Keeling: Ky. tax reform dead but let Rand have a duel

Herald-leader columnistNovember 17, 2013 

Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — State House Speaker Greg Stumbo told CN|2 the other day the "groundwork" hasn't been laid for passage of comprehensive tax reform during the upcoming General Assembly session.

In a way, Stumbo's right. After Gov. Steve Beshear's much ballyhooed blue ribbon panel issued a report that failed to blow off anyone's socks, the subject of comprehensive tax reform quietly disappeared.

And Beshear, who wanted to be the "expanded gambling governor" without spending time selling voters or lawmakers on the idea before he wanted to be the "tax reform governor" without spending time selling voters or lawmakers on the idea, is now basking in the national glow of being the "health insurance governor" who didn't have to spend time selling voters or lawmakers on the federal Affordable Care Act but whose administration proved better at implementing it than the feds did. Sometimes, just being a decent caretaker pays dividends.

But even if the tax reform ground hasn't been plowed in recent months, it's been plowed time after time after time during the past 20 years, enough so for lawmakers to put together a reasonably comprehensive plan and pass it in less time than it takes for the echoes of the session's opening gavel to quit bouncing around the halls of the Capitol.

They've moved big legislation in short time frames before, and they may do it again. But not in 2014, not with the dwindling Democratic majority desperately trying to avoid becoming a dwindling minority when the 2015 General Assembly convenes. So, expect tax reform, expanded gambling or anything else controversial enough to be a threat to a Democratic incumbent to be a non-starter in the House in the 2014 session. And since major pieces of legislation almost always generate some controversy, this could be a session in which only modest proposals have a chance.

I just happen to have a modest proposal I offer on behalf of a Kentuckian who lately has been feeling aggrieved. I propose lawmakers send voters an amendment eliminating the last 75 (or so) words of the constitutional oath elected officials and lawyers take in this state.

If this amendment wins voter approval, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul never again will have to feel the misgivings he expressed on ABC's This Week when, referring to folks who had the audacity to point out the multiple instances of plagiarism in his speeches and writings, he said, "... if dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, you know, it would be a duel challenge. But I can't do that, because I can't hold office in Kentucky then."

I'm not sure how the oath state officials take affects a federal officeholder, but let's remove all doubt and free our junior senator and presidential wannabe to defend his honor by slapping the "hacks and haters" telling the truth about him with a glove and challenging them to meet him on the dueling grounds for an exchange of hurled Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

President? Seriously? A guy whose skin is thinner than gossamer? A guy who responds to legitimate criticism of his plagiarism by talking about dueling and whining to The National Review about being put in "detention for the rest of my career"?

Paul's petulant, stumbling, bumbling, "blame the messengers" response damaged him more than the plagiarism itself because it made him look weak and ill-prepared to stand the scrutiny a presidential wannabe must endure. It may well be, as some speculation already has it, his presidential hopes crashed and burned as a result of his mishandling of this issue.

If so, it will leave me with one regret. I was really looking forward to the erstwhile Paul staffer who billed himself as the "Southern Avenger" (remember Paul's reluctance to let him go?) being paired with the beloved "Aqua Buddha" in an attack ad crafted far more deftly, artfully and humorously than the heavy-handed Aqua Buddha ad Attorney General Jack Conway aired in his losing 2010 U.S. Senate campaign against Paul.

Oh, well, life is full of disappointments. I learned this truth long ago. Rand Paul may still have a few lessons coming.

Reach Larry Dale at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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