Former University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino once complained about Wildcat fans who were “consumed by (the University of) Louisville,” meaning a loss to their rivals in November leaves a permanent asterisk next to an entirely otherwise successful 30-win season culminating in a championship in March.
It’s not that the UK-U of L matchup doesn’t count, but so do the other 29 wins.
Conservatives should transfer that perspective from the basketball hardwood to the political arena when assessing what happened on election night in the races for Kentucky’s six statewide constitutional offices.
Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin’s loss – barring resurrection-by-recount – to Democrat Andy Beshear matters, but should be tempered with the realization that this is no big sweep for the political left.
It was, in fact, the equivalent of a hugely successful season for center-right candidates who ran largely as happy conservative warriors and won big – and often – on championship night.
Daniel Cameron beat former Attorney General Greg Stumbo by 16 points to become the first conservative to hold the commonwealth’s chief law enforcement position since World War Two.
Incumbents Allison Ball, Mike Harmon and Ryan Quarles all won reelection to the offices of state treasurer, auditor and agriculture commissioner, respectively, with large majorities.
Plus, on a night when the newest version of the UK basketball gods brought down top-ranked Michigan State, election-law attorney Michael Adams was beating former Miss America Heather French Henry to become Kentucky’s next secretary of state.
These important GOP victories mean Gov.-elect Beshear will not have the same partisan advantages enjoyed by his father.
Old-line Democrats like Stumbo and Bowling Green’s Jody Richards – both of whom served tenures as House Speaker and spent a combined 72 years in the legislature – are no longer around to play backup for a left-leaning governor.
Beshear also might soon be stepping on constitutionally ensconced separation of powers.
He spoke during the campaign of replacing state Board of Education members “on day one” who would then be expected to “select a new commissioner on day two.”
This may just seem like political mumbo jumbo designed to pander to teachers’ unions, which adamantly oppose the school choice and accountability measures endorsed by the current board and its commissioner, Wayne Lewis, Ph.D..
After all, I thought, these board members are appointed for four-year terms and no one can come in and force his ideological views on an established board.
But could Beshear skirt the rules with executive orders to undo Bevin’s policies and reconfigure the state education board?
Beshear wants to push out Lewis, the first black education commissioner in Kentucky’s history, primarily because the governor-elect’s union-masters’ ideology clashes with the commissioner’s support for giving parents more school choice options.
The possibility of (mis)using executive-order power to expand gambling and legalize – and tax – medical marijuana seems to energize Beshear much more than, say, dealing with the tough issues Lewis has taken on, including closing Kentucky’s education-achievement gaps and strengthening graduation standards so that high-school graduates don’t find out too late that their diplomas aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed.
Beshear’s default answer for these tough problems is to tritely characterize them in terms of inadequate funding.
Yet despite the fact that $10 billion of the current General Fund budget’s $23.4 billion will get spent on K-12 education alone, fewer than one in three of Kentucky’s high-school students who qualify for free-and-reduced cost lunches read proficiently.
If Beshear does get rid of the state board and Lewis, will the new governor’s playbook contain a viable plan for getting our students reading proficiently and graduating with meaningful diplomas? Doing so would mean Beshear has, indeed, found something worth releasing at least by “day two” that will be worth the paper on which it’s printed.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at email@example.com and @bipps on Twitter.