Much ado about “something”

COG2“Much ado about nothing.” This is how the attorney for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services described the issue before the Oldham Circuit Court in the appeal of an open records decision issued earlier this year.

He was less grandiloquent in his description of the issue when we unexpectedly met outside the courthouse. Responding to his expression of surprise at my attendance, I explained that I thought the issue before the court was an important one. He replied, “it’s stupid.”

And so it remains. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services learned nothing from past mistakes which resulted in the imposition of penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs in excess of $1 million  for willfully circumventing the open records law as well as a scathing rebuke from the Kentucky Court of Appeals. A culture of secrecy and an attitude of contempt, disdain and obstructionism toward the open records law persists.

What is the “stupid” issue about which “much ado” is being made?

It is the issue we discussed in an earlier post involving a legal challenge to an attorney general’s open records decision, 17-ORD-007. In that decision the attorney general deviated from the well-entrenched principle that an agency cannot place restrictions on the use of nonexempt public records when it discloses those records.

The requester, a public employee, asked for copies of statements written about her that resulted in a reprimand. The Cabinet released the records to the requester but admonished her that she “should not discuss it [sic] with anybody, in any form or fashion, outside of [her] supervisors.”

“It is difficult to conceive of a clearer, and more improper, restriction on secondary use of public records,” we wrote, than the cabinet’s admonition to the requester.

“It is even more difficult to conceive of a clearer, and more improper, assault on the public’s right to know,” we concluded, “than an attorney general’s open records decision that endorses agency action aimed at censoring the requester’s use of the open records disclosed to her.”

The July 21 hearing in the Oldham Circuit Court began with counsel for the requester’s cogent defense of his client’s, and any open records requester’s, right to use nonexempt public records for any purpose that is not prohibited by law. In support, he cited prior attorney general’s open records decisions that affirm that right by stating that nothing in the open records law “permits an agency to restrict a person to whom records have been released from reproducing those records or sharing them with others.” See, for example, 95-ORD-77.

Counsel for the cabinet credited the OAG staffer who wrote the decision with an examination of hundreds of open records decisions. How he made this assessment is unclear. What is clear is that if, in fact, the staffer examined hundreds of decisions, he missed the decisions that were directly on point.

In a remarkable display of obfuscation, counsel for the cabinet invoked the familiar words of the Bard of Avon, also characterizing the issue on appeal as little more than a matter of “academic” interest.

He constructed a strained argument based on the fact that the cabinet’s admonition on use of the records was issued when the records were disclosed to the requester and not as a condition of disclosure, waiving the banner of prior restraint. In addition, he strongly suggested that a public employee has fewer rights under the open records law than an ordinary citizen.

And of course there were the apologies — always the apologies for the cabinet’s poor choice of words, or, in other cases, delays in producing records, false denials about the existence of public records, etc.

He cited, or actually miscited, a case involving the Kentucky Lottery Corporation, which he identified as the Kentucky Retirement Systems, and a defamation claim failed by corporation employees when the corporation created defamatory records, placed them in a file in anticipation of an open records request and released them when it received the request.

And how is that case relevant? Talk about muddying the waters!

What is at stake? Nothing less than the right of an open records requester to freely use the records to which she is afforded access. What good is a public record if it cannot be made public?

To paraphrase the Bard in a quotation from Hamlet, “[Counsel for the cabinet] doth protest too much, methinks.”

 

 

 

 

Barren County Progress publisher prevails in open records dispute

COG2The Bluegrass Institute’s Center for Open Government was pleased to provide assistance to Barren County Progress publisher, Jeff Jobe, in his recent successful open records appeal. The appeal originated in the Glasgow Electric Plant Board’s partial denial of Jobe’s request for records relating to the $7.4M SET Project sponsored by the TVA and implemented by the board.

Specifically, the board denied Jobe access to records identifying 350 property owners who participated in the project.

The board vigorously resisted disclosure of the records on the theory that its agreement with the TVA required it to maintain the confidentiality of the information. Its efforts to avoid the application of the open records law to these records included a letter to the program participants notifying them of Jobe’s “keen interest” in records implicating their personal privacy.

