Op-Ed

Larry Dale Keeling: 36 years on Ky.'s political scene

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

M*A*S*H lovers will recognize these words as the title of the final episode of the best darned TV series ever.

Just as there comes a time for all TV series to end their run, so it is with ol' curmudgeons. For this particular KyKurmudgeon, the time is now.

After 39 years in print journalism, 36 of them at the Herald-Leader and nearly 32 on the paper's editorial staff, I'm ending my run as a card-carrying member of the Society of Full-time, Ink-stained Newspaper Wretches with this column.

Hello, Social Security.

I've often told people I had the best job in journalism. As an editorial writer and columnist, I got paid — not as much as I wished, but I got paid — to be an opinionated so-and-so. In short, I got paid to be myself. What more could a person ask?

And I had a helluva lot of fun doing the job — at least until the last couple of years, which haven't been fun for anyone in the newspaper business.

How could a wisenheimer pundit not have fun in Kentucky, where politics are "the damnedest" and always will be? We may not be No. 1 in the land in the frequency of our political scandals or the number of our comic opera political figures. But we're definitely in the conversation when such rankings are being made, which means there's never a lack of material for those of us who deal in opinions.

In the days and weeks since I made the decision to retire, I rummaged around a bit in my back pages with the idea of penning some kind of all-encompassing farewell opus wrapping up 30-odd years of observing the Kentucky political scene and the interesting and sometimes screwball cast of characters who passed through it.

Alas, my rummaging taught me I needed to start writing installments at least six months ago if I wanted to do justice to the task. Even a CliffsNotes version might exceed the space available in this six-page section.

Besides, whose name do I leave out of a CliffsNotes version? What event, what scandal, what episode in the state's political history during those years gets short shrift?

Even though it didn't produce an opus, my rummaging did serve a useful purpose by reminding me life really is, as Joni Mitchell sang way back when, a circle game.

In my early days in the opinion business all those years ago, the issues filling the Herald-Leader editorial columns included but were not limited to tax reform, education at all levels, the environment, the harmful effects of mining and burning coal, the future of Eastern Kentucky, the plight of the racing industry, the state's economy, public corruption and religious freedom and other civil liberties issues.

In my latter days in the opinion business, the issues filling the Herald-Leader editorial columns included but were not limited to tax reform, education at all levels, the environment, the harmful effects of mining and burning coal, the future of Eastern Kentucky, the plight of the racing industry, the state's economy, public corruption and religious freedom and other civil liberties issues.

Sure, Kentucky has made a bit of progress in some of these areas, just not nearly enough. At least, not nearly enough to move the topics off of the opinion pages of Kentucky newspapers.

There are many reasons the issues facing Kentucky have not changed greatly in 30 years.

Some of them are evergreens and will always be part of the public discussion. Others might have been resolved years ago if the General Assembly had put on retainer a surgeon highly skilled in spinal transplants.

But somewhere near the top of the list of reasons we keep riding the same merry-go-round is this:

Over the past three-plus decades, I've watched far too many state legislators waste far too much time obsessing over the Five G's — guns, God, gays, gynecology and G-strings — while spending far too little time focusing on the Five E's that could actually solve some of Kentucky's problems and move the state forward — education, economic development (of an intelligent variety), equitable taxation, environmental protection and, perhaps most important, ethics at all levels of government.

Legislators who pander on the Five G's may get re-elected. Legislators who lead — seriously lead — on the Five E's may get their names in the history books. Unfortunately, too many Kentucky lawmakers opt for the instant gratification. I suspect they always will.

I can't leave on a serious note. It's not in my nature. I particularly can't leave on a serious note as depressing as what I just wrote.

Thus, I would remind you retirement is a time for celebration.

A few of you who have enjoyed my work over the years may celebrate my good fortune. Others may celebrate never again having to see my ugly mug or read my scurrilous, cockamamie words in the Herald-Leader.

I'll offer a toast to both groups, along with a caveat.

Walking away cold turkey from the fun I've had in this job could cause withdrawal symptoms beyond what my pain threshold can bear. So, I might be back someday, somewhere, smarting off for public consumption again — but strictly on a part-time basis.

If not, if retirement proves so wonderful I never again feel the urge to dip a pen in acid before putting it to paper (figuratively speaking, of course), well ...

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

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