DYCHE | GOP Gov. campaign a missed opportunity - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | GOP Gov. campaign a missed opportunity

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John David Dyche John David Dyche
By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

No matter how it turns out, the Republican primary for governor represents something of a missed opportunity. The campaign approached, but ultimately did not achieve, the kind of in-depth, probing, challenging, substantive discussion of ideas, issues and visions that Kentucky so desperately needs.

Having been around Kentucky politics for almost half a century, the old poem that brands them "the damnedest" is as true as ever. Believe me, I get that and am not naive about what is possible in the context of a campaign like the hard fought, even dirty one that ends today.

But the GOP field offered the potential for something much better than we ultimately got. The candidates put forward reasonably decent policy platforms containing some good and original ideas. They appeared together a lot and took plenty of questions.

Yet the campaign debate never really moved as deeply into the details as it should have. It needed more fleshing out of, and follow-up on, the candidates' proposals.

Buzz words, canned answers, and superficial slogans too often became, as they do in so many campaigns, substitutes for careful, thoughtful explanation and unpacking of positions on critical issues like education, Medicaid, public pensions, and tax reform. Often more supporting math was needed.

Sometimes due to time limitations, or a craving for quick headlines, some debate formats and news interviews neither sought nor provided the much-needed meat on the bones of the contenders' campaign planks. Perhaps the voting public would not engage at that level anyway, but it would be wonderful to try.

So the race concludes with an unsatisfied hunger for further information about policy specifics and just how the GOP hopefuls would get their plans passed into law or otherwise implemented. Ads, generalities, showings of hands, and hurried sound bites simply do not suffice.

What the campaign needed was more and much longer dialogues between the candidates and multiple media members or issue experts knowledgeable enough to really push them out of the shallows and into the policy deep. Some journalists and media outlets would have been happy to have obliged on this, but the candidates themselves probably preferred to float on the surface rather than dive.

In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, the first candidate opened with a one-hour presentation, the other responded for an hour and a half, and the first replied for 30 minutes. That might not work in a modern America suffering from severe attention span deficit, but we need formats more like Lincoln-Douglas and less like exchanges of tweets or word association exercises.

Too many important questions have not even been asked, much less answered. Those that were asked and answered too often did not receive much-needed follow-up. It can be hard to pin a candidate down, but evasion is often very revealing in its own right.

It did not help that during the final weeks the campaign descended into charges and countercharges arising from a former girlfriend's abuse and abortion allegations against James Comer and the role of Hal Heiner's camp in circulating or promoting those stories. This was not the finest hour for the candidates involved or for the particular member of the state's political press corps who became part of the story.

The accuser went public quite late in the race. She did not take questions in public or produce a document that she apparently claimed would support her charges. Comer categorically denied everything. So it ended up as a lot of "he said, she said" sound and fury signifying nothing for sure.

This episode, which may not be over, affected the race, but perhaps not in the way its press patron, the candidates, or the accuser expected. It definitely eclipsed discussion of important policy issues during the campaign's latter stages.

Campaigns should not be like college seminars, of course. Perhaps even the best ones cannot be much more than blunt instruments for the purpose of pounding into voters' heads the most basic information about the candidates, their fundamental philosophy, and their most basic positions.

It was not a bad campaign, and was actually pretty good in some respects, but this column aspired to even more for this Republican quartet. They are good, smart, talented men who gave a tantalizing glimpse of what a truly substantive campaign could be like.

All this said, the four GOP contenders still deserve our gratitude for getting into the arena. And any of them would be a better governor than Democrat Jack Conway, whose policy positions sound like Charlie Brown's teacher talking.

Maybe the general election campaign will be better. More likely it will play out along similar lines, and we will once again be in for some unpleasant surprises when the next gubernatorial administration takes office.

(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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