Op-Ed

Keeling: Beshear snub political savvy or a mistake?

This and that, the Hooray for Recess Edition:

Gov. Steve Beshear plans to skip a Jan. 21 forum for gubernatorial candidates hosted by the Kentucky Press Association.

KPA executive director David Thompson says the Beshear campaign told him the governor will "be busy being governor" and there will be "plenty of time" for such forums after the May primary election.

In a way, Beshear's attitude is understandable. At the moment, he faces no major primary opposition, which is likely to remain the case since any serious Democratic challenger not lucky enough to be walking around with millions of dollars in pocket change needed to start begging for big bucks months ago.

So, Beshear can afford to let his campaign simmer on the back burner for now. Not to mention forgoing a candidate forum to attend to the business of "being governor" may be the better campaign tactic anyway. It looks so, well, gubernatorial.

Here's the thing, though. It's unlikely the KPA will be the only statewide organization hosting a pre-primary candidate forum. Does Beshear intend to skip all of them?

If he does, he may cause voters to think he's one of those incumbents who dodges his challengers. Since Beshear recently appeared on the same program as Senate President David Williams — a Republican gubernatorial candidate — at a state Chamber of Commerce event, I don't think he is. But the funny thing about public perceptions is they sometimes can make reality look unreal.

On the other hand, if Beshear picks and chooses the pre-primary candidate forums he attends, he risks offending members of the organizations he snubs.

And there is this argument to be made for Beshear showing up at these events. If he wants to prove he can dance rings around a bunch of pretenders who can't even carry his, uh, veto pen, he may not get a post-primary chance to do so in front of some of these organizations. Annual meetings do tend to come just once a year.

Finally, speaking at meetings of statewide groups, with or without challengers present, comes with the territory of "being governor" at least as much as the dozens upon dozens of ribbon cuttings and job-creation announcements Beshear makes time for on a regular basis. Probably more so.

An incumbent governor who turns down such invitations without good reason must be confident about his re-election chances — darned confident.

Williams professes to be a member of the Tea Party movement, even though he has a record of voting to raise taxes and increasing the size of the state debt to pay for pet projects. But, hey, let's assume he has joined U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 5th District U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers in seeing the error of his ways on earmarks and such.

One other big Tea Party complaint involved Congress passing bills without reading them. This doesn't strike me as being any worse than passing legislation without knowing its fiscal impact, which is what Williams rushed the state Senate into doing during the organizational portion of this year's General Assembly session.

Senate Bill 6, an immigration measure that out-Arizonas Arizona, is a perfect example. Legislative Research Commission staffers didn't put a cost to the bill until several days after it flew out of the Senate on a 24-14 vote.

LRC estimated the tab for SB 6 at $40 million a year in court, prison and other costs. But the fiscal impact statement noted the real bottom line is "indeterminable" because no one knows how many illegal aliens are in Kentucky. So, the Senate passed a bill with an annual cost between $40 million and "Who knows?"

You gotta love responsible lawmaking.

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