When Gov.-elect Steve Beshear asked me to join his cabinet as secretary of finance and administration, he delivered one pointed message: Take whatever measures necessary to run government in an ethical, honest and transparent manner — Kentuckians were sick to death of gubernatorial scandal.
I had expected nothing less, having known Beshear for decades. Whether you agree with his politics or not, the man is incorruptible.
Despite all of the scrutiny the 24/7 media places on our elected officials, the Beshear administration hasn't suffered even a whiff of scandal or ethical impropriety. Helping restore public faith in state government after a rocky period of corruption will be one of Beshear's greatest legacies.
That's why I was especially disturbed by the Herald-Leader editorial, "Son's fundraising mars Beshear legacy."
In it, the editorial board alleges that record fund-raising by attorney general candidate Andy Beshear opens his and his father's integrity to question.
This is a very grave, very personal accusation. The proof? Well, it seems that a lot of people who supported the governor, some of whom have received government jobs or contracts, gave Andy Beshear money.
Count me as one. I contributed $1,000 shortly after he announced. Like the vast majority of Andy's contributors, I donated because I think he will make an outstanding attorney general.
The fact of his paternity only mattered because I know he inherited his dad's (and mom's) sense of good judgment, intelligence, public service and, yes, integrity.
Let's take the editorial's thesis to its logical conclusion.
If indeed you believe that giving someone money automatically buys their influence — or raises some inevitable appearance of the same — then flip through the paper's sports section: You'll see paid advertisements for a gun and knife show, a strip club and a cure for erectile dysfunction.
Should we now fear that the editorial page will devolve into misogynistic, Uzi-waving nymphomania?
Of course not.
Ethical organizations like the Herald-Leader and ethical leaders like the Beshears understand how to draw principled lines that promote integrity and deny conflicts of interest.
An honorable newspaper does not allow advertisers to influence its coverage. And an honorable public servant does not allow contributors to influence policy.
There are bad apples in both fields. Enterprising investigative reporters who identify true political corruption are societal heroes. But merely alleging something is "questionable" because of imagined, unproven conspiracies only serves to foster the kind of deep skepticism and apathy that is destroying public faith in our political system.
And here's the most important point: "No one has accused either Beshear of breaking campaign finance laws. They're playing by the rules of the game. It's the rules of the game that are the problem and need to change."
That quote is from the very same editorial that questioned the Beshears' integrity.
I strongly agree that our campaign-finance system needs dramatic reform, and I applaud the paper for its continued advocacy for public financing.
But until change is made, the only way to get elected these days — and in the long run, help make the world a better place — is to raise an obscene amount of money.
When candidates like Andy Beshear endure this ugly process while strictly following the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws, they do not deserve the same disapprobation that should be reserved for lawbreakers and the system itself.
In his brilliant new book on the Gary Hart scandal, All the Truth is Out, New York Times reporter Matt Bai writes that "If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would be: 'We know you're a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.'"
You may have been conditioned by this new media paradigm to believe that every elected official is corrupt, and therefore choose to dismiss the thoughts of this recovering politician. But I urge you to consider how editorials like these are breeding the very kind of cynicism that is undermining our politics and driving good people from the process.
Fortunately for Kentucky, Andy Beshear is willing to endure the scrutiny to help lift our commonwealth to greater heights.