Let gubernatorial contest be a fight about the future

Gov. Steve Beshear, left, shook hands with Sen. David Williams Sunday at the dedication of the new patient care pavilion at UK Hospital.
Gov. Steve Beshear, left, shook hands with Sen. David Williams Sunday at the dedication of the new patient care pavilion at UK Hospital.

Although neither Gov. Steve Beshear nor his Republican challenger Senate President David Williams came roaring out of the primary, expect a hard-fought contest that could be Kentucky's most expensive governor's race ever.

Beshear and Williams will pound each other on their records and those of their respective running mates, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. That's as it should be, since the past predicts future performance.

What's really at stake, though, and what this contest should be about, is Kentucky's future.

Judging from recent elections, political pros have decided actual ideas are too risky for political campaigns. We suspect, nonetheless, that voters — sick of half truths and attack ads — would appreciate some frank talk about Kentucky's future and warm to a candidate who respects their intelligence enough to give them that kind of campaign.

Electing a governor is not about who's in the White House, though Republicans will try to make the race about Barack Obama. Beshear does the state no favors by portraying, as he did again Tuesday night, any change in the outdated and inefficient tax system as a "tax increase" that only he will heroically battle.

It might be true, as Beshear says, that Kentucky has weathered the economic downturn better than most. It's undeniable that even before the recession and before he became governor, Kentucky was losing hard-won economic gains and slipping in comparison to other states.

Competing ideas for how to reverse that slide are what Kentuckians need from would-be governors.

As for Tuesday's results, voter turnout was so low — 10 percent — it's risky to divine too much meaning. But, clearly, the Tea Party remains a force in Kentucky's GOP.

The Tea Party took the bounce out of Williams' win, which was closer than expected and included losses in Fayette, Jefferson, Boone and Kenton counties.

With almost nothing but the Tea Party organization behind him, Louisville businesssman Phil Moffett won 38 percent of the vote. Jefferson County Clerk Bobby Holsclaw took 14 percent. They held Williams to less than half, which should raise alarms in the Williams-Farmer camp about how to appeal to the Republican base in the state's most populous areas.

In the Republican races for secretary of state and state auditor, two Tea Party-endorsed candidates defeated a pair of much-better-qualified women (although you have to wonder how big a factor the candidates' names were in races that attracted so little public scrutiny.)

When this was written, Hilda Legg had yet to concede the Republican nomination for secretary of state to Bill Johnson, who was leading by 1,100 votes. John T. Kemper of Lexington soundly defeated state Rep. Addia Wuchner in the race for state auditor.

Beshear had no primary opponent, but his secretary of state appointee, former Bowling Green mayor Elaine Walker, for whom he campaigned, was thumped soundly by Lexington novice Alison Lundergan Grimes.

In the Democratic race for agriculture commissioner, the victory of a Louisville marketing exec, Bill Farmer, almost certainly on the basis of his name, provides fresh evidence for why voters should send the elected ag commissioner the way of railroad commissioner and other 19th century relics and eliminate the position by constitutional amendment.