We assisted Jobe in distinguishing the authorities on which the board relied, in locating pertinent authorities and in responding to the board’s claim that already disclosed records satisfied the public interest in ensuring that it had properly discharged its duties.

Ultimately, we suggested that Jobe remind the board that “the fundamental purpose of the open records act is to enable the public to scrutinize agency claims of compliance through inspection of records that confirm or refute those claims rather than accepting the agency’s claims at face value.”

Our combined efforts yielded the desired result.

On July 13, the attorney general issued 17-ORD-135  in which he rejected the board’s position, adopted the arguments advanced by the Barren County Progress and affirmed the public’s right to know.

The open records law affords the Glasgow Electric Plant Board 30 days to appeal the attorney general’s open records decision to the Barren County Circuit Court. If the board chooses not to pursue this course of action before 30 days has elapsed, 17-ORD-135 will have the force and effect of law and bind the parties.

Bargaining away the public’s right to know

COG2Twice recently we have been reminded of the problems created when public agencies offer assurances of confidentiality in spite of their obligations under Kentucky’s open records law.

In the most recent case the attorney general concluded that a commitment made by the Glasgow Electric Plant Board to protect the identities of customers participating in a TVA financed project was unenforceable. The board has 30 days from the date on which 17-ORD-135 was issued to appeal the decision to circuit court.

In June the Kentucky Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the Purdue Pharma case.  The central issue there is whether a previous attorney general’s agreement with the pharmaceutical company to seal documents obtained in litigation arising from the company’s fraudulent marketing of OxyContin must yield to the public’s right to know. An opinion in that case is expected soon.

On July 18 the problem reemerged. Attending a meeting of the Frankfort Plant Board, I listened to the board’s discussion of the pros and cons of adopting a confidentiality policy presented to the board by Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency (KyMEA), a public agency created by interlocal agreement to “allow the 10 Member Municipal systems to obtain cost effective, reliable, and environmentally responsible resources.”

The board wisely rejected the policy.

Going forward, however, the board may be required to execute nondisclosure agreements to obtain “confidential” information maintained by KyMEA unless KyMEA can be persuaded that access to public records is governed by the open records law and, in the case of two public agencies, a provision of the law authorizing agency sharing of otherwise exempt public records if the exchange serves “a legitimate governmental need or is necessary in the performance of a legitimate government function.”

In each of these cases I was reminded of an early line of authority emanating from the attorney general’s office recognizing that “a public agency cannot abrogate the mandatory provisions of the Open Records Law by a promise of confidentiality which is not authorized by KRS 61.870 to 61.884.”

In other words, a public agency cannot bargain away the public’s right to know but can only “promise confidentiality as far as the permissive exemptions permit.”

Kentucky’s courts have weighed in on this issue as well.  In Central Kentucky News-Journal v. George Kentucky’s highest court rejected the argument that “a confidentiality agreement may impute, per se, a public record with a privacy claim superior to that of the public’s right of access,” concluding that such an agreement “cannot in and of itself create an inherent right to privacy superior to and exempt from the statutory mandate for disclosure contained in the Open Records Act.”

The Court declared that “the people of this state, through their elected representatives, have stated in the clearest of terms that it is more important that they have access to . . .  information than that it remain confidential.”

Of course the open records law recognizes a legitimate need for confidentiality in fourteen exemptions approved by Kentucky lawmakers and codified at KRS 61.878(1)(a) through (n). From the exemptions “we must conclude that with respect to certain records, the General Assembly has determined that the public’s right to know is subservient to statutory rights of personal privacy and the need for governmental confidentiality.”

It is these exemptions, and not promises of confidentiality, confidentiality agreements or confidentiality policies that are not grounded in these exemptions, that govern access to records in the custody of a public agency.

Thus, KRS 61.878(1)(a) protects records implicating an individual’s privacy rights when those rights are superior to the public’s right to know.  KRS 61.878(1)(c)(1) protects records confidentially disclosed to a public agency that are generally recognized as confidential or proprietary if open disclosure would permit an unfair commercial advantage to competitors of the entity that disclosed the records. KRS 61.878(1)(k) and (l) protect records made confidential by separate state or federal law.  And so forth.

