The Kentucky Post
The charade in Frankfort over the General Assembly's alleged special session has been marvelously entertaining. Patrons of the political arts have been treated to expositions on the intent of the founders who established the constitutional provision for special sessions. A scathing exchange of letters between Gov. Ernie Fletcher and House Speaker Jody Richards. Theatrical performances by state senators voting for bills that their House counterparts say they won't even consider.
But the price for this spectacle is high " far higher than the $60,000 a day the special session is said to cost.
At the literal level, what has transpired as of this writing is essentially this: Fletcher called the General Assembly into "extraordinary session" last Thursday to consider 67 named items, most of which involved incentives for energy plants and construction projects at universities and other locations across the commonwealth. The Senate held hearings on the bills and spent most of Monday passing them. The House, however, adjourned shortly after convening last Thursday. And, following a rather testy conference call Monday with Fletcher, Richards said the House won't take up any of the bills passed by the Senate.
What Kentuckians are really witnessing is political chess. The House is controlled by Democrats, the Senate by Republicans, and Fletcher is running for re-election this year. The Democrats are not about to let Fletcher parade around the state taking credit for cutting edge energy initiatives or securing funding for campus and community construction projects " particularly since Fletcher vetoed the construction projects during the regular session earlier this year and refused to lift a finger when an energy incentive bill which had cleared the House was dying in the Senate.
Fletcher apparently figures he'll win either way. If the special session does produce useful legislation, he can claim credit. If it doesn't, he can say he tried but was thwarted by Democratic obstructionists.
Kentucky deserves better than this crass gamesmanship.
The harm goes beyond forcing Northern Kentucky University to wait an entire year to launch the conversion of a nursing home into a much-needed dormitory, or delaying a real estate transaction sought by Gateway Community and Technical College. The larger damage is to the credibility of state government in Kentucky. And that's where the cost comes in.
Why on earth, other factors being nearly equal, would a big energy company want to invest in a state that can't even agree on its legislative agenda, much less form a constructive consensus on key issues? Who in their right mind would want to do business in a political snake pit like Frankfort? Sure, Ohio and most other states have their political foibles. But Kentucky is on the verge of becoming a laughing stock. The 2007 special session, after all, isn't the only bad joke lately. The commonwealth has endured a prolonged patronage scandal involving Fletcher, a messy personal scandal involving his predecessor, vote-buying prosecutions that reinforced some tired national perceptions about politics in the Kentucky hills, and repeated instances of a legislature unable even to approve an operating budget.
We trust that Fletcher, Richards, Senate President David Williams and the other players are pleased with their performances over the past few days. And who knows, maybe their motives were pure. Just make sure to stay tuned for the next show, when they try to clean up the mess they've made.