Steve Stewart

Steve Stewart

My recent postmortem on Kentucky Democrats’ disastrous 2020 election cycle prompted a few readers to suggest a critique of state Republicans.

Glad you asked.

The GOP’s iron grip on the General Assembly, and excellent prospects of reclaiming the Governor’s Mansion in 2023, infers that Kentucky Republicans should change nothing. If your success is defined purely by election returns, perhaps. I see it differently.

Such thorough control of state government, with no sign of it waning in the decades ahead, affords Kentucky GOP leaders some political margin for error to do something sadly rare in the body politic: the responsible thing.

Winston Groom, the late great Southern novelist who gave us one of the most enduring literary and cinematic characters of our time, said of Forrest Gump, “As I see it, it’s a story about human dignity, and the fact that you don’t have to be smart or rich to maintain your dignity, even when some pretty undignified things are happening all around you.”

Dignity has left our society, especially its politics, in the last four years. Kentucky ushered in the age of incivility with the election of Gov. Matt Bevin, a cheap, slightly more polished knockoff of the president to follow. The state’s GOP leadership chose political expediency, enabling Bevin as cherished norms flew out the window, perhaps never to return.

With dignity gone, American democracy has become a professional wrestling match, with “promoters” who know better feeding on the ignorance of “fans” who believe professional wrestling is real. The mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday should have surprised no one. Kentucky's legislative leadership largely looked the other way when elements of the same thuggery marched to the front door of the Governor's Mansion last spring. 

With so much political cushion, could Kentucky’s Republican leaders be role models in bringing dignity back to their party, to the noble, but now threatened, cause of conservativism and to our collective politics?

There are a few encouraging signs. Not a single member of Kentucky’s congressional delegation signed on to the ridiculous lawsuit by Texas’ attorney general challenging other states’ election results. Neither did Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a young populist who seemed likely to join other red-state AGs in filing the suit.

In the hours following the assault on the U.S. Capitol, just Kentucky lawmaker, Hal Rogers, joined in objecting to the Electoral College results that certify, and best symbolize, a peaceful transfer of power in our democratic republic.

To a person, state constitutional officers and congressmen condemned this week's D.C. violence, and a few correctly called out the president responsible for it. Their enduring failure is not doing it sooner.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is steve.stewart@state-journal.com.

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