Senate President David Williams insists his 21-point drubbing by Gov. Steve Beshear was not a defeat for the Republican platform on which he campaigned.
"I don't think my message was wrong. I just think I was too unpopular to be elected," Williams told reporters the day after the election.
It's true the likability factor worked against Williams, but he should consider an additional possibility: The ideas he touted also are unpopular and outside the mainstream.
Across the nation, Republican dogma took a beating at the ballot box Tuesday.
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In Ohio, voters defeated a Republican governor's move to curb the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Mississippi voters defeated a constitutional amendment near and dear to the anti-abortion movement. Maine voters rejected a GOP move to end election-day voter registration. And the architect of Arizona's anti-immigration law lost a recall election and was replaced by a more moderate Republican.
Williams' platform came straight from the Republican playbook: Erode the power of labor unions by allowing local right-to-work laws. Decrease state employees' retirement benefits. End the state income tax, shifting more of the tax burden from higher-income to lower-income Kentuckians.
Williams tried to federalize the governor's race by tieing Steve Beshear, a classic Kentucky Democrat, to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in the state.
But Beshear came closer to the public's pulse when he said Kentuckians don't want the kind of political gridlock and dysfunction they see in Washington.
Republicans are discovering they misread the 2010 election: Voters don't want more ideological posturing; they want more problem solving, especially in the economy.
The Republicans who fared best Tuesday — agriculture commissioner-elect James Comer and Lexington councilwoman KC Crosbie, who came close to unseating Treasurer Todd Hollenbach — reached far beyond their conservative bases.
Williams has no plans to relinquish the Senate presidency. Barring an unlikely coup, Beshear's legislative agenda will still depend on Williams' goodwill.
So, what lessons should the Senate president take from his defeat? We have a few suggestions:
Become more pragmatic and less ideological. Instead of seeking to crush Democratic initiatives, look for win-win opportunities and do some horse trading.
Beshear's modest proposal to raise the school dropout age to 18 is an example. Senate Republicans oppose it as an unfunded mandate and say dropouts are made long before they turn 16. So, why not direct additional resources to identifying potential dropouts and intervening in the early years, while giving schools a deadline for being ready to teach all kids until they're 18?
Kentucky, like most states, is wrestling with problems of historic proportions. Unemployment is high. The state's future financial obligations exceed its revenue stream. The tax structure is outdated. More than most states, Kentucky's people are unhealthy and poor. Big problems to solve.
Williams has a lot to offer in knowledge, intelligence and wit. Who knows what might be accomplished if he redirected his considerable talents from scorching the earth to finding common ground. It would also make him more likable.