Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More HPV vaccination facts

My debate with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Kathy Stein on "Kentucky Tonight" over her bill to require HPV vaccinations for middle school girls seemed to go well last night. I will post the podcast from KET as soon as it is up. Meanwhile, here is an interesting article filled with facts on the issue that was posted today on the Rural Democrat blog.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Herald-Leader runs UK domestic partner benefits editorial today

The Lexington Herald-Leader ran my opinion piece on UK's domestic partner benefit plan today. The editors lopped of a little at the beginning and a little at the end--just enough to make a couple of comments in the middle of the piece a little mysterious. But other than that they pretty much left it as is.

For the complete original version of the article, see below.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

KY Humane Society ads may be no laughing matter to pets--or parents

I was quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal yesterday on a new campaign by the Kentucky Humane Society to promote its "SNIP" clinic to spay and neuter animals. The ads are causing a controversy because they use some rather tasteless language to get attention.

Some of them are simply, as one of their spokespersons said, "edgy"--and funny. In one, a dog is pictured, looking at the viewer, with the caption, "You're going to cut off my what?" The others, however, I can't mention on this family-friendly blog.

When the CJ reporter called, I simply responded that some of them were funny, but many were definitely "R" rated--and that the animals that appeared in the ads must have the same talent agent as Dakota Fanning.

Besides, most pets would not consider this a laughing matter.

Seriously, I can't imagine this will play well around the state. Is there some reason that, in encouraging people to make sure their pets don't have offspring, we have to contribute the explicitness of our public discourse that, in the end, only undermines the social stigma of casual sex that is one of the few things that really works to discourage our young people from acting like the animals portrayed in these ads?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Television debate on HPV vaccinations

State Rep. Joe Fischer and I will be debating House Judiciary Committee Chairman Kathy Stein and Tracy Goff Herman, deputy director of Kentucky Youth Advocates on the issue of mandatory HPV vaccinations for middle school girls. The debate will air on KET's "Kentucky Tonight," on Monday night at 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What is UK scared of?

I was quoted today in the Lexington Herald-Leader in a story about an e-mail survey of faculty and staff views on domestic partner benefits sent to University of Kentucky employees by The Family Trust Foundation, in which The Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky, the parent organization of The Family Foundation, is labeled "an offshoot of the national Family Foundation."

First of all, The Family Trust Foundation is not an offshoot of anything. Second, there is no such thing as a national Family Foundation. Third, all this was pointed out to the Herald before the story went to print, but they ran it anyway. I guess it's hard for the media to pass up chances to talk about some vast right-wing national conspiracy, even if it has to invent facts to establish its existence.

The University of Kentucky responded to the e-mail survey with an e-mail of their own trying to scare respondents into not answering the survey. Ironically, one of the questions on the survey was whether UK employees felt pressured or in any way intimidated about expressing their views on the issue of domestic partner benefits. So here's the University trying to intimidate their employees with dire warnings about what might happen if they respond.

The irony is profound.

Apparently there were some recipients who claimed they were duped into thinking that the survey was a University-sponsored survey. Of course the e-mail said in the very first paragraph that it was a third party survey, and even said who it was who was conducting the survey.

Now, we know we have a problem with illiteracy in this state, but at our state universities?

Several criticisms were interesting. First was that the question that asked recipients to rank domestic partner benefits as a priority in relation to other university goals, to which UK research specialist Zina Merkin responded that this set up a "false dichotomy. "

No. Sorry. Respondents were asked to prioritize several university goals, but they are also given the chance to rate several of these items on a scale of 1 through 5. You could give all the options a 5 if you wanted, including domestic partner benefits.

Then there was the charge that the survey was a "push poll" (a survey that prompts you to answer a question in a predetermined way by the phrasing of the question or by placing it next to another question that would prompt you to answer in one particular way). This is interesting because the University itself did a survey of their own on this issue which it has yet to release to the public.

We wonder if there are any leading questions on that survey?

"It's meant to manipulate people's thinking and put ideas in their head [sic]," charged Merkin. Has she read the two reports on domestic partner benefits from UK's Work-Life committee? Can she seriously say these are not meant to do the same thing on the other side of the issue?