Public agencies have no business offering assurances of confidentiality, entering into confidentiality agreements or adopting confidentiality policies that are not grounded in these and the remaining ten statutorily recognized exemptions. To continue to do so invites open records disputes and costly litigation at the expense of the public’s right to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jefferson County Public Schools denies Bluegrass Institute’s open meetings complaint

COG2On May 7 the Bluegrass Institute reported on an April 30 meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education. Nothing especially newsworthy there except that the board conducted this meeting at a highly questionable time and place.

The meeting was conducted at 4:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon in the office of a private law firm located on the 28th floor of PNC Plaza, 500 W. Jefferson Street, in downtown Louisville instead of the board’s regular meeting site.

The stated reason for the unusual time and location? This was the only time all board members were available to meet and “the law office was used so as to not inconvenience district employees who would have to open a building on a weekend.”

The Kentucky open meetings law requires public agencies to conduct their meetings at “specified times and places which are convenient to the public.” The law makes no reference to the convenience of agency employees.

This is one of the objections we raised when we submitted an open meetings complaint to JCPS chairman Chris Brady on June 21.

Leaving aside the unusual decision to conduct the meeting on a Sunday afternoon – which might discourage some attendees — we alleged that the board’s April 30 meeting violated the open meetings law because the meeting was conducted at an inconvenient location. In support, we cited a 2016 open meetings decision issued by the attorney general’s office determining that a meeting conducted in a private residence was inconvenient to the public.

That open meetings decision, 16-OMD-178, was based on legal authorities dating back to 1949 recognizing that a public meeting must be held in “a place from which no part of the citizens . . . may be excluded by reason of not feeling they may freely attend.”

As a means of remedying the violation we proposed that the board acknowledge its violation of KRS 61.820(1) and agree to conduct all future meetings at times and places convenient to the public, namely its regular meeting site, unless the site does not provide adequate space, seating and acoustics.

JCPS denied our complaint, emphasizing the lack of proof that “any member of the public was in fact dissuaded from attending the meeting because of its location” and distinguishing a meeting held in a downtown office building from a meeting held in a private residence.

Chairman Brady noted that the downtown office building where the meeting was conducted “contains restaurants, a convenience shop and, until recently, a bank all of which are frequented by the general public during the week.” He maintained that “public, prominently-identified elevators transport the public to offices throughout the building, including the 28th floor offices of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs where entry doors are (and were on the day of this meeting) wide open during the day.”

It was his position that “the public would have no reason to believe that accessibility would be any different for the April 30th public meeting even though that day was a Sunday.”

This is where we disagree.

Experience teaches that access to private offices is generally limited to business invitees during business hours. Private offices are entirely inaccessible to the public during nonbusiness hours.  Members of the general public do not freely enter and exist nonpublic buildings and offices at any time.

And certainly not on Sundays.

We confirmed this on a recent visit to PNC Plaza. At 4:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon we were unable to gain admittance through any of the doors to the building fronting Jefferson Street. All of these doors were locked.  On our final attempt to enter through a side door on Fifth Street, a guard unlocked the door. He confirmed that the doors to the building are locked on the weekend, and that if members of the public somehow gain admittance they are not permitted to take the elevators to the private offices located in the building.

None of the businesses which JCPS identified in its response were open much less accessible to the public.  As we were leaving, an individual who appeared to be an employee of one of the businesses located in the building admitted himself through an electronically activated door using a badge.

Whatever special provision was made for JCPS’s board meeting on April 30, to suggest that the meeting was conducted in “a place from which no part of the citizens . . . may be excluded by reason of not feeling they may freely attend” flies in the face of reasonable expectation and common experience. To assert that “the public would have no reason to believe that accessibility would be any different for the April 30th public meeting even though that day was a Sunday” is, at best, disingenuous.

Absent compelling justification, such as the inability to provide adequate space, seating or acoustics, the decision to conduct the meeting in any location other than JCPS’s regular meeting site was and is indefensible.

