Clash of a titan (and a legislator)

Apr 8, 2009 at 5:00 am

John Vincent Calipari is charged with returning the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team to glory.

Greg Stumbo’s election as Speaker of the House was supposed to do the same for Democratic representatives in the General Assembly.

I’d bet on the first long before I’d lay odds on the second. Those are two very different men.

Although neither is a stranger to scandal.

Last year Stumbo neglected to disclose in an ethics report that he owned a racehorse. Critics had a field day because the speaker had tried to pass legislation that would establish video gambling at state racetracks, the revenue from which would increase purses for horse owners. Also, several years ago, a former mistress with whom he had a son sued Stumbo for child support.

As for Calipari, rumors persist about what — if anything — the coach knew concerning recruiting violations at the University of Massachusetts that were so serious the NCAA stripped the Minutemen of their 1996 Final Four appearance. However, Calipari was never sanctioned.

Aside from public embarrassment, this is pretty much where any similarity ends.

In terms of a game plan, there’s no real label for the offensive drives Stumbo makes to move his legislative agenda forward. On the other hand, Calipari’s dribble-drive is an aggressive, highly successful maneuver that penetrates and collapses opponents. Dribble-drive is unconventional and doesn’t dish out any assists. Come to think of it, neither does Stumbo — unless there’s something in it for him.

The difference is even more obvious in how the two men conduct business. Making a move that we in the commonwealth rarely witness (thank you Bobby Petrino and Billy Gillispie), Calipari was straightforward with the University of Memphis about his interest in the UK job. Coach Cal also proved that when it comes to accepting responsibility, he doesn’t just talk a good game. Immediately following the Kentucky press conference, Calipari flew back to Tennessee to personally answer questions about his decision to leave the Tigers. He said he “owed [an explanation] to the people of Memphis.”

Wildcat fans watching the Lexington presser were particularly impressed with the coach’s comment that, “As the leader of this program my job is to serve them [players], serve my staff, serve my secretary, and really serve the commonwealth. That’s what I do.”

Serving the commonwealth is Stumbo’s charge. That’s what he’s supposed to do. Although as the General Assembly’s session wound to a close, Stumbo instead launched a political full-court press, stole the Senate’s ball and headed home — early.

Even though it has in the past under different leadership, the Stumbo-led House refused to waive the procedural rule that would allow it to take up important pieces of legislation that still needed to be passed during the final two days of the session.

Not voting on this key legislation scuttled several important initiatives: to create an Ohio River bridges revenue authority; to accept $45 million in federal stimulus money that would extend assistance to the unemployed; to adopt a budget amendment that would allocate emergency funds for public defenders; to extend tax incentives to small businesses and for the expansion of the Kentucky Speedway.

Stumbo refuses to accept any responsibility for this failure. When pressed to justify the House’s inaction, Stumbo blamed Republican Senate President David Williams, the entire Senate, members of his own party, and even yours truly.

Stumbo said tabling the time-sensitive legislation wouldn’t cause any real harm. Knowing he’d soon run out of excuses, the speaker even put up a total airball about labor agreements being the sticking point with the Speedway initiative.

The speaker’s communications team wasn’t content to sit on the bench while the boss was called for a foul, either. Stumbo spinmeisters went into overtime churning out press releases and letters to newspaper editors that bragged about the House’s session being a huge success. 

Still, Stumbo continues to run around pathetically droning on about his chamber’s accomplishments. Meanwhile, John Calipari, a coach who took two teams to the Final Four, is saying things like, “I’m a regular guy, folks. I do not walk on water.”

With apologies to William Shakespeare, methinks Greg Stumbo doth protest too much.