Op-Ed

Rest of the country catching up with Kentucky (but not in a good way)

Supporters cheered as President Donald Trump, center, arrived at a rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, March 20, 2017.
Supporters cheered as President Donald Trump, center, arrived at a rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, March 20, 2017. AP

Looking back over half a century of observing civic leaders and affairs in our state, I find myself asking, has the rest of America finally caught up with Kentucky?

If so, I feel sorry for the millions of extreme gun-toting right-wingers who are not already living here. They would feel right at home.

Not because of our politics, but because Kentuckians are among the most hospitable people in the world. I was born in rural Kentucky and have known the good spirit of my neighbors all of my life.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump newcomers would fit comfortably in our present majority of voters who blindly support anything Trump tweets, says or brags, even if it hurts out-of-work Kentuckians more than most. The merry Trumpsters also will like our right-wing Gov. Matt Bevin who even before Trump came on the scene had declared his own wars against the most needy down-and-out among us.

Their inhumane policies that make the rich richer at the expense of taxpaying Kentuckians are images mirrored from Frankfort to Mar-a-Lago. Both Trump and Bevin promised that, if elected, they would release their tax returns to show their wealth and where it came from; after the election they said it was nobody’s business. Bevin is to Trump what Trump is to Darth Vader.

In their few exchanges involving Kentucky, both accused Democrats Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton of waging a “war on coal,” and promised to bring coal jobs back.

It was all a lie propagated from the start by Kentucky’s Republicans Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and Andy Barr.

All of them knew deep down that the last good breath taken by Kentucky coal was under Democrat Bill Clinton. Kentucky’s coal industry struggled on oxygen, sometimes literally, for eight years under Republican George W. Bush, whose family wealth came from oil, not coal. You ever see W. or any Bush in a Kentucky coal mine?

Like a Bush without water, Kentucky coal finally died due to natural causes of higher production costs and cheaper natural gas, contrary to the pack of lies by Trump and Bevin.

So far as I know, after months going on years in office, neither Trump nor Bevin has brought a single coal job back to Kentucky. To do so, and to help his, Bevin’s, Mitch McConnell’s and Andy Barr’s wealthy coal donors, Trump has wiped the slate clean of Obama’s tougher environmental regulations designed to protect our creeks, rivers and mountains.

If America has not caught up with Kentucky, how else can you explain some counties voting 80 percent for a snake-oil salesman from New York who said clearly in his campaign that he would do nothing to benefit you or your family and will take your health insurance away?

The Republican Congress has even refused to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, K-CHIP in Kentucky, which will leave 9 million American children without insurance.

I also suspect that Trump’s America would feel right at home with Kentucky’s love of guns and dismal history of bias against people unlike them, namely the poor, blacks, Latinos and anyone whose sexual orientation does not track with their own.

Historically, Kentucky’s political leaders have not always set a high standard for ethics in politics and government. As late as the 1980s the president of the University of Kentucky had to admonish UK’s best known trustee, two-time Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler, that we do not use the “N” word when referring to people of color.

Former Gov. Louie Nunn and his brother, Lee, were up to their necks in the Watergate scandal. They made headlines when they feted former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell at the mansion in Frankfort, only to see him later go to jail for his role in Watergate.

The best Nunn campaign story I ever heard was from his 1963 race for governor against Democrat Ned Breathitt. This was before the1964 Civil Rights Act, when handlers would send a mixed-race couple into a restaurant or bar in Western Kentucky to demand they be served immediately. When they were chased out because the facility would not serve blacks, the white woman would yell out, “You will serve us when Ned Breathitt is elected…”

This happened time and time again and there is no question the brave mixed couple’s work took its toll on Democrat voters. Breathitt still won, but Nunn defeated Democrat Henry Ward in the next election, unquestionably, with such dirty tricks still so common in Kentucky politics.

As the rest of America catches up with Kentucky, we are already seeing such tricks in other states, Russian help for Trump notwithstanding. Even the Republican leaning U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the Republicans went too far in suppressing voters’ rights in states like Texas and North Carolina. In North Carolina, the Republican legislature closed voting booths on campus, restricted voter registration hours and forced students to drive 40 miles or so on a two-lane road to cast their ballots.

As we approach the 2018 congressional elections, Republicans across America must be staying up late thinking of new ways to keep Democratic voters from even casting votes, much less having them counted.

Frank Ashley of Lexington, a former Courier-Journal reporter, served as press secretary for two governors. Reach him at famedia@aim.com.

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