Linda Blackford

Is Kentucky’s election really a test on impeachment? No. It’s a test of our apathy.

The New York Times swept into flyover country this week to profile the ugly race between Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear and what it has to tell us about how Kentuckians feel about the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

In “Kentucky Governor’s Race Tests Impact of Impeachment in States,” Jonathan Martin writes: “The Beshear-Bevin contest represents the first, best indicator of whether Republicans can harness anger over the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump to rouse their rural base — or whether Democrats will benefit from an increasingly urban voting bloc that is energized by what it sees as a lawless presidency,” wrote Jonathan Martin. (He also described one of Bevin’s famous insults to teachers in the best New York Timesese: The “governor’s abrasive style, which includes portraying striking teachers as accessories to child molestation.” Molly Ivins would love it.)

It’s understandable that folks in Washington think everyone is as consumed with impeachment proceedings as they are, but I’m not sure Kentucky presents the signs Martin is looking for. Yes, Bevin, who attached himself early and often to Trump, is doing so again on the campaign trail, but if he wins I think it will have more to do with Trump’s general popularity in Kentucky than anger against the convoluted and incremental steps of impeachment.

More generally, if Bevin wins, it will prove finally that Kentucky has shed the last vestiges of its Democratic past. In other words, if Bevin, one of the most unpopular governors in the country who’s managed to annoy major voting blocs numerous times, still pulls it out on Tuesday, he can thank the popularity of Donald Trump and the fact he lives in a wholly red state. Democratic contenders for statewide office can hang it up for a few decades, or at least until Lexington and Louisville get big and blue enough to outweigh more red and rural areas.

If Beshear wins, it will prove that you can’t mess with people’s pensions, call them thugs, and threaten to take away their healthcare in the same year. But while Beshear seems like a nice, capable guy, I’m not sure being the anti-Bevin is enough to get people to the polls. Voting against people rather than for them doesn’t make for bellwether elections, and neither does 31 percent voter turnout.

No matter who wins the governor’s office, Trump will still dominate Kentucky in 2020, buoyed by social issues like abortion, guns and a feeling that no matter how much people look down on Kentucky, Trump is on their side. Impeachment will probably only fuel their ardor.

Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University, agrees that impeachment is more of a side note. “People who don’t like Trump favor impeachment, people who like him don’t believe the impeachment stuff, so I think it’s more of an ancillary issue.”

But Eastern Kentucky University Professor Anne Cizmar says she thinks Bevin has used Trump to gin up support, because “an overwhelming percentage of Kentuckians don’t believe in impeachment. I think that’s part of the background: ‘I’m voting for Bevin because it’s a vote for Trump, that’s partly fueled by the impeachment.’ ”

Cizmar thinks voter turnout will be an important part of this election’s national importance. “If people stay home on Tuesday and Trump is not enough to get them to the polls, then perhaps that’s a question of whether there’s malaise setting in,” she said.

Instead, it would be great if Kentucky gave state and national pundits a lot to talk about by flocking to the polls and pushing our anemic voter turnout past 30 percent. Then we could spend hours talking about the effects of impeachment, pensions, expanded Medicaid. Then we’d have the right to complain about our elected leaders. Then we’d really give the New York Times something to talk about.

Linda Blackford writes columns and commentary for the Herald-Leader. She has covered K-12, higher education and other topics for the past 20 years at the Herald-Leader.
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