I lived in Kentucky in the early aughts. It’s a beautiful state in many ways – the northern part is shaped by picturesque valleys overlooking the Ohio River (which is really in Kentucky), in the center is bluegrass country dotted with stately horse farms and quaint distilleries, and to the very south, lovely mountains and hollows in the foothills of the Appalachians. The rest of the state mostly sucks.
The Boy Governor ran the state when I was there. They called him the Boy Governor not because he had boyish good looks (he didn’t), sophomoric naiveté (he was just plain dumb), or some sort of playful personality (which doesn’t exist in bible thumping Republican (though he did try a humorless comedy bit on the Jay Leno’s Tonight Show)). No he was called the Boy Governor because he knew as much about running a state as an eleven year old boy. And he proved it week after week. His given name was Ernie Fletcher and he was both Baptist minister and medical doctor. Word was, he wasn’t a bad doctor and could deliver a nifty fire and brimstone sermon at a drop of a hat. The good people of Kentucky put him into office because they figured these traits would be a dandy background for a Governor. They found out they were wrong.
The Boy Governor before he was indicted.
What the Boy Governor accomplished in four years of office was ‘not much’. He couldn’t get a budget passed so he ruled by decree for two years. That got him into judicial hot water but like most things that go to court, it got tied up so long that legislature finally figured out they ought to pass some type of spending bill and by the time they did, everyone was too tired for any retributive shanigans . The Boy also said he had no idea that hiring state employees followed some type of process. He thought, you give me something – money, cars, vacations – and I give you a job. Most of his underlings thought that’s how the law worked too. After three years, the whole lot of them got indicted on a riffraff of charges around bribery, conspiracy and perjury. The governor pardoned them all and actually got away with it. Although he was indicted too, he thought pardoning himself might return vigilante hangings back to the state justice system so he made a plea bargain with the Attorney General wherein he regretted doing all sorts of illegal hiring practices but didn’t admit to actually doing them in exchange for a Get Out Of Jail card. Even this was too much for voters. After four years of mayhem,he was trumped out of office.
That was when I left the good state. But I always had a soft spot for buttered corn grits and cheap whisky so kept an interested on what the state was up to. A guy named Steve Beshear thrashed the Boy Governor in the 2007 election. Beshear was a Democrat and Democrats generally fare poorly in Kentucky elections but the Boy Governor had so pissed people off that Beshear got in on a cakewalk. That didn’t stop the Republican dominated senate and house from trying to box him in whenever possible but he did what he could without them. One of the things he did was expand Medicaid coverage to almost 600,000 Kentuckians as soon as the ACA was passed. The Republicans called it a foul deed, but the voters thought different and re-elected him to another term.
Matt Bevin auditioning to sell Chevys in Louisville.
Then came Matt Bevin. That’s when I decided to write Kentucky off. If people were so stupid to elect a man who thought the Tea Party was a little too lefty to be trusted, they have no one to blame but themselves as their homes go up in flames. It’s been only two years but so far he cut state to education by 10%, eliminated grade school/high school academic standards, began disbanding the states ACA support, and implemented two of the worst anti-abortion regulations in the country. He was taken to courts on most of these, but the Kentucky Supreme Court seems to have thrown their ethics into the same morass that Republicans in Congress have and let Bevin make Kentucky Great Again as he saw fit.
As great as it has ever been.
I said at the beginning of this that Kentucky is a beautiful state in many ways. But it has a dark side to it as well. Take away the mountains, horses, the bourbon trail and you are left with a state whose people are devastated.
Just when you were wondering if there was any organization that kept track of all the statistics produced by other organizations, one that does pops up on the internet. The name of its site is Wallethub. Right. The name doesn’t make any sense to me either but they post the largest collection of statistics I have encountered. So I thought – here’s a state with a history of electing morons to office – Fletcher and Bevin to be sure, but don’t forget its Senators. Somehow, Kentuckians elected a guy Hermann Goring could have mentored (McConnell) and another too wacko for even Ted Cruz (Rand). The state is full of Kim Davis’s – you don’t hear about them because then generally stay under their rocks, but they must have a debilitating effect on Kentucky. And they do – you just have to look.
So here’s some stuff that helps explain things – it is all 2018 data (except number 10) that covers all fifty states:
- Highest number of adults in poor health: #2
- Poorest state by income: #4
- Highest percentage of people living at the poverty level: #4
- Least educated adult population: #5
- Least opportunity for new jobs: #2
- Highest number of adult smokers: #2
- Highest expenditure on guns and ammo: #6
- Lowest investment in innovation: #6
- Highest Healthcare Uninsured rate 2010: #4
Highest Healthcare Uninsured rate 2016: #42
These are a pretty dismal set demographics aren’t they. They paint a picture of poor, sick, ignorant people who have little hope of improving things with better jobs, training or education. I doubt if anyone who lives in Kentucky likes that picture.
So what do you do? There is no simple answer. You’d think in a state that invests so little in education, health and jobs, would a low tax rate. Not true – 22 states have lower tax rates that Kentucky and all but three (Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi) spend more on things like schools and Medicaid that Kentucky. The money is there but where does it go?
And that’s the question the people who live in Kentucky should be asking anyone running for Governor or the Senate or Congress at election time. You get the sense that the current people in office think Kentuckians are too dumb to ask a simple question like that. I hope they keep thinking that. For the most part, the people of Kentucky are a pretty smart bunch of people and when they catch on, there will be some house cleaning to be done.