Keeling: McConnell stymied by politics; state Democrats too partisan

Rep. Robert Damron represents the 39th House District, which includes all or  parts of Jessamine and Fayette counties.
Rep. Robert Damron represents the 39th House District, which includes all or parts of Jessamine and Fayette counties. LRC Public Information

FRANKFORT — This and that as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tries to extricate himself from a lose-lose-lose situation:

Our supposed leaders in the nation's capital once again are cruising along toward a government shutdown caused by differing priorities on spending, funding Obamacare and raising the debt limit. In the past, McConnell has thrived in such crisis situations, helping broker the deals that averted catastrophe.

This time, though, being a player will be a bit more problematic for Kentucky's senior senator.

He faces an opponent in the 2014 Republican primary, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, backed by Tea Partiers who oppose compromise on any of the spending issues. And Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the presumed Democratic Senate nominee, promises to be a well-financed, formidable opponent in the 2014 general election, assuming McConnell survives the primary.

If he helps cut a compromise deal this time around, Bevin and his Tea Party backers will be all over McConnell like stink on a skunk.

If he takes a hardline position to placate the Tea Party, Grimes could use it to woo moderate voters in the fall of 2014. If he does nothing while other members of the Senate Republican caucus do the deal-making, as they did to avoid the "nuclear option" in changing the filibuster rule earlier this year, both Bevin and Grimes can attack his failure to provide leadership on crucial issues.

A Sept. 13 article posted on The Daily Beast noted the impact opposition from the left and right had on McConnell's delay in taking a stand on Syria and the likelihood he would be a non-participant in any upcoming spending discussions. The article's headline read, "Opponents in Kentucky Make Mitch McConnell Useless in the Senate."

"Useless"? Quite a zinger. And quite a stinger for someone with "Leader" in front of his name.

Unless you're an Independent who caucuses with the majority party, as Independent Sen. Bob Leeper does with Senate Republicans, the next time I expect to see a member of a minority party chairing a legislative committee will be the day I wake up 25 years old again and holding the winning ticket in the biggest lottery payout ever.

So, while I give Republican Reps. Julie Raque Adams of Frankfort and Robert Benvenuti of Lexington credit for trying, there was no way a Republican was going to chair the five-member committee House Speaker Greg Stumbo appointed to look into sexual harassment complaints against Democratic former Rep. John Arnold, who resigned in the wake of those allegations. They both had to know Adams' nomination of Benvenuti for the chairmanship was a non-starter with the three Democrats in the majority on the panel.

And frankly, the point Adams and Benvenuti were trying to make about partisanship might have been better served if they had not overreached to the point of a little chutzpah on the chairmanship issue.

By giving the appearance they were trying to take over the investigation, which was never going to happen, they diluted the impact of the other, more crucial 3-2 vote they lost in the committee's opening meeting — their motion to require a super majority of four votes on any action by the panel, which would assure any such action would have bipartisan support.

If Adams and Benvenuti overreached on the chairmanship issue, Democrats were just plain dumb on the question of a super majority. By rejecting it out of hand, they left themselves open to criticism about partisanship and cover-ups. And they would be wise at the committee's next meeting to revisit the issue of a super majority and approve it. It's the right thing to do, not to mention the politically wise thing to do..

Rep. Bob Damron's decision to run for Jessamine County judge-executive rather than re-election in 2014 puts one more Democratic House seat in serious play for Republicans. With Arnold's resignation almost assuring D's continue their free fall in Western Kentucky, the drip, drip, drip water torture continues for House Democrats.

Reach Larry Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.