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Not all gridlock thwarts legislative achievement

Editor’s Note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being published by newspapers statewide.

When Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear steps out of his office on the first floor of the Capitol and looks up to the second floor during a legislative session, he’s at least twice as likely to see a Republican as someone from his own party since the GOP holds an overwhelming legislative supermajority – 74 of the 100 Kentucky House seats and 30 of 38 state Senate positions – and all other statewide offices, too.

It’s gridlock, but of a different kind than dominated the Capitol before the historical 2016 election in which the GOP took control of the House for the first time in a century.

It’s the kind of tension the founders envisioned as a way of maintaining government’s balance of power.

The founders were particularly eager to guard against the kind of executive overreach Beshear displayed during the pandemic.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison in the Federalist Papers.

The founders did all they could to ensure that even if the pendulum swung too far one way, mechanisms were in place to reset the balance.

Thus, the executive can veto, but the legislature can override with enough votes.

By overriding all but a handful of the 56 bills Beshear vetoed during the past two General Assembly sessions – including 25 this year – legislative leaders are effectively asserting their constitutional duty as the people’s representatives.

Fortunately, this type of political congestion hasn’t kept Frankfort from being productive.

According to the Legislative Research Commission, there were 1,638 bills and resolutions filed this year by the two chambers; 140 bills alone were debated, voted on and sent to Beshear’s desk just during the two-day marathon of activity at the end of March right before the veto recess began.

House Bill 9 was among the legislation vetoed by Beshear during that recess, which lawmakers promptly overrode when it returned for the session’s final two days.

While much was made of the bill’s mandate requiring at least one charter school in both Jefferson County and Northern Kentucky, approval of a funding mechanism and a path for charters to begin anywhere in the state makes it likely we could see charters in other places, including midsize cities near Kentucky’s border with school-choice-rich states.

I told reporter Mike Pickett of WEHT-TV, the Evansville, Indiana, ABC affiliate, following passage of HB 9, that it’s not hard to envision a high-performing charter in Owensboro considering Evansville’s Signature School – opened 20 years ago as Indiana’s first charter high school and consistently rated one of America’s best – is little more than a half-hour away.

Indiana’s opened 119 other charter high schools since Signature began and the Hoosier State is committed to making its charter schools the best; what if Jefferson County – also on the border with the same state – did the same?

During the debate over HB 9, selfish opponents lashed out with promises to take legal action to prevent charters from opening.

Thus, we must also be concerned about what else happens on the Capitol’s second floor where the Kentucky Supreme Court hears its cases and might ultimately decide what kind of – and how much – choice parents across the commonwealth have in educating their children.

If the courts respond as the founders intended, they’ll protect the already-established rights of families to educate their children how and where they see fit.

But do courts really have a dog in this fight?

The people’s representatives have spoken.

Failing to honor their decisions would be an imposition of policy rather than an arbitration of issues of constitutionality and legality.

And I know the founders didn’t intend for that to happen.

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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