Substance, at long last in the U.S. Senate race

herald-leader ColumnistJune 29, 2014 

FRANKFORT — This and that before the real fireworks start (the verbal ones go on 24/7/365 in this country these days):

Just when I thought the major issue in this year's U.S. Senate race was going to be which candidate screwed up the most ads with photos of European actors and/or Duke University basketball players, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes spoke out on a substantive matter of importance to thousands of Kentuckians: how to pay for replacing the functionally obsolete Brent Spence Bridge spanning the Ohio River between Covington and Cincinnati.

McConnell wants to do it by repealing the prevailing wage law applying to federal projects, which he says costs taxpayers $13 billion a year. Grimes proposes raising the money by eliminating some federal tax deductions for corporations and rich folks, which she says would generate $75 billion a year.

Surprise! Surprise! A Republican wants the working stiffs who build a new bridge to pay for it, and a Democrat wants big business and the wealthy to pick up the tab.

For what it's worth, both are right.

Prevailing wage laws do inflate the costs of government projects. (Of course, government gets some of that extra cost back from the higher taxes paid by workers who benefit from prevailing wage laws.) And corporations and the "1 percent" don't come close to paying their fair share of what it takes to run federal, state and local governments.

In an ideal world, the real answer for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge (and paying for everything else government does) would lie somewhere in the middle between McConnell's and Grimes' plans.

But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where "compromise" is a dirty word, particularly at the federal level. So, neither one of these proposals has a chance in hell of passage as long as power is divided between a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House.

Which helps explain why Northern Kentucky leaders greeted both suggestions with a big yawn. But hey, at least Grimes and McConnell got off the actors/basketball players discussion and talked substance. That's a plus.

State Auditor Adam Edelen surprised me. Despite all the rumors about his difficulty in finding a running mate, I thought he would opt into the 2015 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Not that I thought it was a good idea. Despite his work in the Patton and Beshear administrations and his two-plus years in the auditor's office, the 39-year-old Edelen is a bit young and shy on credentials to be jumping off what former Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson once referred to as the "high board" into a gubernatorial campaign pool.

But I figured Edelen, who is far from shy when it comes to ambition, would take the leap anyway. His decision to opt out instead not only surprised me, it also impressed me because it showed he is savvy enough and mature enough to recognize (for whatever reason, even if it was not finding a good running mate) this is not the time to reach too high too soon.

If he continues to build on his admirable record as state auditor, plenty of political opportunities await Edelen. And he has plenty of time to take advantage of them.

No racetrack deserves to host the Breeders' Cup more than the one sitting in the heart of Thoroughbred breeding country. I just hope the changes necessary to make it happen don't destroy the unique "Keeneland experience" I've enjoyed since my college days in the late 1960s.

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

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