November 9, 2014

Why Kentucky's a red state and Grimes can't win

(This story ran Oct. 31, 2014 in Kentucky Roll Call.)
Lightning strikes! But it is unlikely that Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrats’ nominee, can oust Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday. The race for the US Senate is a federal race where philosophy is foremost and people still don’t know what Grimes stands for. Voters are wondering if she has a philosophical rudder. If so, what does she believe?  What are her inner-soul values?

Candidates in Kentucky can hide their deepest beliefs and still win — if they’re running for magistrate and not a federal office. Grimes has raised a lot of money, but has not spent it wisely; her strategy appears to have been to conduct the race like she’s running for a local or state office.

She’s not the first secretary of state to make that blunder. In 2010, then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson ignored the distinction with embarrassing results. In the Republican primary that year, in the open seat for the US Senate, vacated by Jim Bunning, Grayson lost to Rand Paul in a landslide — 58.8 percent to 35.4 percent — because, after serving six years as secretary of state, and throughout his campaign for the Senate, voters never quite knew what Grayson stood for.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), one of America’s most famous journalists of the last century, noted that the nation’s Capitol “represents more closely [than state and local elections] the inner soul of people.” Mencken recognized seemingly that everyone must have something to live for (faith, hope, purpose) as well as something to live on (food, shelter, clothing), and in the realm of government, citizens will always try to send to Washington those who represent their “inner soul.”

That standard doesn’t apply to candidates running for mayor in a small, rural Kentucky town. Those are races that can be won by promising to keep the weeds cut along the road coming into town. 

But farther up the political ladder one climbs, winning depends on philosophy in proportion to the height of the office. On the state level, philosophy first comes into play in General Assembly races. It increases to maybe 50 percent in a governor’s race — the other half is rudderless (pleasing the courthouse crowd, redistributing wealth from the state treasury, playing raw and subtle politics).

Going higher still to the office of president, and in races for the US Senate and House, elections become intensely philosophical, as much as 80 percent or even 90 percent, would be my guess. Kentucky is not a red state in federal elections because Republicans are lucky, are better looking, more intelligent or raise more money than the Democrats. Republican are winning federal races because their beliefs are better aligned with what the voters’ value in themselves.

This alignment matters more in choosing who we send
to Washington, because Washington is where the action is. The issues and subjects that define us as individuals are debated in Washington — not so much at the state and local levels: Examples are the debates over the boundary lines of free enterprise, fairness, religion, guns, gender issues, abortion and limits on how bad government can get.  

Who thinks like you do? That is the question that turns federal elections. Former Congressman Larry Hopkins, R-Lexington, recognized that fact in winning his first term in 1978. The slogan on his billboards was, “He Thinks Like Us.” And he went on to serve seven terms.

Power of beliefs

Beliefs are extremely important; they are the protector of every society, and as American writer and poet Marianne Moore (1887-1972) put it, “Belief is even stronger than the struggle to survive.” Think of the jihadists but also of American soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for our country. 

Grimes picked wrong strategy

Elections are complicated endeavors, and multiple factors make a winning campaign. However, all of the components put together won’t work successfully in a federal election without the voters’ perception that a candidate’s inner self is aligned with theirs.

The voters in Kentucky don’t sufficiently know what Alison Lundergan Grimes stands for. She has made a name for herself. But her strategy for winning has been wrong. Consequently, though she has raised a lot of money, she hasn’t spent it wisely. Saying you’ll fight for women, that you’re in favor of jobs and raising the minimum wage, while complaining that your opponent has served too long in Washington — that’s not revealing your own inner self; that’s hiding it.

Staking out a position on a few selected legislative issues doesn’t disclose the character and values embedded in a candidate’s inner self. But it’s a nice illusion. — by Lowell Reese

November 3, 2014

David Williams expected to win judgeship race

(This story ran in Kentucky Roll Call, Oct. 31, 2014) 
Former Senate President David L. Williams was appointed to the bench two years ago by Gov. Steve Beshear, to fill an unexpired term of the late Circuit Judge Eddie Lovelace, of Albany. Williams is running for election to a full eight-year term against retired District Judge Steve Hurt, of Burkesville, Williams’ hometown. In fact, Williams and Hurt were classmates in high school, graduating the same year.

This is a “fairly heated” race and Judge Williams is expected to win. The jurisdiction contains Clinton, Cumberland and Monroe counties. The judicial community in the district (attorneys and court staff), if conventional wisdom is gauging it right, is rallying behind Williams.

Williams, 61, has run for seven different offices throughout his rather short public career — county judge-executive, commonwealth attorney, state House and Senate, US Senate and governor — and this will be his first race to win, other than both chambers of the General Assembly. A source said Williams is strong in Clinton County and “that should clinch it” for him. 

High school classmates aside, this is not a friendly race. Williams is hitting Hurt hard in ads on double-dipping: Hurt retired from the bench to take senior judge status, which enhanced his pension by hundreds of thousands of dollars (the average is about $1 million) by enriching the formula used to calculate judicial pensions.

Williams is making an issue, however, not on the size of Hurt’s pension but on the fact he’s trying to come out of retirement for a government pay check on top of his pension. Hurt is not firing back that Williams will get an enhanced legislative pension based on his pay as a judge. 

Hurt is mad at Williams over a bill in the legislature that died when Williams was president of the Senate. The bill would have extended the Senior Judge Status program, but it died in the House, in effect, sunseting the program — but not before Hurt boarded that gravy train. 

Actually, the House Democratic caucus killed the bill; it wasn’t Williams who did it. But apparently Hurt thinks Williams didn’t try hard enough to save it, and, seemingly, he is holding a grudge against Williams over it. Some local folks are calling this a race for “judge” and a race for “grudge.”