Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

December 27, 2013

2013 was busy year in politics; ‘14 promises more of the same


FRANKFORT — Those who earn their livings reporting on state government and Kentucky politics had much to write about in 2013.

The General Assembly met in the spring without acting on the overdue need to re-draw legislative maps, leading to federal lawsuits. They began the 2013 session saying pension reform was the critical issue facing the state, seemed to reach an impasse and then, with the help of Gov. Steve Beshear, pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the last moment. Time will tell if it was illusion or a real fix.

Eventually, in August, lawmakers came back and passed a re-districting plan under pressure from the federal court. But it wouldn’t be Frankfort if everything went as planned: charges of sexual harassment by a sitting lawmaker erupted in the middle of the special session. He resigned; the alleged victims sued; and five months later a special House committee looking into the allegations decided not to.

Republicans were apoplectic over Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid and embrace of the Affordable Care Act. Beshear seemed to have an answer for every challenge and became a national figure in the wake of Kentucky’s success in implementing the law. As with pension reform, we’ll have to wait upon time to know if he’s right.

Richie Farmer accepted a plea deal for misappropriating public funds during his time as agriculture commissioner while his successor, James Comer, fought to bring hemp to the Bluegrass. He won the legislative battle but so far hasn’t been able to win the war and hemp remains a pipe dream.

Ashley Judd decided not to challenge Mitch McConnell, who was secretly recorded talking about how to attack and discredit her. But Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, in a hastily and poorly organized announcement, said she’d take him on and so did Republican Matt Bevin. So far, neither has run an inspiring campaign, but we’re five months from the Republican primary and 11 months from the general election.

The year ended with a summit in Pikeville to discuss how to revitalize the eastern Kentucky economy and Republican Suzanne Miles won a special election to fill the seat vacated by Democrat John Arnold’s resignation in the wake of the sexual harassment charges. That narrowed the Democratic majority in the House to 54-46, meaning Republicans need only a net pickup of five seats to take control in 2014.

Now we begin a new year, and much of it will play out on a stage set up by the events of 2013. Lawmakers will face a biennially tight budget made tighter by the requirement of the 2013 pension reform that they fully fund the actuarially required payment into the pension system. Republicans plan to seize every possible political advantage in preparation for the 2014 elections, which will be conducted under the new maps, hoping to wrest control of the House from Democrats.

McConnell faces the test of his political life and we’ll learn if Bevin poses any sort of threat. Can Grimes withstand the barrage McConnell will throw at her and can she stand up in the face of hard questions from the press? Can McConnell win re-election with poll numbers as bad as Obama’s in Kentucky and finally realize his dream of becoming Senate Majority Leader?

Will expanded gambling finally pass and if not, does Beshear have the political will and skill to push through tax reform? Can he and lawmakers restore some education funding without gambling or tax reform? Can the state and the region summon the ingenuity and political will to help eastern Kentucky?

Goodbye 2013; hello 2014. It’s going to be interesting.