By John David Dyche
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin campaigned as a bold agent of dramatic change. It is admittedly early in his administration, but so far he seems to be governing as a cautious, incremental moderate.
For example, Bevin says this entire legislative session is about the budget. As for what he will put in his spending plan, however, he says, "Don’t expect dramatic changes."
During the campaign Bevin said, "The Medicaid expansion enacted under Obamacare is unaffordable for the taxpayers of Kentucky and should be repealed." But now Bevin’s attitude is of the “mend it, don’t end it” variety as he pursues reform along the lines of Indiana’s program that actually leaves the expansion in place.
This prompted Avik Roy, a policy adviser to Florida senator and GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio to tweet, "Wait so Matt Bevin, card-carrying member of the GOP purity police, is preserving Obamacare’s Kentucky Medicaid expansion?"
Roy linked to an article in Forbes by Josh Archambault arguing that Kentucky could not reform Medicaid via a "Section 1332 waiver" as Bevin proposes and urging him to instead "begin looking at ways to unwind the expansion altogether." That is what many thought Bevin had promised to do.
Bevin has also already sent a signal that charter schools may not be doable during this session.
Has Bevin already sold out to what Texas senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz might call "the Frankfort Cartel?" Or is he merely being prudent, which is the defining characteristic of conservatism properly understood?
Several legislators, including some influential Republicans who reside on the relatively far right of the political spectrum, are confident it is the latter. They note the steep learning curve a new governor faces, especially with a budget due almost immediately, and applaud Bevin for taking his time.
Most of the public probably concurs. There may be folks animated by Bevin’s sometimes feverish campaign rhetoric who expected an immediate assault on business as usual in Frankfort, but more Kentuckians probably prefer the more restrained approach that has come with the reality of governing.
Long-suffering Kentucky conservatives will just have to be patient a little while longer. The new governor can only do so much so fast.
Most also understand that Republicans must capture the state House of Representatives to do all the things Bevin ran on. That is why, besides the budget, teeing up this fall’s war for control of that chamber may be the most important thing that happens this legislative session.
Thus, the first day in Frankfort featured procedural fights between Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo and Republican Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover about the composition of committees, especially given the recently depleted Democratic ranks, and whether there can be a new election for speaker if Republicans achieve parity via four special elections in March.
Each party has also postured by declaring its top legislative priorities. It is unlikely that many, if any, of them will pass, but the purpose is to draw dialogical battle lines from which autumn’s election campaigns will be waged.
Characteristically, the Democrats want more government while Republicans want more individual responsibility free enterprise. If and when the GOP captures the lower (figuratively) legislative chamber, the pressure on Bevin and his party to follow through on their ambitious agendas will rapidly intensify.
In the meantime, Bevin has already done one smart, economical thing. He will apparently combine his budget address with his State of the Commonwealth speech on January 26.
Having two separate events may sometimes make sense, but not for a new governor who only recently gave an inaugural address. A chief executive, like a political columnist, can easily talk too much for his own good.
No doubt all Kentuckians wish Bevin a full and speedy recovery from a broken bone he says he suffered while playing what must have been a pretty aggressive game of tag with his children over Thanksgiving. His explanation failed to quash speculation in the minds of some cynics that the injury was actually the result of repetitive stress from taking selfies.
One of the best things about Bevin is his childlike joie de vivre. He will likely have some unpleasant moments as brutal budget facts begin dominating the political discussion.
For now, however, Bevin is being prudent, happy, and a pretty good example for the rest of us.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His email is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)
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