Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jim Clark Scrutinizes Debate, Criticizes Northup

The debate – not actually, just more campaigning – that took place on KET among the republican gubernatorial hopefuls on 09 April was not an exercise that would "captivate" an audience, certainly, but it served a useful purpose in that it provided the vehicle for allowing a voter to remark the differences in the candidates. Latitude was taken with the facts in some instances by Governor Fletcher and former Congresswoman Anne Northup, but this is always expected. Businessman Billy Harper played it pretty straight. The interrogators were Bill Bartleman of the Paducah Sun and Patrick Crowley of the Kentucky Enquirer.

As expected, there probably are few differences among the three with respect to the issues. None approved of casino gambling and made that plain. All three spoke at length about education but produced little more than clichés about the need to make it better. The issue that should have been discussed was the suggestion made recently by some entity and endorsed strongly by the Lexington Herald-Leader that math and science teachers should be paid more than other teachers, since Kentucky students lag behind those in most other states in these study-areas. None seemed to have an answer to the "testing" problem.

None of the three saw fit to mention that Kentucky lags behind in education after 16 years of being operated under the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, a nightmarish mixture of pork with pedagogy all tied up in the largest tax increase in the state’s history at that time. None even mentioned that legislatures through the years have rescinded much of the act but have done nothing to improve education. None of the candidates had anything new to say regarding the subject, but all agreed that something has to be done. The loaded question came early in the evening when the question was asked as to whether or not the candidates believed any fellow-candidate had misbehaved. This was the cue for Ms. Northup to lash out at the governor in no uncertain terms, citing the particulars of the "merit scandal," noting that blanket pardons had been granted, and lamenting that the facts would never be known since no trials had been or would ever be held.

Governor Fletcher insisted, as he has all along, that the effort by Attorney General Greg Stumbo in that matter was a "witch-hunt," proven by the fact that Stumbo has entered the gubernatorial sweepstakes as the number-two guy on a democrat ticket. Stumbo, of course, long ago stated publicly that he would consider a candidacy if Fletcher became "wildly unpopular." He was probably wise in going the lieutenant governor route to get the top job, since he hasn’t looked all that good in the merit thing himself. Also, he can ride on millionaire Bruce Lunsford’s financial coattails, thus dodging the pesky business of fund-raising.

Northup brought up the usual "blacktop gimmick" used in every race by a wannabe to color the incumbent as a con man bribing voters by building roads in their sections during election times. Using the golden opportunity she handed him, Fletcher listed some of those projects, even emphasizing one in deep-democrat country in the western end of the state. Harper is a contractor, part of whose business is building roads, so he predictably didn’t harp on the subject. In fact, he stayed away from mudslinging, leaving that up to Northup, who made a pretty good effort at it.

Crowley, strangely, seemed to try to make the case for casino gambling, throwing out the suggestion that the revenue it would generate would be worth going that route. The numbers batted around differed by the hundreds of millions. Northup and Harper turned him aside completely, though Fletcher repeated his position that if the legislature enacted a casino amendment-proposition to be put on the ballot, he would not stand in the way, letting the citizens decide. He made it plain he would not be for it.

The most grating thing in the nearly hour-long program was Northup’s constant use of the terms "leadership" and "plan." She used these terms sort of as a mantra, no matter the subject, making it plain that Fletcher had damaged the party and, at least inferentially, could not hope to be elected, and that he is a man without a plan, apparently for most everything. Harper played it cool on the subject, though, if memory serves, Fletcher’s "not-a-chance" was perhaps the primary reason he gave last year for his getting in the race.

Stridency best describes Northup’s performance. The target of her barbs was Fletcher, though she presented no "plans" in the process. Harper was kind of laid back and harped constantly that his being a businessman was the reason he should be elected. Fletcher was upbeat and able to tick off a number of accomplishments during his administration, not the least of which has been turning a sizeable deficit into a sizeable surplus in three years time. He also made it a point to mention how he has helped Louisville, Northup’s home-base.

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