John-Mark Hack: Independent voters could sway Kentucky's consequential election

John-Mark Hack is a Woodford County entrepreneur, an independent and former Democrat.
John-Mark Hack is a Woodford County entrepreneur, an independent and former Democrat.

It's disheartening to observe how many Kentuckians know candidates for next year's presidential election while so few have engaged in deciding who will be our next governor.

With Kentucky mired deeply in debt, our public pension systems in full-blown crisis, our credit ratings falling, and leaders of both parties lacking the courage to modernize our state tax system, this election will be the most important of a generation.

The electorate's fastest growing segment, the "other" category including everyone other than Democrats and Republicans, is paying close attention, as we do every election.

According to the State Board of Elections, "other" voters have increased 183 percent the past 20 years, while Republican registration has almost doubled and Democratic registration increased only 26.4 percent.

Given the low enthusiasm among many partisans, Kentucky's independent voters will have an unprecedented influence on Nov. 3. Many of us will not even consider the official independent candidate out of concern that he lacks the seriousness, experience and depth of understanding our current dire circumstances demand.

While it is difficult to pinpoint the priorities of all independent voters, there are some common interests.

First and foremost, we reject the status quo embodied by the ruling political class of career politicians, the special interests who fund their campaigns, and their political appointees paid six-figure salaries by taxpayers. In state government, this description most directly applies to Democrats, the party that has plunged us into debt, soured our credit ratings, subjected state0employed women to outrageous sexual harassment by elected officials, legalized mountaintop removal, presided over the imprisonment and disenfranchisement of one-third of a generation of African-American men for nonviolent crimes, and secretly brought in illegal slot machines after proclaiming "Let the People Decide."

Second, we believe Kentucky cannot afford distractions from state financial matters so we are not highly concerned with social issues. We want sound fiscal management, a structurally balanced budget and limited debt spending. We want good government, but government limited to essential functions.

We want a modernized, progressive state tax system, not one based on the deceitful simplicity of a flat tax that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class. We want secure education funding, but we also believe that the failing public education model needs stiff competition.

We want elected officials who are not bought by the corporate "persons" created by the disastrous Supreme Court Citizens United decision. We want term limits on state legislators to regularly purge corporate lackeys. We want an equitable regulatory environment that treats both big business and small business fairly. We want environmental protections that ensure the health of our land and water for generations to come.

Last, we want to fully participate in our representative democracy. Thousands of Kentuckians are regularly disenfranchised by our closed primary system, and not just those registered as "other." Numerous elected officials win office after a primary because they face no General Election opponent. We are one of 11 states with closed primaries, and we need to increase voter participation, not limit it. The best way to do so is opening up our partisan primaries to all voters.

Independent voters will be a strong influence on this election. We will likely cast ballots to shock Kentucky out of the status quo, away from the ruling political class heaping mounds of debt on future generations and kicking the can down the road on critical public issues. Here's hoping everyone else becomes as engaged as us.