Jefferson County Public Schools denies Bluegrass Institute’s records request

COG2

Edit: Here is the actual letter sent by BIPPS to the JCPS– JCPS open records request 

It did not come as a complete surprise to the Bluegrass Institute when the Jefferson County Public Schools denied our request for written communications exchanged by officials, staff, board of education members and Superintendent Donna Hargens relating to the superintendent’s performance during the most recent evaluation cycle and her ultimate resignation, including written communications exchanged on privately owned electronic devices or stored in personal accounts.

We were aware of the obstacles we faced in attempting to access communications exchanged on private devices. The attorney general has undermined the public’s ability to access these records by twice declaring that they are not public records as defined in the open records law because they were not possessed and/or used by the agencies whose employees or members created them.

Never mind  that his own staff has, for years, recognized that “in the end, it is the nature and purpose of the document, not the place where it is kept, that determines its status as a public record.”

And never mind that the statute defines “public record” as “documentation regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is prepared, owned, used, in the possession or retained by a public agency.”

Proponents of access, including the Bluegrass Institute, will continue to wage a battle to prove that the attorney general’s position is legally unsupportable. But the battle to disprove JCPS’s position for denying the remainder of our request, which is summarized above for purposes of brevity, was fought and won several years ago.

JCPS argued that because our request was not sufficiently specific, it required a search of all 25,000 email accounts across the district, implicated “in excess of”  1,000,000 records and was unreasonably burdensome.

The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected similar arguments in a 2008 opinion. Noting that an open records requester “could not blindly, yet with particularity,” request “documents . . .that he had never seen,” the Court held that if “a reasonable person could ascertain the nature and scope” of an open records request the request was adequate.

More importantly, the Court recognized that “the obvious fact that complying with an open records request will consume both time and manpower” did not satisfy the “high proof threshold” for establishing an unreasonable burden. An agency cannot  “rely on any inefficiency in its own internal record keeping system to thwart an otherwise proper open records request.”

Although there are factual differences between our case and the 2008 case,  the Supreme Court’s holding applies to both.

Unlike the agency in the referenced case, JCPS did not close the door to our request altogether. Instead JCPA asked that we specify dates and search terms that are likely to yield the records we seek. However, we question whether it is our duty to assist JCPS in conducting its obligatory search for the records we requested. The parameters of our request were clearly stated.

We also question whether JCPS’s records management practices compound the difficulties associated with locating, retrieving and reviewing records in order to respond to all open records requests, not just ours. What would otherwise be a manageable number of records – as older records meet their required retention and are lawfully destroyed — becomes unmanageable as records unnecessarily accumulate through the years. Its considerably easier to locate, retrieve and review 100 records than 1000 records, and, in this case, an estimated 1,000,000 records.

The burden on JCPS is likely not of our making but of its own.

In the final analysis, we question JCPS’s candor in suggesting that our request necessitates a review of 25,000 email accounts and “30 days of machine time.” JCPS is only required to “make a good faith effort to conduct a search using methods which could reasonably be expected to produce the records requested.” It is not required “to embark on an unproductive fishing expedition ‘when the likelihood of finding records that fall within the outermost limits of the zone of relevancy is slight.’”

Perhaps JCPS’s  time would be better spent in commencing its search for records responsive to our request rather than trotting out these hackneyed defenses.

 

What Would Friedman Say?

Milton Friedman was remembered Thursday for being ahead of his time when it came to school choice, as well as his commitment to economic and political freedom at the Milton Friedman Legacy Day, sponsored jointly by the Bluegrass Institute and the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice.
 
The event, which was held at Midwest Church of Christ in Louisville’s West End to commemorate the late Nobel laureate’s 101st birthday, included the Pledge of Allegiance and presentations about Friedman by young African-American students attending the church’s learning and development center. 
 
Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters noted that a new survey by the Black Alliance for Educational Options exposes a myth perpetrated by some anti-school choice politicians that low-income families and parents don’t know or care about having choices concerning their children’s education.
 
