Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 12, 2014

Breaking ranks

Jill York deserves praise for her vote on minimum wage

The Independent

ASHLAND — State Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, has been sharply criticized by Republican leaders in the Kentucky House of Representatives for having the audacity to break from the official party line by voting for the bill sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour.

As a practical matter, York’s vote on the bill had little or no impact. Regardless of how York voted on House Bill 1, it would have easily been approved by the House, where Democrats hold a solid majority. It passed by a vote of 55-44 with three other Republicans joining York in supporting the bill, which Stumbo listed as the Democrats’ top legislative priority.

By the same token, the chances of the bill being approved by the Republican-controlled Senate and becoming law are just about as close to zero as one can get. Surely, all 100 House member realized that when the bill was brought up for a vote. Nearly everyone expects the bill to die in the Senate without a vote, and in the unlikely event that there is a vote on it, it will be defeated.

So what’s the big deal about Jill York’s vote?

“Leadership has told me they were less than pleased with my vote,” York said following the vote. C.B. Embry, of Morgantown, another Republican who broke with his GOP colleagues to support increasing the minimum wage, also said GOP leaders told him they were unhappy with his vote on the issue.

“I voted my district,” Embry said. “My emails, faxes and phone calls were two to one in favor of the bill. My leadership, though, they weren’t too happy.”

House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, acknowledged, “There were people (in the Republican caucus) who were upset.” But he said no retribution was meted out to the four GOP legislators.

York still is a relative newcomer in the House of Representatives, having been elected in 2008 to the seat left vacant when Gov. Steve Beshear appointed long-time senator Charlie Borders of Grayson to the Public Service Commission and State Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, to fill that vacancy. Webb narrowly won a special election against Dr. Jack Ditty to fill the vacancy and then defeated Ditty by a much larger margin in the 2010 race for a full four-year term. The boundaries of the 18th District have since been significantly changed by redistricting and now includes Boyd Greenup and Carter counties. Webb is a heavy favorite to be elected to another four-year term this November.

While Webb held York’s 96th District House seat for 12 years before moving to the Senate, the late Walter Gee, a Republican, held the seat before Webb. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republican in Carter County and Republicans outnumbering Democrats in Lewis County, the 96th District has never been solidly Democrat or Republican. That’s why Democrats are hoping to recapture the seat in November.

York will face the winner of the May Democratic primary race between Barry Webb of Webbville and Derrick E. Willis of Grayson in November. Meanwhile, the other three House incumbents from northeast Kentucky — Democrats Rocky Adkins, Tanya Pullin and Kevin Sinnette — are all running unopposed for re-election. That makes York’s race the only competitive legislative one in this region.

Thus, it is no wonder that York was more concerned about angering her constituents in Carter and Lewis counties, than angering her fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives. Like Elliott, York said every indication she had was that people in the two counties supported increasing the minimum wage and as their elected representative in Frankfort, she believed she had an obligation to vote the way they wanted.

 No one should expect their elected leaders to always vote the way their party’s leaders want. That would turn them into unthinking robots instead of well-informed legislators with the desire and courage to vote their convictions instead of the way their party’s leaders want.

We suppose by voting for a higher minimum wage, York runs the risk of being labeled a RINO  — as in Republican In  Name Only — by some right-thinking members of her party, but York’s three terms in the House give her solidly conservative credentials. It is just that every now and then she votes the way she thinks the people in Carter and Lewis counties want. If that upsets her party’s leadership in Frankfort, then so be it. After all, they don’t vote for her and she doesn’t represent them.