Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

January 31, 2014

RONNIE ELLIS: Games have begun in Frankfort

FRANKFORT — Wednesday was the 16th day of the 60-day 2014 General Assembly, at least according to the calendar.

But, according to Democratic House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark of Louisville, it was really the first day of the session. Before mocking Clark’s faulty math, consider instead his political insight and exquisite timing.

You see, Tuesday was filing deadline for candidates in the May primary. Nothing much of substance occurred in the session’s first 15 days as lawmakers watched to see if they might attract an opponent. By Wednesday afternoon when the House convened and took up a bill requiring more financial training for local school officials, everyone knew whether he had a tough or easy road to re-election.

As Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, explained what was supposed to be a non-controversial bill to improve schools’ financial accountability, Republicans suddenly awakened from their previous somnolence and questioned the cost to local districts. Multiple Republicans asked what this “unfunded mandate” would cost and Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, asked for a vote of the body to lay the bill aside until staff could produce a fiscal impact statement.

As Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, summoned each party’s leaders to the podium to discuss the procedure, Clark mischievously ambled past reporters, flashing his trademark grin.

“Filing deadline’s over boys!” Clark exclaimed to the fourth estate. “The session just started. Things will start rolling now!”

Even Hoover was laughing.

Doubt Clark’s math but not his political acumen. The proof was again on display two days later in the Senate. The Republican dominated chamber was scheduled to take votes on a bill to deregulate further the telecommunications industry (the so-called “AT&T bill”) and on a constitutional amendment to abolish the office of Treasurer.

Given the Republicans’ 23-vote supermajority, reporters expected nothing more than perhaps a couple of speeches from Democrats suggesting maybe we could also do without the office of Agriculture Commissioner — a Democrat currently holds the office of Treasurer while a potential Republican gubernatorial candidate is Commissioner of Agriculture.

But they never got around to the amendment (though they passed the telecommunications measure). Instead, after an hour of recognizing guests, athletic teams and a prayer for victims of a tragic fire in Muhlenberg County, Senate President Robert Stivers rose to express his outrage that Gov. Steve Beshear was President Barack Obama’s guest for Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech.

A free market Republican like Stivers knows it’s not the rising costs of mining thinner and thinner coal seams or historically low natural gas prices that have “strangled my region of the state.” No, it’s that bad man in the White House who also happens to be a Democrat. His health care law, embraced by Beshear, is an “unmitigated disaster.” Stivers cited statistics (his staff couldn’t explain what some of the numbers contained) and during one anecdote his voice cracked.

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who takes a back seat to no one in his righteous defense of King Coal, commended Stivers for defending the industry. But then Jones said Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has denounced mountaintop removal. The key point, of course, was Alexander is a Republican.

Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, (one of the adults in the Senate) pointed out that Kentucky’s lawmakers can’t repeal the Affordable Care Act, though they might try to make it work better in Kentucky. He might just as well have suggested we outlaw bloviating partisan speeches during an election year.

Clark knows better. Maybe he doesn’t count so well, but he knows the score: it’s an election year. The games have begun.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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