How one views 2008 depends largely on perspective. In the political world, Democrats see 2008 as a year of renewal and rebirth while Republicans are grieving – at least nationally. The results in Kentucky were mixed.

The year was a whirlwind of change and uncertainty. Supporters of Barack Obama are happy, but a failing economy, the apparent collapse of the automobile industry, lost jobs and retirement savings have produced dark and deepening anxiety.

We lost William F. Buckley, the witty and intellectual conservative icon, and Kentucky lost Tom Gish, owner and publisher of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg. National political commentary and Kentucky journalism will never be quite the same. American popular culture won’t either as actor and activist Paul Newman left the scene.

Think of what transpired and how our world changed. It began with a woman favored to win the presidency and ended with the election of an African American. In between, Hillary Clinton criss-crossed the state and was affectionately dubbed “Kentucky’s adopted daughter” by admiring Democratic supporters.

Republican nominee John McCain visited little Inez, Ky., in Martin County, and a southern Kentucky boy found yet another place to love in eastern Kentucky. Unfortunately for Kentucky’s image, CNN broadcast unflattering images of the state to the rest of the country. Frankfort politicians were outraged, but seem little inclined to do anything that might change that image – which does not fairly reflect the real Kentucky or its people but in truth is not altogether inaccurate either.

In some ways, not much at all changed in Kentucky. A new governor struggled with the budget, the legislature and politics. Steve Beshear’s signature legislative priority – expanded gambling – failed.

A lot of other bills died as leaders of the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate petulantly refused to act on the other’s bills until the clock ran out, ending the session in embarrassment.

The governor took his public relations show on the road, his poll ratings recovered and lawmakers held their partisan tongues long enough to pass a pension reform bill in special session. Still another (in what seems an endless) budget crisis promises more retrenchment in higher education and improvements in Kentucky’s quality of life. David Williams remains in full control of the Senate while Jody Richards and Greg Stumbo wrestle for control of the fractious House.

Not much ever changes in Kentucky.

In January, there were trouble signs in the economy, but the country remained hopeful it could weather the gathering storm. That confidence weakened with rising oil and gasoline prices, which climbed above $4 a gallon by summer.

But confidence disappeared entirely when the bottom fell out of the economy, credit froze and financial giants and auto makers, all run by people who make more money in a day than many American workers make in a year, came begging for federal handouts.

Again, depending on your perspective, Congress and lame duck President George W. Bush provided a rescue for “a once-in-a-100 years crisis” or a bail out of those responsible for the mess. Either way, it almost cost Sen. Mitch McConnell his job. He managed to buck a national trend and hold onto his powerful position as Republican Leader – but a leader of a shrunken minority. Still, he’s on easy street compared to what awaits President-elect Obama.

We await a new year and hope for a new beginning with a new president. On the night of his historic election, Obama spoke forthrightly of the great and growing challenges facing him and the nation.

Wish him well. And hope that 2009 is better on the whole than 2008.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. He may be contacted by email at

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