Eager to enact their wish lists, Republicans are misreading their mandate

Anne Shelby
Anne Shelby

Wow. That was fast. Members of our brand spanking-new Kentucky legislature convened in Frankfort for the first time on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

By the end of the day Saturday, they’d already sworn in new members, selected leaders, established rules and procedures, organized committees, introduced hundreds of bills, passed seven, handed those over to the governor for his signature, and adjourned in time to still catch the University of Kentucky-Arkansas basketball game.

By Monday, Jan. 8, Gov. Matt Bevin signed those seven bills into law.

It was enough to make your head spin. Which was maybe the idea.

The General Assembly’s uncharacteristic swiftness in this case could be attributed to (a) super-human efficiency (b) magic (c) divine intervention or (d) a strategy to enact some really controversial conservative legislation really quickly, before you could say “Jack Robinson,” “Hold your horses there a minute” or “What is the telephone number of my state representative?”

I’m going to go with (d).

The agenda state lawmakers pushed through the House and Senate last week reads like a conservative Christmas list. Bills that passed will weaken unions and restrict abortions. Proposed measures would threaten gay rights and require Bible classes in public schools.

What else lurks in the convoluted language of the hundreds of bills added to the legislative docket is anybody’s guess. It’s way too much for anybody, citizen or lawmaker, to read, let alone think about.

The lawmakers who engineered and carried out this strategy will deny they were pulling a fast one. They’ll say they were doing what Kentuckians wanted them to do. They’ll say the people have spoken.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the brand, spanking new Congress is also demonstrating uncharacteristic swiftness, setting up its own version of last Saturday in Frankfort.

Congressional Republicans, led by Kentucky’s own Mitch McConnell, scheduled confirmation hearings beginning Tuesday on several of President-elect Donald Trump’s more controversial (and scary) Cabinet nominees — before the FBI and the Office of Government Ethics had time to complete their routine investigations.

Critics are calling this timing “unprecedented.” I wish I had a shot of bourbon for every time I’ve heard that word lately.

Congress is also be dealing with important new legislation, which is likely to include measures designed to place health care, financial regulations and environmental protections on the endangered species list.

And oh, I almost forgot. On Wednesday, Donald Trump is supposed to be holding his first press conference in six months.

Washington will be employing the same frenetic three-ring-circus act we saw in Frankfort last week, and invoking the same the-people-have-spoken rhetoric to justify it.

The people did indeed speak in the last election, but they didn’t all say the same thing. American voters gave presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and presumably her more liberal policies, almost 2.9 million more votes than they gave Trump.

In Kentucky, 1 out of every 3 people who showed up at the polls on Nov. 8 voted for Clinton, and 43 percent voted to send Jim Gray to the Senate, rather than Sen. Rand Paul.

Congressional Republicans who tried to do away with the ethics office that oversees them were deluged with so many angry phone calls from constituents, they had to back off.

And despite the dizzying speed with which the Kentucky General Assembly moved to enact anti-labor and anti-abortion laws last week, protestors to both measures filled the state capitol to make their voices heard.

When the people speak, they don’t all say the same thing.

I thought I heard something else, too, when the people spoke in the last election cycle, something our state and national politicians seem to have forgotten already. Something about wanting their representatives to quit playing games, to work together, and to listen.

Anne Shelby, an author, lives in Clay County.