Crane hunt, religious them park, coal fight hurt image

In Kentucky, we depend upon the good will of strangers.

We get at least $1.50 back from the federal government for every dollar we pay in. We import people with money to buy our horses and bet on our races. We ask companies from across the nation and world to invest here. We tout our natural beauty to out-of-state tourists and we try to convince the best and the brightest to pursue their destinies here.

That's all OK, as far as I'm concerned.

Our chances are better as part of a larger economy than if we walled off the commonwealth and tried to make a go of it on our own.

As the child of a mixed marriage (my dad was a New Yorker but we all grew up in my mom's home state of Arkansas) I agree with Thoroughbred breeders that outcrosses produce strength.

Every state and institution needs a regular infusion of new blood so I'm all in favor of attracting new people to Kentucky. What's not OK is that we don't have the courage to look honestly at the message we're sending with our actions.

Yet, we still expect people and investment to flow like manna into our state.

This is why I find it so profoundly discouraging that Kentucky has recently decided not only to give tax money to support a theme park proposed by people who depict well-groomed, all-American children playing with baby dinosaurs but also to allow hunting of an elegant, beautiful crane that visits our state.

Meanwhile our purported leaders continue to act like the world will come to an end if anyone breathes a discouraging word about coal.

I know it's easy and often politically expedient to get caught up in our own little world, but if we want to benefit from the bigger playing field we will have to pay more attention to how some of these issues play outside our borders.

Not everyone thinks the way we do.

Consider this from the May issue of the Harvard Business Review: "After a deeper investigation into climate change, it became clear to me that the science was sound: Burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming."

Who's the writer? A wild-eyed environmentalist, enemy of coal? Nope, it's James W. Rogers, chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy, which burns a whole lot of coal.

Rogers, who has had quite a bit of success in his field, explained in the article how he learned from environmental activists, why he wants the federal government to enact strong laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and why that would be good for his business.

Contrast this to our Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell thundering that the EPA has "declared war on Kentucky's coal industry," or our Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's challenge to "Washington bureaucrats" to "get off our backs."

Maybe when Ark Encounter opens in Northern Kentucky with the benefit of state tax support, Noah will engage in that same kind of virile chest-thumping. "Yo, get those animals loaded now, I don't care what the regs say about crowding livestock."

Perhaps there's an ad in this for Kentucky tourism, or something that could be cobbled together to attract industry.

Maybe McConnell and Beshear could join a Noah impersonator to take a shot at bagging a trophy crane in the western part of the state before they troll over to Eastern Kentucky to tout the health advantages of arsenic in streams.

It would be sure to make an impression. Ark Encounter has already made an impression even though it won't open for a few years. Go to an Internet search engine and type in the words "Kentucky" and "ark,' and you will get responses like this headline from USA Today: "Kentucky taxpayers will help float Noah's Ark."

Or this lead from a New York Times story: "Facing a rising tide of joblessness, the governor of Kentucky has found one solution: build an ark."

While the national media didn't latch on to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission vote to make Kentucky the first state east of the Mississippi to allow hunting of sandhill cranes, the move did get quite a bit of critical comment on Web sites and blogs devoted to both bird watching and conservation in general.

So, who cares about bird watchers? Well, we should. A 2001 study on birding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that a little over one in five U.S. residents over 16, or 46 million people, were active bird watchers. It also found that, "the higher the income and education level the more likely a person is to be a birder."

The study figured their bird watching accounted for $32 billion in annual retail sales. The same federal agency keeps track of hunters. The most recent survey, in 2006, found that 12.5 million people hunted, spending $22.9 billion. It doesn't take an MBA to figure that one out.

My point here isn't to bash hunters or coal or even Genesis. But I know that subsidizing religious theme parks, hunting a beautiful bird that was recently an endangered species and fighting all comers over coal will never lead us to prosperity, or earn us the goodwill of many strangers.