Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Brett Hall Assesses Campaign

Two and a half months out from Primary Day and we still have only a whisper of an idea as to Anne Northup’s positions on the issues.

Granted, she just released a statement on education: little more than a bundle of platitudes stuffed in a No. 10 tomato can.

Everybody can moan about the shortcomings of public education. Some even moan better than others, rhapsodically at times. But, the lion’s share of the problem isn’t money; it’s a culture of hopelessness in many of our remote communities that defies all manner of political panaceas.

Kentucky’s No. 1 education challenge is getting kids to graduate from high school, much less college. Convince parents that their kids ought to stay in school to get a high school diploma, and, as governor of Kentucky, you will have achieved something no other leader has done in two centuries. It is something the current governor understands well and is working toward.

But, I digress. What the ex-congresswoman from Louisville may have learned by now is that there is a lot to learn just to get up to speed in articulating the issues. Kentucky’s governor is expected to know many things and discuss them in maddening detail. People expect that of their chief executive.

Hard work, even for a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives where a person usually makes their bones by concentrating on one or two areas of expertise, such as defense or foreign affairs, or even early childhood development in Appalachia.

It’s no wonder Northup has resisted talking about what she would do if elected, because she probably has had difficulty getting her mind around the abundance and depth of state issues.

Health care, budget, education, military affairs, economic development, environmental protection, the horse racing industry, to name a few. A governor gets asked detailed questions from not only reporters but citizens who often demand answers to questions important to them.

So, when in doubt, it’s easy to see Northup’s natural reaction is to beat up on the governor rather than try to talk about things of which she’s uninformed. It’s not easy running for governor, is it? Just think what it’s like actually being governor. As Richard Pryor once said, Hard as college algebra!

While Northup studies up on issues, Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s campaign shifts into a higher gear with the launching of a TV ad campaign. Don’t know details of the media buy, but it’s apparent that with the Fletcher-Rudolph campaign going up on TV and no plans for Northup-Hoover to do the same, there’ll be an opportunity for the incumbent to build momentum.

From the looks of things, Fletcher will drive a positive message geared to assure Republican voters that the Fletcher-Rudolph team is moving in the right direction with tangible results to show for the past three and a half years. Got to think that their record on health care, the budget and economic development will be used as stand-out examples.

In traveling the past several weeks on the Lincoln Day Dinner circuit, one thing’s certain: there’s a solidifying of Fletcher support throughout Kentucky. Grass-roots efforts of the past 18 months appear to have paid off. This is something, oddly enough, the news media has paid little attention to and it shows in their utter surprise and disbelief in the outpouring of support and affection the governor receives in his visits outside of Frankfort.

Only two reporters, Ronnie Ellis of the Glasgow Daily Times and Ryan Alessi of the Lexington Herald-Leader, have focused on Fletcher’s aggressive schedule strategy that began in September 2005. His goal was to visit every one of Kentucky’s 120 counties by the end of his second year in office. He would have made it, had it not been for mid-December icy weather.

He kept up a regimen of at least three days on the road each week until Fletcher’s health took him out nearly a year ago. Getting back on schedule in June, he ramped up quicker than anyone would have guessed and didn’t look back. Today, the governor keeps a schedule of up to five days a week outside the office, meeting local officials and citizens across the commonwealth. The accumulation of these visits has built a reservoir of goodwill for Fletcher. It goes without saying.

But, not to belabor a point ad nauseum, one wonders why very limited attention has been paid to the governor’s strenuous schedule as well as the depth of Fletcher support throughout the state.

The contrasts between the two candidates: Fletcher and Northup remain distinct, stubbornly so, as the incumbent demonstrates a significant depth of knowledge on the affairs of state and an ease in communicating his plans. While his challenger, on the other hand, struggles to find her message this late in the campaign.

Billy Harper’s Trifecta

Billy Harper Answers Brian Goetl's Merit Challenge

The Harper campaign called the Conservative Edge today and promised to abide by the challenge/pledge that Brian issued earlier on this site not to invoke the merit hiring scandal on the campaign trail. Stan Pulliam - Harper's campaign manager - said "we haven't invoked it once" and promised that they would not in the future as well. Harper made his plans to run a positive campaign clear early on in the race and as far as we can tell has stuck solidly to that pledge to date.

