kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: Legacy of corrupt Eastern Kentucky politics

Vote-buying destroys faith in democracy

The Hazard HeraldAugust 4, 2012 

Eastern Kentuckians get a bad rap from the national media. Not much is said about us, save for the poverty or drugs or, in this latest case, the vote buying.

If you haven't heard, we've made the national media again. Fox News' report should have been an eye-opener, because what they reported was true, and, sadly, they could have named any number of other counties where vote buying has been common.

Though a vast majority of the people here don't do it, enough do that vote buying in Eastern Kentucky simply became ingrained in our culture over the years. I remember people talking about it when I was younger, getting a case of beer or a bottle of liquor, or maybe a little cash.

But as I grew older, the instances of vote buying became more pronounced. People's driveways would receive fresh gravel as the election drew nearer. Then I started paying attention to the news, and people were getting indicted and convicted.

There is little wonder now, after all these years of people buying votes or using public money to gain influence, and people selling votes, that the national media come in here and report on it.

Very few counties are immune. Here in Perry County several individuals have been convicted or charged over the years. The Knott County judge-executive has avoided his 40-month federal sentence only by virtue of an appeal that has nearly run its course, and could end with the upholding of his 2008 conviction. The judge before him is a convicted felon.

In Breathitt County the superintendent of the county school system just pleaded guilty to vote-buying. In Clay County the circuit judge and several other local officials were charged. It's a vicious cycle of corruption.

Fox's story alludes to the area's poverty as the primary reason that people have been willing to sell their democratic rights for $25 a pop. But it runs deeper than that. It's telling that people can dispense with their right to vote for so cheap a price. Poverty plays a role, but it's mostly because they don't care, and they likely weren't taught to care by their uncles, fathers or other family members who were doing the same thing decades ago for a very small short-term gain.

Think for a second what really happens when a vote is sold. Our entire political process is corrupted to the point that there is little surprise nowadays when an official is indicted. We've grown not only to accept corruption, but to expect it.

It's a sad commentary on our society, when we have lost so much faith in the process that our democracy doesn't seem much like one. And on the national scale, congressmen, senators and presidents are propped up by special interests, all of whom expect some return on their investment.

But here on the local level, where we the people actually have the chance to meet and interact with our judges and magistrates, our sheriffs and mayors, something seems so much worse when we realize that so many of our neighbors are willing to sell themselves for the sake of men and women who have only their own interests in mind.

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