Tom Eblen

Will Matt Bevin replace Kentucky Colonels with Selfie Sergeants?

Gov. Matt Bevin took a selfie with Nyquist owner Paul Reddam, left, in the Winner’s Circle after the Kentucky Derby on May 2. On the right is Bevin’s wife, Glenna Bevin.
Gov. Matt Bevin took a selfie with Nyquist owner Paul Reddam, left, in the Winner’s Circle after the Kentucky Derby on May 2. On the right is Bevin’s wife, Glenna Bevin. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Matt Bevin has been in office for six months, and I still don’t know what to make of the selfie governor. Every time he says something that almost makes sense, the next thing out of his mouth is a cuckoo-clock bird.

In one breath he will lecture people about the state motto being “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” and in the next breath take a petty swipe at a political opponent. The irony seems completely lost on him.

In the latest head-scratcher, Bevin decided last week to stop issuing Kentucky Colonel certificates until he reviews the criteria for recipients. The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels’ executive director said Bevin may be the first governor to do that.

Most Kentuckians know there really isn’t much criteria. A Kentucky colonelcy is a not-very-exclusive honor the governor bestows on accomplished people, visiting celebrities, friends and supporters. As awards go, it is right up there with being named a Duke of Paducah or an Honorary Page of the Kentucky House of Representatives, which I became as a toddler when my uncle was a legislator.

In 1980, a Frankfort journalist I know had little trouble getting then-Gov. John Y. Brown’s office to award a Kentucky Colonel certificate to a colleague’s sheepdog. After that, officials did start checking applications more closely to make sure the recipients were human.

Here’s what a colonelcy amounts to: The recipient gets a certificate to frame, the governor makes somebody happy and the Honorable Order, a respected charity that awards scholarships and grants for community projects, gets a donor base.

Among issues facing the Commonwealth, the criteria for Kentucky Colonels is as important as the old dispute over whether the tulip poplar or the Kentucky coffee tree should be the official state tree. But if Bevin starts revoking colonelcies issued by former Gov. Steve Beshear, at least we will understand what this review is all about.

Maybe Bevin plans to replace Kentucky Colonel certificates with gubernatorial selfies, which he loves to take with everyone he meets. Kentucky could have a whole new corps of Selfie Sergeants.

Bevin is more effective with still photos than video. He made a fool of himself when he tried to pressure House Democrats into passing his budget by posting a YouTube video of him walking through their empty chamber while they were in the next building working on the budget.

Bevin is among the nation’s least-popular governors, according to a recent poll by the nonpartisan research firm Morning Consult. It showed Bevin with an approval rating of 33 percent, well below Beshear’s 57 percent last year.

Promising to release his tax returns, and then going back on that promise, has raised questions about Bevin’s trustworthiness. Until he makes them public, as every other recent governor has done, people will wonder what he is hiding.

One day, Bevin does something sensible, like taking millions in workforce development money away from the troubled Bluegrass Area Development District. Then, the next day, he will decide to waste money fighting federal rules protecting transgender people from discriminatory state laws. Not that long ago, in December, Bevin had correctly called a so-called bathroom bill proposed for Kentucky “nonsense.”

Bevin’s biggest accomplishments so far have been making it harder for poor people to get health insurance and getting the General Assembly to increase funding for the beleaguered state employees’ pension fund. Pension-funding is a good thing, except that Bevin used it to justify deeper-than-usual cuts to higher education. That likely will result in even more tuition increases, which are just a tax by another name.

Perhaps even more troubling than Bevin’s budget cuts were his remarks promoting vocational training over the mind-expanding analytical skills people learn from studying the liberal arts, as he did at a private university in Virginia.

Here is the big question going forward: Does Bevin plan to use the pension crisis as an excuse for continuing to hack away at state government services? Or will he focus on eliminating waste that both Republicans and Democrats can agree upon and propose a tax-reform plan to boost state revenues for the long term?

It is worth noting that one big cause of the pension crisis was inadequate funding caused by year after year of revenue shortfalls caused by an outdated tax system.

Will Bevin’s promised tax reform plan be another “revenue neutral” joke like those of his predecessors? Or will he lead the General Assembly toward creating a modern tax system that can raise enough new revenue to make Kentucky a healthier, better-educated, more prosperous state?

If Bevin can accomplish the latter, I would be honored to become a Selfie Sergeant.

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen

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