AG Jack Conway's achievements give him edge for Democrats

Kentucky Democrats find themselves in a win-win situation as they prepare to pick their nominee to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.

Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway are well qualified for the office. Each one understands the needs of the state and has the vision to address them in a thoughtful manner.

Except, unfortunately, where coal is concerned. There, each seems more than willing to put the interests of coal ahead of some of the state's more pressing environmental needs.

Unfortunately, too, each has been quick to use the misleading and deceptive negative attack ads that are all too prevalent in American political campaigns. Democratic voters should ignore — indeed, should abhor — these tactics and look instead to the past performance of the party's two leading candidates.

If they do, they will find much to recommend each man. But we believe they will find a bit more to recommend Conway.

Three other Democrats will be on the primary ballot — Henderson doctor James Buckmaster; Army veteran and former customs agent Darlene Fitzgerald Price of McCreary County; and Maurice Sweeney, a Jefferson County businessman with a lengthy history of civic and civil rights involvement.

We encourage Price and Sweeney, in particular, to continue pursuing their interest in politics. They would be outstanding candidates for local or state legislative office, and with time and seasoning might well set their sights higher again at a later date.

But the two standouts in this primary election are Conway and Mongiardo.

Conway's edge over Mongiardo may result from something of a default. Mongiardo's main accomplishments include forcing Bunning to bring every relief pitcher out of the Kentucky Republican bullpen to eke out a narrow re-election win over the then largely unknown state Sen. Mongiardo in 2004.

He also pushed and pushed and pushed until the legislature enacted an Electronic Health Information Technology Network. And he was a player, as a senator and lieutenant governor, in promoting adventure tourism legislation.

But Mongiardo was a minority member of the state Senate. And minority members of that chamber don't have many successes under the reign of Republican President David Williams. Who knows what Mongiardo might have accomplished if the Democrats had been in control?

And governors rarely give lieutenant governors who were chosen to balance a ticket much to do after entering office. Taped complaints by Mongiardo — at least some of which were edited — posted anonymously online last fall testify to that.

Conway's achievements have not been hindered by any such restraints. As a trusted member of former Gov. Paul Patton's administration, he helped rewrite the criminal justice code and was one of the authors of Patton's landmark higher-education reforms.

As attorney general, he hasn't had to rely on a superior to give him something to do. So he has been free to build a strong record of fighting cyber-crime and Medicaid fraud.

And despite Mongiardo's allegations to the contrary, he has admirably defended the utility ratepayers of this state before the Public Service Commission. On balance, Conway's record is a bit better and shows more breadth than Mongiardo's.

And we give him credit for saying, "It was time to stand up and become a Democrat," when he announced his support for the recently enacted health care reforms that Mongiardo said didn't go far enough. Often in government, settling for not going far enough is far superior to doing nothing at all.

But that's not something Democratic voters have to worry about in the upcoming Senate primary. Either way, they'll get a candidate who will go far enough in serving them. We just believe Jack Conway will go a bit farther.

Candidates not endorsed in this race may submit a statement of no more than 250 words by noon Wednesday.