Billy Harper to Announce Political Plans on Joe Elliot Show Tonight at 9PM on WHAS

Billy Harper will be announcing his political plans tonight on WHAS. He will make a promise not to seek any other elected office other than Governor of Kentucky. In other words, he has no intentions of parlaying a win or even the political capital gained from a tough race into another type of political office.

Candidate focuses on education during visit

The Paducah construction company owner and Republican candidate for governor made several appearances Tuesday in Bowling Green, seeking his party's endorsement in the May 22 primary.

"I'm all about education," said Harper, whose only prior elective office is on the McCracken County school board. The need for more and better education in Kentucky made its way into his responses to just about everything when he met with Western Kentucky University students at Downing University Center.

Earlier he greeted members of the Bowing Green Area Chamber of Commerce, then publicly invited Western students and faculty to a forum. Just 10 students showed up for the gathering, after which Harper moved on to address WKU College Republicans.

Harper said he would not seek any other office, but in the governor's mansion would take the principles he learned in the construction business and apply them to state government. He described his economic philosophy as a return to "Reaganomics," the quarter-century-old theory that cutting taxes will encourage people to spend more, stimulating the economy.

State government needs to focus on helping homegrown small businesses add employees, rather than trying to attract big factories from out of state, Harper said. What manufacturing jobs remain are increasingly high technology, which will once again require better education to retain, he said.

"The average starting job in Kentucky has higher requirements than entry into a public university," Harper said.

Aaron Shuford, 23, a sophomore from Lexington, asked him how he would improve the state's special education system. Harper replied that special education students need to be mainstreamed into regular classrooms whenever possible. He blamed many of their conditions on parental drug use, and said their numbers would probably decrease over time if higher educational levels lead to reduced drug abuse.

Shane Noem, 18, a Union freshman, asked Harper how to make health care more affordable for employees of small businesses.

Harper returned to his theme of education - the better educated are healthier and take better care of themselves, he said.

"We've got to figure out how to make people accountable for their own health, because that's what drives health care costs," Harper said.

As an example, he called it an "interesting approach" to drug-test people for nicotine, and potentially fire them for a positive result if they had previously agreed not to smoke as part of a health insurance plan.

"That's what it will take to drive our health care costs down," Harper said.

Darren King, 21, a junior from Chattanooga, Tenn., asked for Harper's ideas on improving conditions in Kentucky nursing homes. Harper acknowledged it to be a difficult subject, and said that part of the answer needed to be the promotion of private, personal retirement care accounts to be used in combination with the state-funded health care support system. Shuford described the state family court and social service system as "out of control," based on stories friends had told him of incompetent caseworkers and lawyers, and asked what Harper would do about it.

He replied that more caseworkers needed to be hired, and suggested a longer school day to keep children in contact with positive influences. Sarah Hoeben, 18, a Union freshman, asked for Harper's positions on gun control and abortion. "I am totally opposed to adding any additional gun control laws whatsoever," he said. Harper believes reasonable limits already exist, and enforcing those should be enough, he said.

"I'm very much pro-life, except for threats to the mother's health, rape or incest," Harper said.

School arts programs are always cut before other subjects, Shuford said, asking what emphasis Harper would place on the arts. Harper replied that as an engineer, he'd naturally favor scientific subjects, with the aim of keeping American technical skills in step with the rest of the world.

But to preserve strong arts programs, he urged greater school choice. Rather than dropping money into duplicate programs in every school, schools should be allowed to specialize for different interests, developing arts programs at one and science programs at another within the area, he said.

Conservative Edge Mocks Anne

I am somewhat amused at the Northup supporters who are trumpeting the results of a WHAS Survey USA poll that was released today. If the poll is to be believed, Northup has dropped eight points in a little over a month since her own poll was released. According to Survey USA, 69% of Republican voters would prefer someone besides Anne Northup be the GOP nominee in 2007.

That is up 8 points from the 61% who rejected her in the poll she released at the start of her campaign. In addition, Northup has managed to pull Governor Fletcher down with her, and raised Billy Harper's number. We have been assured by the Northup supporters that this is all part of the Northup plan. If so, by May, Billy Harper can make plans for his fall bus tour.

Biting Legislation

Need for more senior judge funds by 2014 predicted

In response to growing skepticism about the cost of the senior status judge program, the agency that oversees the retirement fund for judges has released an actuarial analysis estimating that the program will need additional funding in 2014.

This program is gobbling funds. Governor Fletcher should abolish this.