“One of the encouraging points of this survey is that those families in the black community who would most benefit from school choice get it: Support for charters in Kentucky was highest among younger black voters with lower incomes and fewer years of formal education whereas opposition to charters is strongest among black with higher incomes and more years of formal education,” Waters said. “What the younger black voters know that too many opponents often choose to ignore is that too many black students are bearing the brunt of our failing education system.”
 
Along with a panel discussion by the Bluegrass Institute Board of Scholars that included a “What Would Friedman Say,” Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, said too many in the education establishment have it backwards when it comes to the relationship of poverty to education.
 
While too many in the education system say “we have to address poverty before we can fix our education system,” Montell said he believes that the only way the cycle of poverty can be broken is by reforming our education system.
 
While some charter schools are doing poorly and, just like any other public school, need to be held accountable for their failure, he noted that there are many high-performing charters and that parents in urban areas like the West End of Louisville deserve more choices in order to provide their children with the best education possible.
 
Montell, who said he plans on once again filing charter-school legislation for the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly to consider similar to what he has filed the past few legislative sessions, encouraged school-choice supporters to press ahead in spite of opposition that will always be present from teachers unions and education bureaucrats.
 
Sen. Mike Wilson noted the importance of citizens contacting their legislators and letting them know about their support for charter schools.
 
Each time someone calls in, a green slip gets filled out, which legislators always pay attention to, Wilson said.  
 
Seven or eight of those green slips on any one issue gets serious consideration by all lawmakers, he said.
 
The scholars commented on their Friedman would say about Kentucky’s new law forcing students to remain in high school until age 18, vouchers and religious institutions and where Louisville stands in relation to other metro areas when it comes to economic freedom.

News Alert: New Bluegrass Institute chairman expresses commitment to individual liberty, constitutional government

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Lexington native and banker Tim Yessin has been elected the new chairman of the board of directors of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank.

Born and raised in Lexington, Yessin graduated with honors in economics from the University of Kentucky. He has 18 years of banking experience and is currently an Accredited Wealth Management Advisor with Fifth Third Bank in Lexington.

Yessin becomes the second chairman of the board, succeeding Lexington entrepreneur Kathy GornikWarren Rogers, president of W. Rogers Company – a Lexington-based water utilities contractor, is the organization’s vice president.

“I look forward to continuing the commitment to liberty that Kathy demonstrated during her tenure with the institute,” Yessin said. “The Bluegrass Institute will continue to promote sound public policies that result in constitutional government and protect our freedom as individuals to create wealth, forge our own path and determine our distinct destinies.”

Other board members include Matth. Toebben, founder of Northern Kentucky-based Toebben Companies, and Steve Keck, president of Somerset Recycling Services, Inc.

Keck’s company was recognized in January as the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce’s “Entrepreneurial Success Story” award.

Founded by Keck in 1984, Somerset Recycling Services is a purchaser and processor of paper and plastic products and occupies more than 102,000 square feet of facilities. The business has more than 100 full-time employees.

For more information, contact Jim Waters at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com or (270) 782-2140.

Find the silver lining in dark election cloud

By Jim Waters

Two placards hanging on fences surrounding the half-mile walking trail I frequent at a park near my home contain maxims that describe some of my post-election sentiments and offer optimism – even in the midst of some troublesome outcomes.

The first is author Thomas Harris’ gem: “Giving and sharing are spontaneous expressions of joy.”

It’s a reminder that there is a fundamental difference between those with something to give who want to give it, and our federal masters using coercive government forces to redistribute resources, regardless of the income-earner’s will.

Big-government types attempt to sell us on the fact that such forced “sharing” is essential because “we’re all in this together” – rubbish that comprised the campaign message of the political Left.

Wouldn’t it be grand if such language used during this season’s power-struggles were required to come with warnings of Orwellian newspeak, just like those same lobbyists would force a skull and cross-bones on cigarette cartons?

On second thought, I’m not really into banning free speech – even this “shared responsibility” gibberish that is little more than the baby talk of Socialists.

Instead, informed and freedom-loving people must commit to enlightening their fellow citizens about the vast difference between forced “sharing” and “spontaneous expressions,” which are the defining characteristics of our nation’s exceptionalism.

