Change is in the air — at least in the presidential nomination races. All the candidates have now adopted Barack Obama’s call for change.
But not in Kentucky.
Mark Twain famously said that when the end of the world neared, he would move here because “everything happens 10 years late in Kentucky.” Looking around Frankfort, one might conclude Twain was an optimist.
There was a sense during the campaign that Steve Beshear might bring some fresh new faces to Frankfort, but some of his appointments have a fairly familiar look. While he promised to return competent, ethical leadership to Frankfort, three of his appointments appeared to have conflicts of interest, although they were given qualified clearance by the ethics commission — while another was involved in a personnel board hearing over a hiring question in his previous position. Given Beshear’s large and consistent lead in the polls during the campaign, he might have been expected to prepare early for his likely election and transition. That didn’t seem to be the case, which may say as much about competence as some appointments said about ethics.
Beshear’s calls for bi-partisan cooperation appear to reflect the frequent idea of those who win elections: “I won, you give.” Senate Republicans aren’t likely to see it that way. And he’s openly said he wants to help Democrats regain control of the Senate, which also doesn’t sit well with Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.
Beshear promises not “to go backward in education,” but proposes to deal in part with the financial problems by reducing education funding by six to 12 percent. But he opposes an increase in the cigarette tax, even while calling for Kentuckians to smoke less. So, the tax will be shifted to those paying tuition, avoiding a tax on behavior he wants to discourage while increasing the cost of behavior we need to encourage. Nor is he likely to consider changes to the tax code, which might create more stable tax revenue through our economy’s shift to services from manufacturing. He’s banking on casino gambling — an uncertain bet at best in the Republican majority Senate presided over by Williams, who opposes expanded gambling.
Legislators aren’t always keen on change, either. Republicans surely don’t want any change in the power they’ve wielded since taking control of the Senate. And Democrats have to decide which is more important to them: supporting their governor or maintaining legislative independence won over the past 25 years,
Legislators are backing Beshear by saying the state budget picture is worse than it’s been in years. But they’re the ones who created the structural budget that makes it so hard to deal with declining revenues in a slowing economy. And if the faces in the Beshear administration look familiar, Greg Stumbo’s return to the House — and his likely desire for a leadership role — sure looks like the good old days.
The candidates for president continue to talk about a hunger on the part of voters for “real change.” But in Kentucky, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org