House removes salary incentives from teacher bills

After strong resistance from a group of Kentucky teachers opposed to preferential teacher rewards, legislators introduced changes to two bills Wednesday that would do away with the teacher pay incentives proposed in the bills. Senate Bills 1 and 2 would give bonuses to teachers whose students score high on Advanced Placement exams in science and math and provide stipends to certain math and science teachers. The Senate previously approved the bills, but the House has not acted on them.

How dare we reward teachers for excelling.

Bill banning domestic-partner benefits fails in committee

A measure that would have banned government-related entities from offering domestic-partner health benefits failed in the House Health and Welfare Committee today. Senate Bill 152 needed nine votes to pass the committee, but received only eight. Eight other lawmakers voted against the measure and one, Democratic Rep. Ancel Smith of Leburn, was absent. "I'm optimistic about the fact that fairness prevailed," said Christina Gilgor, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance. "It wasn't the overwhelming victory that we would have liked, but it's a victory."

For the second consecutive evening, controversial measure succumbs. Is our legislature in session?

Williams: Act on pension bill or forget new funding

Senate President David Williams said he plans to halt new spending this year — and possibly next year — unless the House acts on a plan to fix the state’s ailing pension system. "It’s going to be like that from here on out: We will address this issue, we will be fiscally responsible, or we’re not going to spend any more money except what’s a necessary expense in the future," Williams said after today’s session. "I’m talking about next year, too," he added. He listed a few exceptions: tax breaks for military personnel, social worker safety improvements and relief for county jails.

Williams threatens funding cuts. However, his cuts have three exceptions. David, a threat with provisions is hollow. Shut-up.

Expungement provision added to drug bill

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday attached a provision that would allow some felons to expunge their criminal record to an unrelated bill, drawing protests from some conservatives. The committee substitute is expected to sail through the House, meaning the Senate this year will likely vote on the expungement bill for the first time. The House Democratic Majority Whip Rob Wilkey has sponsored the bill four years in a row. Three times it died in the Republican-controlled Senate without even getting a hearing. This year, the Senate "seems more receptive to giving it a fair shot," Wilkey said.

Criminals expunging their records? I am shocked this was protested.

Racing authority funding clears Senate

A bill that would give a one-day tax break to Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. cleared the state Senate today after an amendment was added giving the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority additional funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The bill, HB 402, previously passed the House without the amendment. If the House doesn’t concur in the amendment, the bill would then be sent to a conference committee with members of both the House and the Senate to see if the differences can be resolved. The bill would give Ellis a one-day pari-mutuel excise tax break when it plays host to the Claiming Crown this summer.

The purpose of a one day tax break?

Fletcher’s First Shot

Fletcher has no choice. Voters have no choice.

The Governor must amplify his campaign. Voters must endure Northup-Fletcher fratricide. Thus, commences the cycle… Polls, ads, rebuttal, mailers, calls, spin… Anyone hate politics?

From Pol Watchers:

Gov. Ernie Fletcher will launch the televised portion of his re-election campaign next week with a 60-second commercial instead of the standard 30-second spot. The ad buy is a particularly expensive one, costing more than $300,000 to run on the major network stations in Louisville and Lexington next week. For instance, the Fletcher campaign paid $50,560 for 89 spots that will run March 13 through March 19 on WKYT-TV, Channel 27 in Lexington, according to political ad records made available to the public at the CBS affiliate. The ads are also scheduled to run on WBKO-TV, Channel 13 in Bowling Green, station manager Brad Odil confirmed Tuesday.

What Voters Want

Asked of 419 likely Republican Primary voters: If the Republican primary for Kentucky governor were today, and you were standing in the voting booth right now, who would you vote for? Ernie Fletcher? Billy Harper? Anne Northup? Or, some other Republican? 33% Ernie Fletcher 13% Billy Harper 31% Anne Northup 14% Other 9% Undecided.

Fletcher (33%), Northup (31%), Harper (13%)


Obviously, voters abhor fraud and corruption. Does this forecast a Billy Harper surge?

Dizzy, I’m So Dizzy, This Poll Is Spinning

From Cyber Hillbilly:

She has some momentum and is doing a great job stalking the Governor. She's beginning to define a platform and is raising money. It's incredible to believe she only started this race in late January. The wildcard is Billy Harper. Folks tell me he's in it to the finish. But if he's truly tracking fewer than 20% support by May, will he be inclined to come off? And who would he support in such an event? A footnote: The earlier version of this post had some fuzzy math in it... I've corrected it.