Individuals who create, produce and achieve – not “shared responsibility” – are the source of America’s greatness. Government did not create the light bulb, electricity, medicine or the automobile. Rather, it was the work of innovative individuals whose contributions benefited our entire society and the whole world.

When Sandy pounded the northeast recently, it wasn’t a government agency that made a profound difference. It was neighbors helping neighbors – voluntarily. It was those who still had power welcoming neighbors into their homes to charge generators and cell phones.

When tornadoes pounded Kentucky this year, it was churches – not FEMA – that housed and fed two thousand responders daily.

It’s not Department of Homeland Security bureaucrats that make me feel better about our nation’s prospects in trying times. Rather, it’s individual Americans who require no executive order to demonstrate their selflessness or compassion – and who often succeed in spite of government’s obstacles.

Another placard near the end of Freeman Park’s walking trail attributes to Robert Schuller this gem: “Every obstacle is a potential opportunity.”

Tuesday’s election results present a significant obstacle for Kentucky.

How, for example, can we get control of our state’s spending and debt when so many of the politicians who allowed the slide into the current economic abyss got re-elected?

No doubt, many of those results have to do with promising benefits for certain constituencies.

This happened in neighboring Indiana, where the Indianapolis Star reported that the reform-minded Tony Bennett lost his bid for a second term as Indiana schools’ superintendent to a teachers’ union-backed opponent promising her constituency to roll back many of his reforms, “including a reading test that third-graders must pass to advance to fourth grade.”

Glenda Ritz, an unknown library science media specialist, beat one of the nation’s premier reformers by promising lower standards of accountability.

Ritz promised to turn back policies that base teachers’ pay raises on annual evaluations and that increase school-choice opportunities – all of which put pressure on failing teachers and the schools they work for to either improve or be held accountable.

In Kentucky, Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, the House Education Committee chairman who’s anti-choice when it comes to allowing educational options for children, was reelected by a handy margin.

Remember, though: these situations never remain static.

There will be opportunities to oppose the freedom-busting and bank-breaking decisions sure to flood upon us with all the force of Storm Sandy’s waves.

Recognizing those opportunities is important. Seizing them is critical.

Jim Waters is acting president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon.

Policy challenges require patience, perseverance

By Jim Waters

Patience isn’t only a virtue. It’s also a necessary weapon in successfully opposing policies resurrected from history’s ash heap to threaten our economic and social freedom.

However, patience gets harder to maintain – by the second, actually – when you realize that our nation is borrowing $50,000 each second, $4 billion a day and more than $1 trillion annually. Our nation’s debt alone will cost America a million jobs this year.

Patience becomes an outright obstacle once you realize, as the latest Lane Report notes:  “Forty cents of every dollar spent by the U.S. government is borrowed. The U.S. debt now exceeds $16 trillion or $51,000 for every man, woman and child in America.”

And that’s on top of the $23,500 burden of state debt borne by each Kentucky taxpayer.

When you understand the severity of it all, you want something done…now. 

Understand: patience is not fence-riding or inactivity when opportunity knocks. Rather, my dictionary says it’s “quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence.”

Like the proverbial horse-and-carriage and hand-in-glove, patience must be fitted with perseverance.

Ask groups that have lobbied since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration eight decades ago to realize their dystopian dream of health care by government fiat. They believe their patience and perseverance was well worth it.

Surely, if these ghoulish thinkers can persist that long for an Obamacare-sized plan, those who believe in free markets, limited governments and individual liberty can stay the course, too.

When England’s William Wilberforce (who was 16 when America’s War for Independence began) was elected to the Parliament at the tender age of 21, he imagined a quick victory in his quest to rid Great Britain of the scourge of slavery.

He expected to deal with reasonable people who just needed the opportunity to eliminate such an inhumane practice. It would not take long for such youthful naïveté give way to a much deeper call.

After being exposed as a young adult to the horrific treatment of his fellow man at the hands of his own people, Wilberforce’s agenda of “partying” in college was replaced with a moral pursuit that became his lifelong mission.

It would not be an easy journey. When Wilberforce arrived at Parliament, he quickly found himself at odds more with “big business” of his time than he did even with “big government.”

