Election thoughts, part one

Normally, I try to avoid commenting politics in this blog, since are so many political blogs that do a much better job than I can. After yesterday’s elections in Kentucky, I just have to say something, though.

For me, the two big issues were the gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Steve Beshear and the library funding resolution in Louisville. This post will deal with the first issue.

For you out-of-towners, the governor’s race was basically about three issues: casino gambling, God and Fletcher’s shady hiring practices, in about that order. There were other issues, of course, but from my lofty vantage point in the Knobs of Indiana, it seemed all anyone talked about was gambling, God and grand jury indictments.

Kentucky has had a lottery for years. When it was first proposed, the proceeds were to fund education. In the end, the schools really didn’t get much, but here it is, never to go away. That kind of gambling seems to be OK now.

Kentucky has had horse racing practically since the invention of the horse. People wager money on horses (“Go, baby, go!”), but apparently that kind of gambling is OK. It’s tradition, after all.

Kentucky’s basketball teams at U of L and UK usually go the NCAA tournaments. There are gambling pools for March madness, sometimes out of sight of management, but they’re generally OK, too.

We even have floating casinos moored on the Indiana side of the Ohio. These used to ply the Ohio, while folks gambled on board like the riverboats of yore. Now they just sit at the docks, and well, that’s OK now.

My point is we have become innured to the idea that gambling can go on anywhere now. Aside from a minority of folks who oppose gambling as unethical and/or irreligious and/or just plain stupid, most folks could really care less whether we have casinos in Kentucky.

Fletcher campaigned against casino gambling, saying it was anathema to the people of Kentucky. He argued a good case. Casinos are not a cure-all for a state’s economy. (Just visit Atlantic City and visit the parts of town that aren’t on the gambling strip, and you’ll see what I mean.) Fletcher chose the wrong campaign issue there, for sure.

Mixed in with the gambling issue was Fletcher’s insinuation that Beshear, who supported casinos during his campaign, was in some respects ungodly. Readers in the more enlightened states on the coasts might find the questioning a candidate’s religion medieval, but, hey, it’s Kentucky, y’all.

Working against Beshear in many conservative Christian quarters was his act, as the state’s attorney general, to pull the Ten Commandments off the walls of schools and other public buildings years ago. Beshear contended he was pre-empting an expensive  constitutional challenge, since the SCOTUS had just found posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings a potential violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

His prudent decision did not win him many fans among Christians back then, and Fletcher (a Baptist minister, by the way) tried to play that up during his campaign. He accused Beshear, a churchgoer and son of a minister, of not representing the values of the majority of Kentuckians.

Wrong again. I would argue that the majority of Kentuckians would rather keep Church and State separate, as the Baptists (and others) of two centuries ago wanted. Suggesting that Beshear was unChristian because he supports casinos and wants to keep Kentucky’s constitutional nose clean was a low — and ineffective — blow.

Fletcher ducked the whole hiring scandal during most of the campaign, much as he dodged it while in office. Beshear naturally played on that lack of candor. As political scandals go, it was puny stuff. Chicagoans and New Yorkers would snicker if they read about the big deal we made of it down here in the Bluegrass State. Fletcher, however, ran for office originally saying he would clean up the state capital. In the end, he was just politics as usual, with Republicans in office instead of the Dems. Fletcher showed he was no better than his predecessors, despite his smokescreens.

Fletcher was part of the great Republican takeover of the nation’s politics. Kentucky had been a largely Democratic state until our Dems lost their seats to Bushites like Fletcher (handpicked as a candidate by power broker Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky), and Anne Northup and Ron Lewis. It seemed like the end of the world, at least for the Democrats.

It wasn’t. The GOP in its slavish devotion to the W dug its own political grave. Rather than representing what Nixon once called the Silent Majority, the GOP has instead alienated all but a small minority of worshippers. Northup was chucked out last year and replaced by a more liberal Democrat. Even her last minute run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination failed. Now Fletcher is now out, to be replaced by someone marginally more liberal.

The tide has turned against the right-wingers of the GOP. The G.W. Bush era is finally coming to an end.

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