Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jody Richards: Political Coward

There are several words and phrases that can aptly be used to describe Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards: obstructionist, dinosaur, out of touch, two-time gubernatorial loser, etc. But the term we think most aptly describes Richards these days is coward.

How better to explain Richards' stubborn refusal to let the House of Representatives consider anything but the Peabody incentives in a special legislative session this year?

Richards orchestrated the House majority's walkout during the special session last month (while on the other end of the Capitol, the Senate stayed in session and did the people's business in only three days) and then got his comeuppance from Peabody. Jody had been insisting that a letter of intent, stating that the General Assembly would pass incentives in the 2008 regular session, would be sufficient to get Peabody to consider locating a coal conversion operation in Kentucky. When Richards managed to get Peabody representatives, Senate officials and Gov. Fletcher together, though, he was put in his place by Peabody. The coal company's officials told the state's elected braintrust (and we use that term loosely with Richards being involved) that the only way Kentucky would be considered for the plant was if a legislative package was enacted this year.

That took the heart out of Richards' claims that the special session was unnecessary and the Peabody package could wait until next year. Of course the Democrats in the state and their cheerleaders like Larry Dale Keeling fell all over themselves congratulating Richards for brokering a deal, but the truth was that Richards was the one with the egg on his face. He had to acquiesce to a special session but kept on rattling his saber (which is badly in need of some Enzyte) and claiming that if any other items are added to the session's call, he'll lead the Democrats out of the House Chamber (and, like lemmings, probably off the edge of the Annex Parking Garage).

This is why we call Jody Richards a political coward. The other items that were originally on Gov. Fletcher's special session call, including capital construction projects that the state finally has money for and a ban on domestic partner benefits for state-funded agencies like universities, enjoy overwhelming support, not only from the state's voters but from the House's Democrat caucus. A large number of Democrats actually want to vote on these initiatives -- and vote for them.

Richards knows this. He knows that if those subjects come up for a vote, they'll pass. The Senate, even thought is's controlled by the GOP, passed the governor's items on a hugely bipartisan basis. Even the Senate Democrats voted overwhelmingly for most of the bills. Democrats in the House would be similarly supportive because they know the issues are popular back home with their voters and constituents.

But Richards is afraid to let these items come up for a vote. So he orchestrated a shutdown of the first sesson and threatens to do the same in the upcoming session. Democrats who really want to vote to approve the governor's presentation don't want to buck leadership on the adjournment issue, so they're caught between a rock (Richards being an authoritarian partisan) and a hard place (their constitutents who want a domestic partner benefits ban passed and want the construction projects funded).

If Jody had a set, and his saber wasn't so short, he'd let the session proceed as the governor called it. The Kentucky Constitution gives the governor the sole right to call a special session and set the agenda; once that's done, the legislature has an obligation to carry out its duties in good faith. Richards, being afraid of the outcome if the bills actually came up for a vote, refused to allow that to happen. Was the special session call motivated by politics? Probably. But that's the nature of the beast, especially now that Kentucky allows gubernatorial succession and we're seeing the first real challenge to an incumbent since succession was approved.

Now Mr. Speaker has put his party in the untenable position of having to defend its actions. The backlash from the failure to vote on the construction projects and the partner benefits ban will no doubt have a negative effect on the Democrats' candidates this fall. Such is the price of cowardice.

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