Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Opinion

March 14, 2014

It’s politics as usual in Frankfort

FRANKFORT — From the beginning, election politics hovered over the 2014 General Assembly. Thursday’s budget debate and vote in the House reaffirmed that.

It’s a big election year in Kentucky. Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell seems vulnerable in ways he hasn’t previously. Republicans have a legitimate chance to take over the state House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century.

Kentucky’s other Republican U.S. senator, Rand Paul, wants to run simultaneously for re-election in 2016 and for president. He needs the General Assembly’s help, however, to do that. He needs lawmakers to change a law that prevents a candidate from running for two offices at the same time.

The Republican-controlled state Senate will oblige. But the Democratically-controlled House won’t. Paul – the Kentucky politician who can most reliably turn out voters on his behalf – said this week that failure by the House to go along on the Senate bill would provide extra “incentive” for him to campaign this fall for Republican House candidates.

So Thursday’s budget speeches were less about finances and policy than they were about politics. House Republican Caucus Chairman Bob DeWeese argued Democratic accusations that Republicans were focused on politics and “Washington-style politics” were unfair and off-base. DeWeese is reasonable, thoughtful and he doesn’t focus purely on political goals. He’s one of the good guys.

But despite DeWeese’s protestations, his colleagues were in fact focused on the election. There was more talk about “Obamacare” than about spending priorities or how to pay for government. Republican Kevin Bratcher proclaimed a vote for the budget “is a vote for Obamacare.” When Democrat John Will Stacy asked Republicans, “Where’s your plan?” Republican Stan Lee suggested Democrats will find out next year when he said Republicans will be the majority party in the House.

Democrats were prepared for Republican tactics. But their aim was also political. It took just two questions from Republicans to budget committee chairman Rick Rand before he charged Republicans have “brought Washington-style politics to right here in Kentucky.” He said Republicans wanted to “blow up the budget and shut down government.”

Republicans were also again frustrated by the parliamentary skill of Speaker Greg Stumbo. He engineered a last-minute maneuver on Wednesday, having Rand file an amended budget bill that he then on Thursday called to the floor for debate and a vote. Because Republicans’ several amendments to the budget were filed on the original bill, Stumbo ruled them out of order since only the amended version was on the floor. Stumbo’s intent was to deny Republicans their plan to force Democrats to take controversial votes which the GOP could then characterize as support for “Obamacare” in November.

But Minority Leader Jeff Hoover was also prepared and Republicans forced a procedural vote on an amendment to delete funding in the budget for the governor’s implementation of the law. Republicans lost the vote – they needed 51 and managed only 46 – but they may have won the political battle because 29 Democrats passed – including Stumbo and Majority Leader Rocky Adkins.

It was fine political theater. But it had very little to do with what Kentucky needs from its government for the next two years. Expect the Republican-controlled Senate now to pursue its own political playbook as it re-works the budget, which ultimately will be ironed out by 15 or so lawmakers from both chambers in a conference committee.

That’s when each side will have to compromise and sacrifice some ideological goals to produce a budget. Let’s hope Kentucky’s common wealth isn’t compromised and sacrificed even more in the final document. Unfortunately, history – and politics – suggests it will be.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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