Two moments capture the 2017 General Assembly so far:
▪ Working Kentuckians were shut out of the first hearing on two anti-union bills because the committee room had been reserved for a breakfast by Americans For Prosperity, the Tea Party-embracing organization founded by the Koch brothers. All the seats were taken before the union members arrived.
Political metaphors don’t get much better than that.
Republican candidates received generous support from AFP, which keeps its donors’ identities secret, and also from right-wing, out-of-state interests, including supply-side economist and consultant Arthur Laffer. Laffer and five of his associates invested at least $228,500 in the effort that ended 95 years of Democratic control of the Kentucky House.
AFP, which is out to diminish the power of labor unions in business and politics, helped set the table for this session, in which Republicans control Kentucky’s legislature and governorship.
Enacting anti-union legislation was a priority for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and the legislature, which held a rare Saturday session to deliver.
Supporters of the new right-to-work law, including the state Chamber of Commerce, say many companies rule out states that lack right-to-work laws, which weaken unions by enabling workers to receive union-negotiated wages and benefits without paying union dues. They say Kentucky will be rewarded with more jobs.
Kentucky is already a low-wage state. If the goal is prosperity for more than a few, we need not just more jobs but more jobs that pay enough for Kentuckians to buy a home and car and feed their kids without food stamps.
▪ In another telling moment, the real-life anguish of a Lexington couple could not penetrate the self-righteousness of lawmakers grounded in anti-abortion dogma, doctored videos and fear of being targeted by Right to Life.
A House committee heard Heather Hyden explain the agonizing decisions that she and James Earley face because the baby they very much want has a worsening and possibly fatal medical condition. They won’t know for sure until she is almost 20 weeks into her pregnancy. After hearing her heartbreaking and lucid account of why she might need an abortion after 20 weeks to avoid a stillbirth, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, testified in gory, uninformed detail in favor of banning abortions after 20 weeks.
Hyden, sitting behind Smith, began to cry, and said, “please, Brandon, please.”
The 1 percent of abortions after 20 weeks are almost always under circumstances in which government has no place interfering, and the new law has no exceptions for rape, incest or mental illness.
Although Attorney General Andy Beshear says the 20-week ban is clearly unconstitutional based on federal court rulings in other states, it and another bill restricting abortion in Kentucky became law by even wider margins than the anti-union bills.
Bevin and the newly empowered Republicans wanted Kentuckians to see them taking action — and they succeeded in the first five legislative days, even if the 2017 General Assembly has resembled a speeding freight train more than a deliberative process.
If they hope to avoid a wreck, they will take time when they return in February to really hear the Kentuckians who will be most directly affected by their decisions.