Larry Keeling: Pension reform outlook pessimistic

Herald-leader columnistMarch 24, 2013 

Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — This and that, the Waiting for Judd-ot Edition:

First, though, come two fun-filled days on the third floor of the state Capitol.

Fun-filled if your idea of fun involves seemingly endless recesses as conference committees, free conference committees, Senate Republican leaders and House Democratic leaders make their deals in private while everyone else twiddles their thumbs, wanders the marbled halls, consumes large quantities of caffeine (and maybe other libations on the sly), speculates about outcomes they have no control over, cheers the resurrection of favored bills once thought doomed, mourns the final death of those same bills moments later, gossips about anything and everything, complains about 2013 being the worst General Assembly session ever, talks about the good ol' days when 2012 was the worst General Assembly session ever, talks about the even better ol' days when Kentucky lawmakers did what governors told them to do and how much easier it was to lobby one person instead of 138, frets over the possibility actress Ashley Judd might be the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in 2014 (Democrats), relishes the possibility actress Ashley Judd might be the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in 2014 (Republicans), works crossword puzzles (Blush!) and gets the glazed-over eyes of someone who is either bored to tears or one of the walking dead.

Occasionally, brief flurries of activity interrupt these seemingly endless recesses as lawmakers gather in their respective chambers to consummate the latest deals agreed to in private. Then, it's back to another seemingly endless recess. And so it goes — recess, brief flurry of activity, recess, brief flurry of activity, on and on into the night.

These are the days a semi-retired ol' curmudgeon wonders why he didn't stay fully retired. Ah, well, it ends sometime before midnight Tuesday. It may come at 11:59:59 p.m., but adjournment sine die will come. And about two seconds later, I still expect the countdown to a special session to begin.

I may be wrong. All the publicly expressed optimism from Gov. Steve Beshear and legislative leaders about finding accord on pension reform could prove justified. Chatter late this past week suggested a new idea for fully funding the state's most troubled pension plan might break the deadlock on the issue.

But as one metaphor-mangling political candidate told the Herald-Leader editorial board several years ago, "I didn't just fall off the amoeba wagon." I've been around a few years, long enough to become a semi-retired ol' curmudgeon who knows optimism often becomes collateral damage in the closing days of General Assembly sessions.

And since the differences between the House and Senate versions of pension reform go well beyond the funding issue, I'll stick with pessimism for now.

In the English version, playwright Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot picked up a subtitle. An Internet search informed me it sometimes appears as a tragicomedy in two acts, sometimes has normal title capitalization, sometimes drops the "a," sometimes uses "2" instead of "two." Whatever, the thought remains the same.

I didn't know any of this before the "Waiting for Judd-ot" line came to mind. I just knew Beckett wrote this play, largely because "Godot" at times answers one of the clues dreamed up by the wonderfully brainy folks who feed my love of crosswords. However, having learned about the subtitle, I realized I had stumbled completely unknowingly onto a reasonably apt description for the status of the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

For now at least, everyone is waiting for Ashley Judd.

As alluded to above, moderate and conservative Kentucky Democrats — which includes most D's in the hills and hollows, on the plowed ground and even in the smaller cities outside Jefferson and Fayette counties — are waiting with a sense of dread that tragedy will befall their party if Judd, with her "Left Coast" liberalism, tops their ticket. Said tragedy being loss of Democratic control of the state House.

These Democrats would prefer a different candidate, such as Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, whose family connections to former President Bill Clinton would give her access to his massive fund-raising network. Clinton reportedly has encouraged both Grimes and Judd to consider running.

Many Kentucky Republicans, on the other hand, feel a Judd candidacy would turn incumbent U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's re-election into a laugher.

Thus, we have Waiting for Judd-ot: a potential tragicomedy in who knows how many acts.

Except I'm not totally buying the Democrats' tragedy scenario. The main goal for the party in 2014 remains putting a candidate out there who can generate enough money to force McConnell to spend all of his own vast war chest on re-election rather than using some of it to help Republicans take control of the House.

Toppling McConnell would be icing on the cake. And although Grimes might have a better chance of achieving the latter, both she and Judd can raise enough money to make McConnell tend to his own knitting.

My gut tells me responding to the 42 charges the Executive Branch Ethics Commission lodged against former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer may not be the end of his legal troubles.

Recent national polls show the times they are a-changin' rapidly in regard to public thinking on same-sex marriage. Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, which takes up this issue in a matter of days, often reflect such shifts in public opinion.

Here's hoping ... for the rights of "our co-workers, friends and family members" who "were born gay or lesbian while I was born straight" I cited in a 2004 column opposing Kentucky's odious constitutional amendment outlawing such marriages.

Besides, tax reform waits in the wings, assuming the $70,000 spent on the work of Beshear's "Blue Ribbon Commission" on the subject doesn't wind up as wasted as the money I spent getting tickets to the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament this year.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at

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