2017-07-12 / Opinions

Remembering our governors, past and present

Every Kentuckian who has paid attention to politics has his or her own first memory of a governor.

For those of a certain age, that memory might be Happy Chandler proudly singing My Old Kentucky Home, or taking his place as Baseball Commissioner and integrating the sport.

It might be Bert Combs brushing off criticism that the Mountain Parkway started nowhere and ended nowhere, and pushing for modern highway to his beloved eastern Kentucky come hell or high water. After leaving office, he served on the U.S. Court of Appeals. He had prosecuted Japanese war criminals after World War II, and he never lost his love for the law.

Maybe that first memory is of the smiling and affable Wendell Ford, the first person in state history to serve as a Kentucky State Senator, lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. Senator. Ford signed the coal severance tax into law. And when the courts ordered Kentucky to revamp state voting laws, he called a special legislative session and tacked on provisions to create a state Department of Environmental Protection, to redraw House district lines to conform to the law and the Census, and to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Ford was 4-0, winning all of the changes he sought.

Perhaps it is of John Y. Brown Jr., millionaire business whiz who turned a Corbin-based gas station eatery into a worldwide chain, and turned Colonel Sanders into a household name. With his Miss America wife Phyllis George, Brown was accused of being little more than a celebrity when he was elected in 1978, but he made good on his promises of diversity by appointing a woman and an African- American man to his cabinet, and the first African-American woman to head a state board of public health nursing. Under his watch, the historic governor’s mansion was saved from the wrecking ball, and he instated competitive bidding for government contracts.

For others, their first memory of a governor might be Martha Layne Collins, the first, and so far only, woman governor of Kentucky. Collins, who served as the last Clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and the first Clerk of the Kentucky Supreme Court, served as acting governor for 500 days during her four years as lieutenant governor to John Y. Brown, and gained valuable experience. She used that knowledge to improve Kentucky’s educational system by making kindergarten mandatory, and to entice Toyota Manufacturing to build an $800 million automobile factory at Georgetown. The company is now the third largest employer in Kentucky.

Wallace Wilkinson, famous for his prickly demeanor with the press, nonetheless pushed a massive education reform bill, KERA, through the state legislature in 1990, equalizing the amount of money given to schools throughout the state and bringing Kentucky from 48th out of 50 states in education, to 33rd by 2009, according to a study by the University of Kentucky Center for Business and Economic Research.

These governors elevated Kentucky. Their actions brought positive, national attention to the state, and improved the lives of its citizens. They were political giants.

The first governor experienced by young Kentuckians today is Gov. Matt Bevin, who has spent much of the first two years of his administration settling political scores, fighting with the press, and championing a bill that will potentially redirect millions of dollars in tax money from public schools to privately owned “charter schools.”

Bevin does have some notable accomplishments, including the veto of a bill that would have let local school boards and governments continue to avoid putting financial statements in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, Bevin’s current crusade is to destroy Kynect, the Kentucky insurance exchange created by his predecessor, Gov. Steve Beshear, under which 400,000 Kentuckians gained health insurance, many in eastern Kentucky counties where doctors at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation have described patient health as “a disaster area.” Made possible by the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, Kynect was arguably the most successful state insurance exchange in the nation, and Beshear’s leadership made it possible.

But Bevin has made clear that he doesn’t want what might be best for Kentucky if it was started by his archenemy Steve Beshear or President Barack Obama.

He filed a request with the federal government for a waiver that would allow the state to stop the Medicaid expansion and kick an estimated 86,000 Kentuckians out of the program. Two weeks ago, Bevin loudly supported a U.S. Senate bill written in secret by Sen. Mitch McConnell to repeal the ACA and replace it with a law that would cost 23 million Americans their health insurance. Bevin said those who wouldn’t vote for McConnell’s bill are “spineless,” and “should be ashamed.”

Last week, Bevin altered his waiver proposal, adding another 9,000 to the number he wants to kick off Medicaid in Kentucky, increasing the number of Kentuckians to lose their insurance to 95,000, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

If anyone should be ashamed of their stance on Medicaid, it’s not the senators who refused to vote for the atrocious bill written by Mr. McConnell.

The shame should fall on Sen. McConnell and on Gov. Bevin.

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