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Bluegrass Beacon: Intimidated conservatives lose focus

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide. This column has been updated to reflect the override of Gov. Bevin’s vetoes of tax-and-spending measures. 

Changing a commonwealth long mired in poverty perpetuated by misguided policies designed to satisfy voracious appetites for ever-more government programs, dollars and dependency takes more than a single election and politicians whose top priority is maneuvering simply to survive voters’ next trip to the polls.

While the GOP made progress in the 2016 election by winning enough seats to control the Kentucky House of Representatives’ for the first time in nearly a century and then demonstrating political pluck during the 2017 legislative session by passing important economic-growth policies like right-to-work and accountability measures such as making politicians’ pensions transparent, the 2018 session was filled with too much worry by too many Republicans about the next election rather than focusing on continuing the dramatic change in direction.

How else to explain opening the door to charter schools by passing enabling legislation during last year’s General Assembly session only to slam it shut faster than you can say “teachers’ unions” by refusing to provide funding for charters this year?

“Kentucky will be a charter state with no charter schools,” Western Kentucky University professor and state Board of Education member Gary Houchens, Ph.D., writes on his blog.

Also on stark display in debates that occurred during this year's General Assembly regarding pension reform and the budget is a maddening reality for conservatives which commonly occurs when the GOP controls the process: Republicans exert too much political capital trying to please ideological constituencies who will never support them or free-market causes while taking their base for granted.

Despite Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget proposal to spend around 60 cents of each of the $22 billion in the next General Fund spending plan on pensions and education alone, one liberal after another stood during floor debates in the House and Senate to accuse Republicans of wanting to ruin public education.

Notwithstanding Bevin’s budget plan puts $3.3 billion – or 15 percent – of the entire budget into public pensions, one sign after another displayed during loud, raucous and largely uninformed protests organized and funded by teachers’ unions demonized Bevin and the Republicans.

One protester even flew a Socialist Party USA flag.

What makes lawmakers claiming conservativism’s mantle believe protesters waving socialism’s flag will ever support reforms that cut government spending, empower parents or reward hard work and productivity?

Socialism results in government wresting fruits from those who labor to provide products and services and giving it to those with their hands out and their signs – and Socialist Party flags – raised.

Some House Republican leaders seem fully intimidated by these groups to the point of agreeing to implement reforms to the retirement systems demanded by the Senate only if they could raise taxes and restore funding cuts Bevin proposed to free up additional pension funding without tax hikes.

If teachers’ union bosses or protesters tolerating a Socialist Party flag order “jump,” why should mousy conservatives’ response be limited to: “how high and how far?”

Bevin rightly vetoed these tax-and-spending increases; the legislature wrongly overrode his veto.

Responsibility for raising taxes and restoring government programs should be borne particularly by House politicians who voted for them – and state senators who failed to stop them – in the next election when their records will be available to opponents and Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot.

Fewer politicians and more statesmen and stateswomen are needed before the transition to the kind of legislature that not only implements growth-friendly policies but defends them vigorously when they’re attacked is complete.

Why does any representative unwilling to do so even want to return to Frankfort? Surely it wouldn’t be for personal political gain, would it?

President Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you think too much about being re-elected, it is very difficult to be worth re-electing.”

Now, there’s an informed Democrat.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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