Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.
This year’s election turned a promised blue wave nationally into something akin to a blue slosh or purple puddle – pick your metaphor – as progressives’ hopes for an overwhelming repudiation of President Donald Trump and his populist policies didn’t transpire.
It fell far short of the hype and certainly wasn’t a major midterm event reminiscent of the shellacking Republicans gave President Bill Clinton in 1994 or the Tea Party’s punch in President Barack Obama’s political gut in 2010.
Still, Washington will have divided government.
Even the natural political gridlock that’s inherent when one political party controls the House and another holds the Senate and presidency doesn’t have to result in automatic stalemates in advancing commonsense policies.
Arguably, the most meaningful welfare-reform policy in American history was passed following what became known as the “Republican Revolution” in 1994 in which voters decided to force then-President Bill Clinton to work with the minority party by handing the GOP and its new speaker, Rep. Newt Gingrich, the keys to the U.S. House of Representative for the first time in 40 years.
The result was a truly bipartisan policy lifting millions out of poverty that both political parties could claim credit for – Clinton and Gingrich both did – but couldn’t attack each other on the campaign trail since it was a product of both parties.
While much has been made of the overheated political rhetoric during Trump’s presidency on both sides of the aisle, American voters still believe divided government is a good thing for the country.
As usual, they got it right.
Now, will Trump and the likely new-but-returning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, also get it right for the country?
Kentucky voters also got it right on Election Night by rewarding Republicans, who at least attempted to tackle the commonwealth’s pension crisis, which not that long ago was considered a political career’s deal-killer akin to touching Social Security in national campaigns.
After passage of a bill creating a more stable retirement system for new teachers, union leaders successfully provoked their constituencies to march on Frankfort, including a protest against pension-reform legislators in early October to which they brought 13 U-Haul and Budget trucks.
Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, promised to “vote them out and then move them out.”
Yet the U-Haul trucks remained empty after the midterm election as voters handily rejected single-issue candidates, who – though admirably passionate about public education and the future of the teaching profession – brought little else to the table outside occasional references to tax hikes to pay for their planned big increases in pension and education spending.
Voters listened but weren’t enamored with this approach, electing only 14 of the 51 candidates from the education field who campaigned for legislative seats.
Voters wondered about these candidates: “You’re passionate about public education but can you put a two-year budget together that involves comprehensive decisions and prioritizing about spending our hard-earned dollars?”
In the end, they weren’t convinced that protestors barging in and interrupting serious committee hearings on pension-reform legislation by shouting “tax the rich” and warbling union-inspired ditties were capable of governing the commonwealth.
By retaining its legislative supermajority, Kentucky’s GOP can get it right by confidently addressing tough issues and finding ways to take more bites out of the pension-reform apple.
For instance, if the state Supreme Court upholds Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd’s ruling striking down the pension-reform legislation passed during the session because of the process – they gutted another bill to pass it – the GOP should address it head-on in the 2019 General Assembly by passing a clean alternative that offers more than window dressing.
That means including tough, but necessary, decisions reforming benefit structures, ensuring a secure retirement for current and future retirees and protecting taxpayers from economic-busting liabilities.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @bipps.