I wonder where Merkin stands on the domestic partner benefit issue, and how it affects her comments to newspapers about groups that disagree with the policy? Surely, being a "research specialist," she is completely impartial.


What is surprising is the almost fanatical reaction the survey has caused. It's just a little ten question poll for crying out loud. Why are so many people upset that someone is asking questions of UK staff?

Does the administration think it is the only entity entitled to talk to their employees? And aren't these the same people who are always talking about academic freedom?

A reporter from the Kentucky Kernel called me today and asked if we felt we had overstepped out bounds by communicating with staff given the fact that we were not an official part of the University. I asked her whether the Kernel was an official part of the University (they aren't) and whether she felt, as a Kernel reporter, she had the right to talk to faculty and staff (she does).

Oops. Wrong question.

Is the administration upset because its staff received what some have charged (incorrectly) is spam? If the e-mail was spam, then how did it make it through what you would presume to be pretty good University spam filter? Surely UK, the home of the best and brightest, an aspiring top 20 school, has the ability to stop what it thinks is spam?

Or maybe the University is just scared of what we might find.

The bad news for Fletcher is good

At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, I'm going to say the same thing about Sen. Jim Bunning's endorsement of gubernatorial candidate Rep. Anne Northup as I said about Northup's candidacy per se: namely, it's not bad, it's good for the Fletcher campaign--if it is handled right by Fletcher.

How often does a sitting governor get to run against the establishment?

Gov. Fletcher now has the opportunity to run against his own party's establishment (Northup, Bunning, McConnell) at a time when there is an anti-establishment sentiment among the electorate.

Should someone in the Fletcher campaign try to get Hal Rogers and the rest of Kentucky's congressional delegation to endorse Northup?

It's a thought.

If Northup's line-up includes only Washington big shots and Fletcher continues lining up state legislators and county judge-executives, Fletcher can portray his race as grass roots Kentucky vs. the Washington big shots (and the former Washington big shots, a.k.a. Northup)

Finally, Ernie Fletcher is getting good breaks. Ironically, they're coming in the form of bad news.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

UK's comedy routine

In a recent editorial, the Lexington Herald-Leader defends the University of Kentucky against our criticisms about their proposed domestic partner benefit plan. Here is the response I submitted today:

In a recent editorial, the Herald-Leader said that we had “risen up in righteous anger” at UK’s proposed plan to provide taxpayer-subsidized benefits to live-in sexual partners of its staff. We don’t know what made the Herald think we were angry. The sound coming from our offices down the street was much more likely to have been laughter and guffaws caused by the increasingly ridiculous arguments made by supporters of UK’s proposed domestic partner benefit policy.

And we are having an even harder time trying to keep a straight face after reading the Herald-Leader’s recent editorial in which it continues to insist that there is some kind of relationship between instituting a domestic partner benefits plan and becoming a top 20 research school.

This is an argument that belongs at Comedy Off Broadway, not at a newspaper run by grown ups.

While UK continues to fall behind in areas that do matter to rankings agencies, like class size and quality of teaching, it insists on focusing on things that don’t matter, like domestic partner benefits.

UK hasn’t even cracked the top 100 yet, let alone the top 20. It didn’t make The Consus Group’s list at all. In U. S. News and World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges, 2007” report UK came in an unimpressive 112th.

It didn’t even have the consolation of making the list of top party schools. At least then it would have had an excuse.

All this is not to say that UK is not top 20 in something. As a matter of fact, in The Princeton Review rankings, UK made the list of schools where “Professors Make Themselves Scarce”, where it ranks 20th, and the list of schools at which “Teaching Assistants Teach Too Many Upper Level Courses.”

Where does it rank in this latter category? 4th in the nation. Congratulations.

So what is UK doing about this? Is it trying to reduce class sizes and track down these missing professors? No. Instead it recently increased the maximum size of its classes.

And the missing professors? Maybe someone needs to let the bloodhounds out of their cages, but more likely, these are dedicated professionals who just can’t get in the door of their increasingly overcrowded classrooms.

