By John David Dyche
On the eve of the Fancy Farm picnic Kentucky’s race for governor is a lot like the fairy tale Goldilocks. Republican Matt Bevin is too hot. Democrat Jack Conway is too cold.
Unfortunately, the gubernatorial campaign is real rather than make believe, as the candidates’ joint appearance at a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce event in Louisville this week distressingly reminded us.
Ryan Alessi, one of the best in the journalism business, tried to pin down Bevin and Conway on important issues. Alessi had some successes, but the forum revealed as much about the candidates’ personalities as it did their policy positions.
My initial reaction after the event was that Kentucky is doomed either way. It really is too bad that we cannot combine Conway and Bevin.
A candidate with the best qualities of each could be quite appealing. A candidate with the worst qualities of each is terrifying to contemplate.
Putting aside particular issues, there are big stylistic and thematic differences between the two men. A lot of voters will cast their ballots based on these sorts of instinctive impressions.
Bevin is entertaining and provocative, even when he is obviously wrong or making something up. Conway is dull, even when he is obviously right or stating an important fact.
Conway clearly knows more about the big issues confronting Kentucky, but is insufferably smug and soporific. Bevin clearly has more charisma, but is infuriatingly erratic and elusive.
Bevin is fluent in the buzz words of conservative talk radio, but his actual issue expertise seems about a millimeter deep. Conway is fluent in the double-talk liberals use in trying to seem centrist, but it is impossible to imagine him inspiring anyone to rally around a cause.
Conway has boundless confidence in government expertise and programs. Bevin believes free markets are better.
Bevin is for bold strokes and doing things radically differently than before. Conway is for incremental change and improvements in how we do what we are already doing.
Conway’s platform says nothing, and he stands by it 100%. Bevin’s platform says everything, and he frequently forgets it.
Bevin will borrow from other states that have enjoyed economic success under Republican governance. Conway will cling to Democratic policies that have put Kentucky where it is now and look to Washington for ideas and inspiration.
Conway will continue Steve Beshear’s style of usually (but not always) seeking consensus and cooperation with legislators of both parties. Bevin will feud with the legislature, including members of his own party.
Bevin will inspire with anecdotes, bog down in details, say outrageous things, and discard past statements like losing betting slips after a long day at the track. Conway will bore, condescend, and resort to self-righteousness and mock moral indignation like Barack Obama.
Conway will fill positions with the usual suspects, and they will be wily in the tawdry ways of Frankfort. Bevin will bring new people into government from the private (and perhaps survivalist) sectors, but they will be woefully naïve and inexperienced in the ways of Frankfort.
Bevin will wage war against an antagonistic Kentucky political press corps. Conway will pander and fare better, because he is a Democrat and not Bevin, but he will also endure some bad times because media do not love or respect him the way they do his mentor, Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen.
If Conway wins plaintiffs’ lawyers, teacher unions, and Louisville’s affluent liberal elites will stay up late celebrating on Election Night. If Bevin wins Tea Partiers, home schoolers, and religiously recalcitrant county clerks will stay up late celebrating on Election Night.
If Bevin wins he will start thinking that he could be president someday. If Conway wins he will continue thinking that he could be president someday. (OK, there are some similarities between them.)
One of these men is going to be the next governor. Voters are simply not going to conclude that independent candidate Drew Curtis is “just right” like the proverbial third bowl of porridge.
So we have to hope that the winner will be better in office than he has been while seeking it. Right now, however, neither man seems up to the challenge of providing desperately needed leadership to a state that cannot afford to merely mark time, much less fall farther behind.
Thinking positively, maybe Goldilocks is the wrong fairy tale comparison for this campaign. Perhaps the victorious one of these ugly duckling candidates will grow into an elegant swan as governor.
Happy endings do sometimes happen, you know, in politics as in fairy tales.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.
Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All rights reserved.