From Blue Grass, Red State:

Among 419 Republicans, 33% would vote for Fletcher, 31% would vote for Northup/Hoover, "Other" edges out Harper with 14% to Harper's 13%, further emphasizing the need for Harper to step out of the race so that his 13% can vote for Northup/Hoover, while 9% are undedcided.

Conservative Edge Challenges Harper, Northup

The Conservative Edge is issuing a challenge to Anne Northup and Billy Harper to take our Merit Hiring Pledge as stated below. We will publish any response that either candidate cares to issue to our pledge.

1) Pledge that if elected, that neither they (nor any non-merit employee that they hire) will hire, nor in any way promote, endorse, or refer, a family member by birth or marriage to three degrees of sanguinity, member of the same political party, friend, campaign worker, former constituent or campaign contributor to any merit system job at anytime during their term or terms as Governor.

2). Pledge that if elected, neither they (nor any non-merit employee they hire) will set up any sort of "constituent outreach program" in any form whatsoever, even though the Executive Branch Ethics Commission has deemed such programs, like Governor Fletcher's LINK program, ethical.

3). Pledge that if elected that neither they (nor any non-merit employee that they hire) will take any action of any kind whatsoever to discipline, fire, demote, transfer, decrease salary or in any other way make the job any less enjoyable to any merit system employee of the opposite political party, even if that employee is using his merit system job responsibilities and or duties (including but not limited to directing their subordinates to enage in such activities) to directly or indirectly undermine for partisan political gain, any program, iniative, policy or other public official duty of the candidate once in office. This pledge goes to the heart of the allegations raised by Attorney General Greg Stumbo about the Fletcher Administration.

Therefore, if the two GOP candidates are critical of the Governor over the merit hiring scandal, they should pledge not to do the things that Fletcher is accused of doing. In other words, they should pledge not to things that are perfectly legal. IF they won't take the pledge, they should stop critcising the Governor.

Biting Legislation

Cervical cancer vaccine bill appears dead

No one is officially declaring it dead, but a controversial bill that would require Kentucky middle-school girls to be vaccinated against a virus that causes most cervical cancers appears to be going nowhere. Even staunch supporters say it has little chance of passing the state Senate with less than a week left in this year's legislative session. "I hope it passes. It's good legislation," said Rep. Tom Burch, a Louisville Democrat who co-sponsored House Bill 345. "But I'm not optimistic about it."

Controversial is correct. Texas is fighting this exact battle. The Lone Star bill proponents are losing. Evidently, the Kentucky proponents have lost.

State retirement system rescue plan approved by Senate

State government would borrow more than $800 million to finance a plan key lawmakers say would keep the pension systems for teachers and government employees from eventual financial collapse, under a plan the Senate approved Tuesday. State government would finance the plan to keep the state pension system from financial collapse by selling bonds, which would be repaid over the next 20 years, said Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.

Borrow $800 million? Grandchildren paying the tab?

Retirement reform is laudable. However, we should not mortgage our future for present payment. Governor Fletcher, veto this bill.

Bill calls for review before terminating parents' rights

With the foster-care adoption bill stalled in the Senate, state Rep. Tom Burch took steps in the House on Tuesday to revive it. In the revised legislation, Burch calls for a panel of top state child-protection officials to carefully review every recommendation to terminate parental rights before that recommendation is sent to a judge. In essence, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services secretary and the inspector general and the officials who head legal and social-service divisions would have to review every request to terminate parental rights.

Bureaucracy personified.

Bill would allow companies in Kentucky prisons

David Halbert sews nylon holsters and belts for $7 an hour. If he gets hurt on the job, he’ll get worker’s compensation. But his employer, Raine Inc., doesn’t have to pay medical or retirement benefits or vacation pay.

Cellblock D, sponsored by McDonalds.

Panel approves billboard-visibility measure

Legislation that would allow billboard owners to cut down vegetation to improve visibility around their signs cleared a House committee today. Senate Bill 155, which passed the committee by a 19-2 vote, now moves to the full House for consideration. Before final passage, it would have to go back to the Senate because the House committee made changes to the legislation.

Homeowners, this is perfect. Now you will have that unobstructed view of the Viagra billboard.
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