According to the University, one of the reasons for instituting a domestic partner benefit plan is to send “a strong message about institutional priorities.”

No kidding.

Any school that seriously thinks it can attain top 20 status by instituting a domestic partner benefits plan while ignoring its fundamental problems deserves to be booed off the stage.

Then there is the matter of how much it’s going to cost for the University to share the taxpayers’ love with the unmarried partners of its staff, and here is where you want to start reaching for the rotten vegetables.

Let’s roll back the tape to October 19, 2006: “It doesn't cost taxpayers anything,” opined the Herald’s editorial seers, “to allow workers to pay extra to insure those with whom they share their lives.” The plan, we were assured, wasn’t going to cost anything.

And what is the Herald saying now—now that the University has itself admitted that it is planning to subsidize these lucky individuals to the tune of $633,000 a year? “It would be quite a bargain,” says the now fully informed Herald, “for the university to gain full access to that part of the talent pool by spending only 1 percent of its health care budget.”

Before it was free, and now it’s a “bargain.” Can you spell B-A-C-K-P-E-D-A-L-I-N-G?

We have this feeling (call it a hunch), that the taxpayers who fund the University and the parents who pay their children’s tuitions can think of better ways to spend their $633,000 a year than underwriting the sexual lifestyles of unmarried university employees.

And speaking of tuition, have we mentioned that UK wants to raise it again?

The University also intends to visit state lawmakers next month to ask them to fund projects vetoed last year. When it does, legislators need to ask some hard questions about UK’s “institutional priorities.”

We hear they can be a tough audience.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why Northup's candidacy is good for Fletcher

Much of the speculation over the Republican nomination for governor in Kentucky has centered on the threat Anne Northup poses to Gov. Ernie Fletcher's reelection. But Northup's candidacy is not a threat to the Fletcher administration; it's an opportunity.

Ryan Alessi's article today, titled, "Fletcher Moves to Stop Mutiny," has a slightly negative slant on Fletcher, portraying the Fletcher campaign in a defensive posture. Some national political wags are even saying the race is Northup's to lose.

This is a mistaken assessment. Here's why:

First, Northup is overrated. Although she's a competent campaigner, smart and determined, and she is from Jefferson County, the most populous county in the state, she apparently has little campaign apparatus outside the county. Larry Forgy is right: more people know Anne Northup "in Floyd County, Indiana than in Floyd County, Kentucky." In addition, some analysts are forgetting she lost there.

Her chances to build an organization were dealt a blow recently when Republican legislators began lining up for Fletcher in numbers that must have surprised even Fletcher supporters. This certainly must have surprised Northup's campaign, which was probably expecting just the opposite.

It was Northup's Bay of Pigs.

Most of these commitments came from the Senate, but there would have been more from the House had not Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown), Northup's running mate, been Minority Floor Leader there. Hoover's leadership position in the House will help the campaign's success outside Louisville, but most of that help will be in the fact that some support for Fletcher will be neutralized rather than that Hoover will get the necessary support from members. But the election of Stan Lee (R-Lexington) to minority whip has to be seen not only as an indication of dissatisfaction with Hoover's get-along-with-the-Democrats approach that has characterized his tenure, but proof that there is a willingness among members to openly buck his leadership. This can't bode well for Northup.

Second, Fletcher is underrated. He is the sitting governor after all. The power of his position was on display in the recent commitments the governor received from lawmakers and county judge-executives. In addition, Fletcher's chief activity over the last few months has been announcing projects county to county. Local officials don't forget such things.

So if it is true that Fletcher's chances are better against Northup than the analyst's think, what is it that makes Northup's candidacy good for the governor's prospects?

First, attention. One of the problems Fletcher has had during his administration is the poor communication of his accomplishments. The Fletcher administration would probably say that this is due to an anti-Fletcher media, and this is probably at least partly true. The governor has not exactly gotten good breaks while in office either. But the Fletcher administration seems to keep its spokesmen on a short leash, and this hasn't helped.

The Fletcher administration needs a Tony Snow--bad.

The fact that Fletcher now is in a position of having to get out and campaign early is placing some much needed pressure on getting its message out. The Governor's chief of staff, Stan Cave is the best spokesperson the administration has, but his adminstrative duties obviously place limits on what he has been able to do. The Northup candidacy has forced the administration into a position in which it must deploy Cave. Cave is not known to suffer fools glady, particularly those he feels inhabit the media. But Cave is everything Fletcher is not. Fletcher is not a fighter (despite his military background). Cave is. The sooner he is out with Larry Forgy battling for the administration, the better off it will be.

The only time Fletcher has made the news over the past year is in regard to the hiring investigation. Northup's challenge to Fletcher will force the administration into changing that sooner than it otherwise would have.

The second reason the Northup candidacy helps is that it could provide the Fletcher administration with a victory it needs to shore up the public image of a less than competent administration that has developed over the past couple of years.

Fletcher does not wield power very well. He doesn't understand the mystique of the governor's office. He comes out of his hospital room after an illness last year in his hospital pajamas. No governor who understands the importance of a public persona would address the cameras in his pajamas. No one should have seen Fletcher during that time.

While he is seen when he shouldn't be, he often isn't seen when he should be.

When the Comair flight crashed at Bluegrass field last summer, the governor should have been on the spot giving a speech the next day putting the tragedy in perspective, much as Reagan did after the first shuttle crash--even if he had to fly back from Europe to do it. Instead, little was seen of him.

These tendencies have caused a crisis of confidence among many people in Fletcher's leadership. But this perception could be changed if he is able to beat a viable opponent in the primary. Victories inspire confidence, and victories have been few and far between during Fletcher' tenure. The failure to get Larry Forgy on the Republican state executive committee last year, for example, hurt--less because Forgy didn't make it than because it contributed to the perception that Fletcher is weak. It probably shouldn't have been attempted in the first place unless it was a sure thing.

A victory over Northup, however, would provide Fletcher not only with a victory over Northup, but a victory over Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is said to run the state party, and is perceived to be invincible. McConnell is clearly behind Northup, even though he claims to be neutral in the primary. Fletcher has been manhandled by McConnell's minions (such as Jack Richardson, head of the Jefferson County Republican Party). A Fletcher victory against Northup would change all that.

If Fletcher is successful against Northup, he has an important victory in his pocket as he enters the general election--and he will have slain a much larger dragon than any he will face in the general election. If he can beat McConnell, he will have achieved something no Democrat has been able to accomplish so far.

Most importantly, he will have changed public perception, which has always been his chief problem.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Spielbergia: What Steven Spielberg means to American culture

There is a fascinating article on the relevance of Steven Spielberg's movies to American Culture at The Virginia Quarterly Review.

KY HPV vaccination controversy makes Time Magazine

Time Magazine has a story in its Jan. 17th edition on the debate in Kentucky over mandatory HPV vaccination for middle school girls. Boy it didn't take Rep. Kathy Stein (D-Lexington), the new Judiciary Committee chairman and author of the bill, long to start drawing national attention for her views.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Top ten books of all time

Time Magazine went out and asked the 125 most notable writers in the world what they thought the ten greatest books of all time were. The compiled the list and these are the consensus favorites:
1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
7. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
10. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Now this list is terribly heavy on modern writers. In fact, the oldest book on the list is Hamlet (early 17th century). Where is Homer? Where is Virgil? Where is Dante? In fact, there is no poetry on the list at all. Maybe that is intentional, but it is still unfortunate.

And why two Tolstoy's and no Dostoevsky?

Well, it's a good discussion starter anyway.

Kentucky economically classed with Portugal

Norwegian researcher Carl Stormer classes Kentucky with Portugal in terms of its gross national product (GNP). In a map showing each state of the union labeled with the name of the country with the most comparable GNP, Kentucky is closest to Portugal.

Could this mean better soccer, tastier wine, and more attractive architecture? Or worse government and harder to pronounce geographical locations? I'm ready to fully convert over, mostly because of their clearly superior flag.

The comparison of other states is also interesting: California matches up with France, Illinois with Mexico, Indiana with Denmark, and Ohio with Australia. Virginia gets matched with Austria, North Carolina to Sweden, and South Carolina to Singapore. Tennessee gets to be Saudi Arabia.

Among the big states, California is most like France, Texas like Canada, and New York like Brazil.

Oh, and Alaskans will want to familiarize themselves with Belarus.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Response to Courier-Journal

My response to the Louisville Courier-Journal's recent editorial mischaracterizing The Family Foundation's position on HPV vaccination. It was edited slightly, but nothing major. It can be found here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Right by Accident

P. Z. Myers asserts that marriage is "a good thing." He's right, of course. But (of course), being an atheistic materialist, he has no rational justification for asserting marriage--or anything else--is good. But perhaps we should be thankful that people who, despite the fact that their own assumptions prevent them from having a rational justification for uttering truth, utter it anyway.

UK to become a top 20 school by instituting a domestic partner benefit plan? Brilliant!

I was quoted in the the Lexington Herald Leader's front page story today on the University of Kentucky's creative new plan to become a top 20 research school: by instituting a domestic partner benefit plan. If anyone wonders why, despite all the talk of top 20 status, UK was ranked 112th, next to the University of Missouri-Rolla, in last year's U. S. News and World Report rankings, moves like this will begin to make sense of it.

While class sizes get bigger and staff salaries languish at 89% of their benchmark schools, UK is spending its time and resources giving benefits to the live-in sexual partners of its staff.

Go figure.

The Louisville Courier-Journal also ran a story which can be found here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

UK “thumbing its nose” at voters, says state family advocacy group

For Immediate Release
January 12, 2007

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

LEXINGTON, KY. —“UK is thumbing its nose at the General Assembly that passed the Marriage Protection Amendment two years ago and the more than a million Kentucky voters who ratified it,” said the spokesman for a state family advocacy group about a UK committee recommendation to give taxpayer-funded benefits to the live-in sexual partners of its staff.

According to Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation, the report contains a recommended affidavit that domestic partners would be expected to sign to indicate that they were really in a “long term” relationship. “This report also shows that UK thinks it can just ignore the 75 percent of voters who just two years ago approved an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution prohibiting the creation of a legal status similar to marriage,” said Cothran.

“A couple of things are pretty clear now,” said Cothran. “The first is that this report shows UK has its priorities mixed up. The second is that proponents of domestic partner benefits can’t add too well.”

The report, authored by the “Work-Life Committee,” argued that such benefits were needed to make UK a top research university. “This report shows that there are people in leadership at UK who really believe the ludicrous idea that giving taxpayer-funded benefits to live-in sexual partners is going to make them a top 20 school. As the guy in the beer commercials likes to say: ‘Brilliant!’”

But the report also gives ammunition to opponents of the plan by admitting that it will cost hundreds of thousands of university dollars. This report shreds the argument that this plan won’t cost taxpayers any money by admitting that this will cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that taxpayers will be expected to contribute—whether they like it or not.”


Harper campaign on notice

Okay, look. I have now received umpteen comments on my blog obviously from Harper campaign people pushing their candidate. In most cases, the comments have nothing to do with the post. So from here on out, I'm just going to consider them Spam, and they will all be rejected.

The Harper campaign needs to find some other blog to criticize Fletcher and Northup. The new policy is not a commentary on Fletcher or Northup--or Harper. But this is getting tiresome and I would rather not have these comments cluttering my e-mail.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

We're quoted in Medical News Today

I was quoted in Medical News Today on the HPV vaccination mandate here.

Response to Courier

The Louisville Courier-Journal issued another in what seems a regular series of attacks on The Family Foundation in general (and me in particular). Today's editorial can be found here. The editorial was apparently written in response to two stories that ran last Friday in which I was quoted, one in the Lexington Herald-Leader, and one in the Courier-Journal.

Here is a draft response to today's editorial:

In a recent editorial, the CJ wrote in support of Kathy Stein’s bill calling for the forced vaccination of girls as young as 9 year-old with a vaccine that has not even been tested on the age group on which it is to be used. Then, not content with supporting the transformation of school children into medical guinea pigs (and trampling on parental rights in the process), it looked around for someone opposed to the scheme whose position it could mischaracterize.

According to the editorial, we said that little girls would interpret mandatory middle school HPV vaccinations "as permission to sleep with their boyfriends." Obviously it would be a stretch to assume that accuracy was important to the CJ, but we should point that we didn’t say that.

Until your reporter called us, we hadn’t even made a public statement on the issue, but we were asked for our opinion and we gave it. That was apparently taken as license to portray us as conducting some kind of campaign against Gardasil, a drug whose use we support.

However, the Vioxx debacle should be a warning to those who actually care about people that just because the drug companies have marketed a drug and packaged it with promises does not guarantee it is safe.

Maybe someone could develop a vaccine that would prevent journalists from supporting bad legislation and then lying about people who disagree with it. When they do, we’ll be there to support making it mandatory.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Quoted in the Cincinnati Inquirer today

I was quoted about mandatory HPV vaccinations in the Cincinnati Inquirer today here.

Press coverage of Stein nomination--and the tangled web Stumbo has woven for himself

I was quoted in both the state's largest newspapers today on the Stein nomination. Both the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader ran front page stories on the House committee chair appointments, the only controversial one being Stein. Both stories were well done and fair, although the Courier's story focused on the possibility of resurrecting the issue of same-sex marriage, an issue which is as politically dead as an issue can be. The Marriage Amendment passed two years ago with the support of 75 percent of voters.

Quod est demonstrandum.

I have a feeling that the Courier reporter may be new and not entirely familiar with the state's recent history on this issue. But she did report my comment that Stein's views on the issue are irrelevant, given the passage of the amendment.

Stein can certainly take comfort in gaining a key legislative position, but Democratic leadership cannot afford to be smug about the events of this week. From about Tuesday morning when the controversy over this appointment hit the papers, they had to realize that they were faced with a dilemma: either change course and look like they were caving in to conservative interests or make the appointment and pay the potential political consequences. They chose the latter. But neither outcome could be considered particularly appealing for them.

By the way, there is one very interesting potential irony here. If it is true, as some think, that Jody Richards will announce for governor next week, and that, as is also rumored, his running mate is Greg Stumbo, Stumbo could very well have shot himself in the foot with his involvement in events this week.

As I pointed out, Stumbo was involved in the election of Charlie Hoffman to the caucus chairman position in the House. And that victory secured Stein's appointment because it resulted in the ousting of Damron, a Stein opponent. But Stein's appointment will very definitely hurt Richard's candidacy, since he is trying to run to the right of the rest of the field. I was quoted to this effect in today's Herald-Leader. And any damage to Richard's candidacy for governor is damage to Stumbo's candidacy for lieutenant governor since they would be running on the same ticket.

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Anatomy of a takeover

Today's appointment of Kathy Stein (D-Lexington) caps off a series of successful moves by liberal forces to take over the House of Representatives. In just one week, a loose coalition of political factions, including pro-labor forces, casino gambling advocates, and socially liberal partisans managed a behind the scenes campaign that effectively puts the Kentucky House on the extreme left of the political spectrum.

It is not even clear that the individual conspirators knew of the others' involvement in the events that unseated Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville), and placed Stein, the House's most liberal member, at the head of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

The roster of conspirators
But a few things are clear. For one thing, Greg Stumbo was involved, apparently calling to secure the votes of several members for Charlie Hoffman (D-Georgetown) for caucus chair, Damron's former position. Jerry Lundergan is also said to have been a force behind the changes, although it is unclear exactly how that manifested itself, other than through the presence of Jonathan Hurst, a Lundergan aide working within the caucus. Members also received calls from labor representatives in their districts to vote for Hoffman.

The question is what was in it for Stumbo and Lundergan. The only apparent thing is that both are in favor of casino gambling. For Lundergan, casino interests are an important potential source of campaign dollars. During the last session, anti-gambling forces had a lock on the House. Those in opposition to letting a bill out of committee without assurances from the Senate that it would be dealt with there apparently included Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), Damron, and, possibly, former whip Joe Barrows of Versailles. Where Adkins was is less clear although it is thought by some observers that he was of the same opinion.

Larry Clark (D-Louisville), the immediate beneficiary of the House changes (and possibly the ringleader of the whole thing) has been champing at the bit to put a casino bill out of the House, but with the former leadership was clearly unable to do so. How to deal with the problem? The first move was to get Rob Wilkey (D-Bowling Green) into the position of whip. The second thing to do was to remove the impediment of Damron, who was already on thin ice with some other members because of his support of Gov. Fletcher's tax modernization plan in 2004, and his association with political consultant Ray Stewart. Damron had been an outspoken opponent within the caucus on the casino issue.

Clark apparently put his labor coalition to work on both the Damron/Hoffman race (Clark is seen to control Hoffman) and on the race between Wilkey and John Will Stacy (D-West Liberty), another potential threat to casino interests. He was successful on both counts. As David Williams pointed out Thursday night, the House is now fully in control of labor.

Now, Larry Clark controls the House Democratic Caucus, and, therefore, the House agenda. The only independent conservatives left in leadership are Richards and Adkins, and they are two against three. Clark is at the locus of all these forces: he is obviously the chief labor advocate in the legislature; he's the leader the pro-casino Jefferson County contingent; and he's a social liberal. He is probably one of the three or four people who was fully aware of who all the conspirators were.

The impact on the gambling issue
When a casino bill appears in 2008 (or if one appears this session), watch for it to move quickly out of the House and over to the Senate. Does this mean casino legislation stands a better chance? Probably. But there is not necessarily any overall incentive for the legislature as a whole to produce a bill. For the Democrats who control the House, the incentives do not necessarily extend beyond showing casinos (and groups like KEEP) that they are fighting for them, and are therefore worthy of their financial support. This keeps money flowing in to the Democratic coffers. But there are others outside the legislature (and Stumbo is one of them) to whom posturing is not going to be enough--and that is significant when you consider that Stumbo is looking more and more like a statewide candidate in 2007.

On the Senate side, President David Williams and the Republican Senate leadership clearly calculated in 2006 that opposing casinos is popular with the activists who support them--and it is a reason that can be given to anti-gambling advocates to keep Williams in the Senate presidency: because as long as he is there, they are told, gambling will never pass. How the casino forces deal with Williams is the biggest question. And, unfortunately for them, Williams is the best strategic political thinker in the General Assembly.

The takeover obviously played a significant role in the Stein nomination. With Damron in leadership, there were three likely votes against her for the Judiciary slot, particularly after the controversy of this week: Damron, Richards, and Adkins. My comments in the media apparently resulted in quite a few calls and e-mails to House members. There was no organized opposition to her nomination, only a press release and media interviews. But there was a point, probably on Wednesday, when her nomination for judiciary was in doubt. The doubt, however, was dispelled with the leadership changes.

There is some speculation that Stein's allies worked to unseat Damron as well. It would make sense for them to have done so with the one question being the advantage to the casinos of a Hoffman win. Stein is opposed to casinos. But that concern would probably have taken a back seat to concerns over her judiciary chairmanship.

One interesting aspect of all this is the non-role of House Republican leadership. This is something they should have been making hay with, but didn't. Obviously, the controversy over Stein and the changes in leadership strengthen any case they might make that they are more representative of Kentuckians than the Democrats. The question is, will they make the case? So far, they have been deadly silent. One of the reasons may be that Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) is said to be a personal friend of Stein. He may simply have been reticent to criticize a friend. Another could be that I was making the case for them, and they could simply sit back and reap the benefits later. But there are some people (such as myself) who think that this non-confrontational approach is par for the course with House Republicans over the last few sessions.

How they plan to win elections without highlighting their differences with the Democrats is a mystery. Maybe the victory of Stan Lee (R-Lexington), a staunch conservative, will provide some much needed backbone in the caucus.

