Sometimes, the best thing to do when observing the antics of politicians is to pay attention to what some of the politically savvy “pros” have to offer. While the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal are in the process of going ballistic with regard to the “Merit Job” matter obsessing the Frankfort-beltway gang these days, the commentators on KET’s Comment on Kentucky, hosted by longtime pol-watcher and former newspaper editor Al Smith, during the programs of both May 20 and 27 essentially laughed the whole matter to scorn, simply reminding everyone that “that’s the way it’s always been done” in Frankfort.
In the latter program, Frankfort editor Carl West, who’s been around for a long time, joined Smith in ticking off some of the sleazy things, especially including patronage shenanigans, that have happened in various administrations down through the years while each party has been in power, though it was mostly the democrat gang that got the “treatment” because Fletcher is the first republican governor since the 60s. WHAS TV’s Mark Hebert got in on the fun, too, as did astute observer Lowell Reese, editor of the Frankfort-based Kentucky Gazette. Smith ended the program with an anecdote describing how one of the masters of patronage of yesteryear, Emerson “Doc” Beauchamp, operated, the kicker of which was that when it was decided to do something with Doc’s papers, there were no papers…only the telephone was needed to confirm a request made and approved.
A good example of the innocuous nature of the whole brouhaha is seen in a situation in Lincoln County, as reported by the Associated Press. Apparently, Ronnie “Buckwheat” Gilbert, a railroader turned county judge-executive many years ago, has been stumping for democrat James Caudill, a state truck-driver and back-hoe operator for eight-and-a-half years, to get an assistant foreman’s job in the county road system. The job, however, went to Tony Todd, a republican who has nine-years experience on the county-run road crew. Actually, it’s hard to believe that in Lincoln County there could be such a thing as a republican in the county road system, in the first place. Gilbert was quoted as saying, “I think they discriminated against my man. They took a man off the street because he was a republican.” Imagine the gall in such a statement. What street? The guy has loads of experience on the county roads, which is what the job is all about. It was not like Todd, with nine years experience in the county, was a new hire.
Hearkening back to actually serious, criminal activity, such as the so-called “Boptrot Affair” in the early 90s in Kentucky when a passel of lawmakers and bureaucrats were besieged by federal prosecutors and sent to the Big House by the judge for acts of corruption involving stark dishonesty, or the Washington “Watergate Scandals” of the 70s, such terms as hypocrisy-gate and Jobtrot have been the slanderous terms of choice. Op-ed writers have had a field day, probably never realizing that, along with the pros, most Kentuckians simply shrug, give each other a wink and knowing-looks, grin a bit, and wonder how the op-ed gang could possibly be so out of touch. Perhaps they’re not actually out of touch. They simply haven’t quite gotten used to the fact that their man lost the governorship, and thus wrecked their respective agendas.
To see how politics can be the “damnedest” in Kentucky, one has only to look at the senator in the Kentucky Legislature from the Frankfort area, Julian Carroll. Carroll was governor of the state in the late 70s, having stepped up from his lieutenant governor’s post when then-Governor Wendell Ford went to Washington to fill out a Senate term, and then both were elected to terms of their own. During Carroll’s term, the state Democrat Party chairman, also a onetime legislator, was involved in an insurance mess involving workmen’s compensation payments that landed him a prison term of three years. One also remembers the “warehouse deal” in that administration, as well as the fact that Carroll was the object of a federal grand jury investigation while in office. However, Carroll defeated the governor’s brother for the state Senate seat in 2004, never mind the peccadilloes of his administration, both those known and unknown. This is par for the course in Kentucky.
So, the current raging is over mostly nothing. Doug Doerting, a 30-year employee in the Transportation Cabinet and current assistant director of personnel in the Transportation Department and probably mis-categorized as a “whistleblower,” has supposedly “brought down the house on the Fletcher administration.” Poppycock! As the governor has said, there may have been some irregularities, but the democrats have breezed through irregularities for decades only occasionally relieved by a republican takeover of the governor’s seat (but certainly nothing else except the state Senate for the last few years). What was Doerting’s vested interest? Whereas republicans are now appropriating many jobs held by democrats, the democrats, faction-wise, have been doing that to each other since time immemorial. In politics, as in war, to the victor belong the spoils, and, while this may not seem right, it carries the day.
Governor Fletcher marked it all down to politics in his press conference on the 27th, at least inferring that Attorney General Greg Stumbo may be using this non-crisis as a steppingstone to the governor’s seat in 2007. As reported in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Stumbo has said he is not interested in that race at this time (italics mine). This is another way of saying he will be interested, perhaps as early as tomorrow. And so it goes…in Kentucky politics!