LEO endorsements in the 2007 gubernatorial primaries

May 9, 2007 at 12:22 am

In the Democratic primary, Steve Beshear gets our nod.
In the Democratic primary, Steve Beshear gets our nod.
A close call, but it’s Beshear

We were saddened, but not surprised, by this week’s announcement that Jonathan Miller would bow out of the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

We’ve talked to Miller a few times, and he’s by far the most impressive and progressive thinker of the 10 candidates. We like his views on alternative fuels and the environment, particularly his pledge to significantly reform the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining. He understands and promotes education, and he recently wrote a fabulous and insightful book about the intersection of politics and religion. Had he stressed that book in his campaign ads, perhaps he’d still be in the race.

We didn’t buy the nonsense about Miller’s race being premature. John Yarmuth’s election to Congress last fall was a nice repudiation of the status quo, and in that vein, we were really excited by the thought of a Miller governorship. If now is not the time for Kentucky to break with its past ways of thinking and acting, when is that time?

But that is all old news now, and even without Miller in the race, there is talent in the remaining field of six Democrats.

As a former state attorney general and lieutenant governor under Martha Layne Collins, Steve Beshear is a seasoned veteran of Kentucky politics. Although it has been a couple decades since he was close to the process, he is bright, tenacious, articulate and, we believe, ready to lead (and, at age 62, he seems to have a great deal of energy). Beshear was impressive during our conversation, and he gave, by far, the most responsive and informed answer to our question about the importance of the arts. He gets it. We also believe that with his background, he will work constructively with the General Assembly. He receives LEO’s endorsement.

A word is in order, however, about Beshear’s running mate, state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo. Dr. Dan gave U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning a hell of a scare back in 2004, and by most accounts he is a bright and solid guy. But we are deeply troubled by his actions in 2004, when he co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to prohibit same sex marriages and civil unions, which passed by referendum in 2004. For someone who has dodged ridiculous rumors of homosexuality — Senate Majority Leader David Williams floated that “limp wristed” comment during the Bunning-Mongiardo race —  that is a gutless move and, frankly, beneath a man of his stature.

We took a hard look at businessman Bruce Lunsford. He is carrying baggage, surely, but we have yet to find people of his ilk who don’t have some. Lunsford is bright and driven, and he brings the sort of political independence that wealth affords. We were particularly struck by his assertion that Kentucky is so far behind in so many facets of life that the state needs a sort of one-time get-well program. That is, he’d allocate resources strategically to give the whole state a fighting chance to join the 21st century — things like providing Internet access to all 120 counties. That is a wonderful insight.

Lunsford stubbed his toe when it was revealed that his “Blueprint for Change” actually borrowed language and ideas wholesale. In journalism, there is no worse offense than plagiarism. The parameters may be looser in politics, but the fact that his campaign didn’t understand the importance of giving credit — or didn’t care — is troubling.

A word is also in order about Lunsford’s running mate, current attorney general Greg Stumbo. While Lunsford comes from outside the political process, Stumbo is the consummate insider. His ultimate handling of the merit hiring scandal reeks of opportunism, and his defense of mountaintop removal mining — during our interview, Lunsford deferred completely to his running mate on that issue — was stunningly disgusting.

As for the rest of the pack: We really love Gatewood Galbraith. Because of his marijuana and hemp advocacy, he’s been marginalized by media as some sort of whack job. But he is a profound and independent thinker who is sounding the alarm about how a slumbering populace puts its own life and pursuit of happiness at grave risk. He has a true vision, but we do worry he would become overwhelmed by the process of managing such a huge job. However, if you prefer to vote for someone from outside the status quo, he is a worthy candidate. Don’t let the media define him for you. Read his book.

Jody Richards is a longtime public servant who knows an awful lot about how things work in this state. The former teacher has been scandal-free during a 30-year career in state politics, and he is decent and thoughtful. He has a solid running mate in John Y. Brown III, but Richards just does not seem quite as accomplished and ready for this job as some of the other candidates.

Steve Henry is an interesting case. He has extensive experience in county and state government. He is a physician, and he is married to a former Miss America, Heather French Henry, who is committed to a number of important causes. But he has too much troubling baggage — legal and ethical lapses that just cannot be explained away. We think there are better candidates.

That leaves Otis “Bull Man” Hensley, whose interview here was bizarre and awkward. Hensley had never been to Louisville before he visited our office. He did not realize Louisville has had a long-running debate over bridges. He did not know what we were talking about when we gently referred to him as Don Quixote. Hensley seems to have some horse sense, and he is perfectly pleasant. But he is not qualified to run this state.
Steve Beshear is, and we recommend that you vote for him in the May 22 Democratic primary.

In the Republican primary, Billy Harper gets our nod.
In the Republican primary, Billy Harper gets our nod.
Hats off to Harper

In the Republican primary, Billy Harper gets our nod. While he lacks experience in government, he’s bright, passionate and committed to education. As an outsider with no apparent ties to special interests, he could be the sort of breath of fresh air this state is crying out for.

Harper is a wealthy Western Kentucky businessman who entered the race because he was and remains disgusted by the Fletcher regime. Had things gone well under Fletcher, Harper told us, he would have been content to stay close to home and serve on the school board. But they haven’t, and he hasn’t.

He began running TV commercials several months ago, and he’s still flooding the airwaves. Unfortunately, his latest commercials tout his signing of a no-new-taxes pledge. We’re not sure why he would paint himself into such a corner, and we’re guessing Harper doesn’t recall how Big George Bush’s “read my lips” grandstanding came back to haunt him in the 1992 presidential election. It doesn’t make sense to say “never” on most anything.

Another drawback to Harper, as political observer and commentator John David Dyche recently pointed out on “Comment on Kentucky,” concerns his running mate, Dick Wilson, who all but admitted he’s not really prepared to step into the governorship should the need arise. That’s troubling.

But we do like several things about Harper. For one, he has infinitely more presence in person than on TV. He is clearly intelligent and looks you in the eye; he thinks before speaking; he listens; and, most importantly, he is passionate about education and realizes it is key to really getting Kentucky out of the dire straits that plague a good portion of the state.

We seriously considered endorsing Anne Northup, primarily because of her experience in government and, well, she’s not the scandal-plagued, mildly bigoted compulsive liar that Fletcher is. But she declined our invitation for a sit-down, not just once but throughout three weeks of daily phone and e-mail prodding. Her people finally decided she could give us an interview after we had already put two issues of governor’s race coverage out there.

Remember a couple years ago when Fletcher refused to talk to The Courier-Journal over sour grapes? Well, any sitting governor — or anyone running for such an office — who refuses to meet with the media (even the hobbled Old Guard at the C-J) can count on losing the chance at our endorsement. The Fourth Estate plays an undeniable role in politics. To refuse to acknowledge that is to be combative with or disdainful of your electorate. LEO certainly cannot endorse such behavior.