While his friends in Parliament pitied him, big-business interests would eventually actively oppose him.

Too many had been made wealthy by a slave trade which, during this season of human history, had taken 11 million African people from their native lands and sold them like cattle to work in British colonies. These interests were not about to let one young Parliament punk stop them.

Although stop them he did – 46 years later – by baptizing his cause in patience and perseverance.

When first arriving at Parliament, Wilberforce was largely ignored – even by many would-be supporters. It did not deter him. Instead, he patiently worked through the years to educate and build a coalition of like-minded souls. Bill after bill, debate after debate, despair after despair, year after year finally gave way to victory.

Three days before he left this world, Wilberforce heard the news: slavery had forever been abolished from his beloved Britain.

He had persisted…and won.

But don’t mistake Wilberforce’s patience with some kind of milquetoast passivism.

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large,” he said.

Whatever the 2012 election yields, it will not stop patient, persistent – but incurable – devotees dedicated to freeing our commonwealth from its burdensome dependence upon government so that its people can once again prosper.

Political frolicking won’t fill Kentucky’s debt sinkhole

By Jim Waters

This is the season political junkies live for. Presidential elections, with all of their twists and turns, polls and prognostications, are what partisans crave.

The most recent debate between Gov. Romney and President Obama was – if little else – great political theater. I must admit, it was fun – at least for a moment.

But most Americans are not enjoying their current economic lives.

Around 23 million are struggling to find employment. Gas prices are off the charts. And with the looming implementation of the federal health care reform known as Obamacare – our tax burden is getting ready to be heavier than a bag of Fort Knox gold.

Actually, while it’s bad out there across the nation, it’s even worse here in the commonwealth.

The current visionless gubernatorial administration wants to manufacture its own legacy: we didn’t have any money, but we kept the ship of state afloat. Its supporters think we should show more gratitude for our benevolent leaders in Frankfort – especially Gov. Beshear, as if he were our grand Government Papa – that saw the commonwealth through these dark days.

The economic evidence is scant, at best, for such a legacy narrative. Even as the national unemployment rate dropped a bit to 7.8 percent, Kentucky’s has actually increased in some recent months and now stands at 8.4 percent. Many counties have more than 13 percent of their workforce unemployed.

During that period, more than 700 jobs in the state’s health-care industry alone disappeared – faster than debate moderator CNN’s Candy Crowley could tell Gov. Romney to “sit down.”

A primary reason those jobs no longer exist is because of the pressures brought to bear by Obamacare, which is forcing down reimbursement rates to health care providers.

It was hoped that such policies would drive down health care costs for individual Kentuckians. So far, the federal health care reform has succeeded only in putting hundreds more Kentuckians out of work as providers adjust to the lower rates for their services by cutting positions.

But the problems are not limited to the health care sector. Hundreds of manufacturing and professional services jobs also were lost just during that stretch.

Yet – and here’s where most Kentuckians should be scratching their heads – during that same period, when hundreds of good jobs in the private sector disappeared, the government sector added 800 jobs.

So, while thousands of coal miners, manufacturers and health-care workers stand in unemployment lines, government employment is growing – adding positions with their costly perks and benefits, at the expense of the already completely overwhelmed taxpayers.

If you think Frankfort is teeming with hard work these days about how to solve these problems, think again.

The governor is out distributing hundreds of thousands of road-fund dollars in districts where some of his get-along, go-along incumbent political pals are in tough reelection fights.

I’m sure it’s much more fun for the governor to give away your tax dollars to help save the political skins of his comrades than it is to, say, fix the state’s faltering Medicaid program or deal with the commonwealth’s bloated debt..

In fact, a new Institute for Truth in Accounting report ranks Kentucky near the very bottom (No. 46) with regards to state debt and taxpayer burden.

“This state’s bills greatly exceed its assets,” the report declared.

Guess who pays? According to the ITA report, which labels Kentucky a “sinkhole” state, the burden for this debt adds up to $23,500 for every single Kentucky taxpayer.

So, enjoy the flurry and hoopla of the political season while you can.

Kentucky’s sinkhole remains.

Jim Waters is acting president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon.