Wednesday, January 04, 2012

What might have been...

In a better world, newly inaugurated Gov. Steve Pence would be giving his first State of the Commonwealth address tonight in Frankfort.

However, due to a combination of politically-motivated investigations and Pence's own wrong-headed decisions, that's not happening. Instead, Gov. Steve Beshear is kicking off a second term that promises to be as bad as, if not worse, than his first term.

There's really no need to rehash Greg Stumbo's partisan attacks against the 2003-2007 term of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, except to note Pence's disloyal and cowardly behavior as the personnel probe progressed. And it's also important to note that Pence was not Fletcher (and Sen. Mitch McConnell's) first choice as a lieutenant governor running mate, but he appeared to be a much more solid choice than McConnell's original designee, Hunter Bates.

Lt. Gov. Pence had it right when he uttered his infamous "indict a ham sandwich" remark. Or at least it would seem so; that he recognized that the charges were baseless and were sparked not by any real desire to punish wrongdoing, but to drum a Republican out of the Governor's Office because the Fletcher administration (gasp and egads!) dared to reverse a decades-long trend of hiring Democrats for merit system jobs.

A former federal prosecutor, Pence seemed to grasp exactly what was going on as the special grand jury rolled on. But appearances were deceiving. Once Fletcher took the wind out of the investigation's sails by issuing pardons, and calling for the resignations of those he felt had made non-criminal mistakes in the hiring process, Pence retreated from the administration. He refused Fletcher's request to resign, then ended up supporting Fletcher's opponents in the 2007 primary and general elections when Fletcher wisely chose someone else to be his running mate in his failed re-election campaign.

Had the former prosecutor been out front explaining why the investigation was trumped-up and the pardons were appropriate, perhaps things would have been different. His credibility on the matter would have been impeccable. He might have helped to blunt the political damage Stumbo's persecution caused, could have completed a second term as lieutenant governor, and may have successfully won a term of his own as governor. Instead, he's relegated to representing Rick Pitino in the infamous Porcini's matter.

But we all know what happened. Beshear beat Fletcher in 2007, completely mishandled the surplus the Fletcher administration left in the state government treasury, and has in general been a failure as governor the past four years. Despite the ascendancy of the Republican Party in Kentucky over the past decade or so, no truly viable candidates stepped forth to challenge Beshear's re-election bid. Senate President David Williams, soiled by years of unfair and unanswered attacks from the state's liberal media, put up a respectable challenge, but the damage done to his persona via relentless criticisms from the Herald-Leader and Courier-Journal proved to be too much to overcome. The seeming self-destruction of Richie Farmer didn't help. Farmer was generally regarded to have done an excellent job as agriculture commissioner, and his status as a legendary Kentucky Wildcat basketball player was supposed to be an asset. A series of political blunders and the unfortunate timing of his wife's filing for divorce tarnished Williams' choice for a running mate.

Williams also wasn't helped by attacks by a few self-promoting and self-proclaimed Tea Party participants. Funding was going to be a problem for Williams in the general election as it was; the Phil Moffett candidacy and its backing by the likes of loudmouths David Adams and Mica Sims forced Williams to spend money in the primary that would have been better spent in the general election.

So now, with Beshear back in office for another four years, Kentucky has little to look forward too. He came into office poor-mouthing and no doubt he'll continue to do so. He's bought into the wrongheaded notion that the only way to rejuvenate the horse racing industry in Kentucky is to allow the tracks to run casinos, so he'll finally make a concerted effort to pay back those who bankrolled his 2007 win. He fails to see the need for comprehensive tax reform. He turns a blind eye to some of the wasteful spending of Kentucky's "educracy" every time he exempts education from a budget cut. There just simply is no reason for optimism that this state will move forward, especially when you see the cast of supporting characters that has been assembled in the background, both in appointive positions and the lower-level elected positions. And don't forget that snake-in-the-grass Stumbo is still in charge of the House. We can only pray that Williams and the Senate Republicans can stand firm against the worst of the Democrats' initiatives.

As we watch "World's Dumbest" or "Dog The Bounty Hunter" or "Law & Order" reruns, or anything other than Beshear's lies and false promises tonight, we'll take a moment -- but not much more than that -- to wonder just what Steve Pence is doing and thinking. Had he merely done the right thing, there's a better-than-average chance that he could have been making that speech tonight.