. It features prolonged ineffectiveness at his actual job; cynical campaign-related opportunism; a ravenous appetite for publicity; transparent phoniness; and blithe assurance that he will not be around to exercise actual responsibility or be held accountable for any results.
Meanwhile, the Republican quartet of gubernatorial hopefuls has stated positions on a broad range of issues. Nobody knows what Conway's gubernatorial policy platform is.
That is par for the Conway course, too. He personifies the venerable political maxim about coveting public office in order to be something rather than to do something.
The Republican Party of Kentucky presents voters with four good choices for governor. Democrats owe Kentuckians an apology that Conway is all they have to offer.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney [who represents, among others, plaintiffs, businesses and healthcare providers] and a political commentator for WDRB.com.)