Winners and Losers
The beneficiaries of this week's events:
  • Larry Clark: He now controls House leadership.
  • Jerry Lundergan: He is now in the driver's seat on the gambling issue and will be able to attract more casino money.
  • Kathy Stein: The changes assured her Judiciary appointment.
  • Charlie Hoffman: He got a seat in leadership, but he owes it to Larry Clark, his new patron.
  • The casino industry: They stand to reap the benefits next session.
  • Greg Stumbo: I'm not sure why, but he thinks he is, which means he probably is.
  • Labor: They now control the House Democratic caucus.
  • Social liberals: They not only directly control the House Judiciary Committee, but leadership as well.
  • House Republicans: With the Stein appointment, they now have the evidence that the House is controlled by San Francisco Democrats. If, they use it, they may be able to reap the benefits in the next election.
  • Senate President David Williams: Williams now has a bigger target to shoot at.
The victims of this week's events:
  • Jody Richards: He and Adkins are now isolated. Furthermore, after he announces for governor next week, he's going to have to explain to all those voters--to whom he wants to appear as a conservative--how the House, under his speakership, put the chamber's most liberal member at the head of judiciary.
  • Rock Adkins: He has only Richards now to keep him company.
  • Bob Damron: He lost is seat in leadership.
  • Conservative Democratic House members: They are now completely out of power.
  • Brent Yonts: He lost the Judiciary Committee chairmanship to Kathy.
That was one eventful week.

© Martin Cothran 2007. All rights reserved. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.

HPV Vaccination debate at Kaisernetwork.org

We were mentioned in an article here on Kaisernetwork.org today on the growing debate over mandatory HPV Vaccinations.

HPV Vaccination article in Herald-Leader

I was quoted in an article on the HPV vaccination today in the Lexington Herald-Leader here.

HPV Vaccination mention on WHAS-11

I was quoted in a piece on the HPV Vaccination issue today on WHAS-11 here.

A good sport

I called Kathy Stein this morning to make sure she had not taken our opposition to her appointment as judiciary chair personally. I pointed out that we had said repeatedly that we considered her a very capable advocate for her positions and that her integrity was never in question (see various comments on this below). I pointed out to her that our problem with with House leadership, not with her personally.

She very nicely said she hadn't taken it personally and knew exactly where we were coming from, and not to worry about it. She also said she continued to oppose casino gambling, and expected that we would be working with her on that and other issues.

As I said publicly several times, I have a whole lot more personal respect for Stein for her candor on where she stands than I do for those politicians who deny what they really believe--or for those who call themselves one thing when they are really something else. It just goes to show you can disagree with someone and not be hateful about it.

She's a good sport, and deserves credit for it.

Nancy Pelosi would be proud

For Immediate Release

Contact: Martin Cothran

January 5, 2007
Phone: 859-329-1919

LEXINGTON, KY. —“Nancy Pelosi would be proud of this selection,” said a spokesman for a state family advocacy group after it was announced that the Kentucky House of Representative’s most liberal member was appointed to head a committee that handles sensitive social issues. Apparently, the San Francisco Democrats are now firmly in control of one chamber of our legislature,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky.

Stein’s appointment comes after leadership changes in the House Democratic caucus, which voted Rep. Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville), a conservative, out of his post as caucus chairman, and replaced him with the more liberal Charlie Hoffman (D-Georgetown).

“It’s too bad Barney Frank was not available for the spot,” said Cothran, referring to the liberal Congressman from Massachusetts.

“Because the judiciary committee deals with fairly divisive social issues, we thought it was important to have a chairman that was not out of the mainstream on political and social issues. There are plenty of moderate Democrats who they could have made chairman of that committee. All we were saying was that we thought the Democratic leadership in the House would be doing itself a favor if it put somebody other than a radical partisan in the position.”

Cothran said the Foundation was not criticizing Kathy Stein. “Kathy Stein has the right to support abortion on demand. She has a right to advocate special rights for homosexuals, and to support gun control, and to introduce bills mandating the forced vaccination of 9 year-old girls. She has the right to do all those things, and she does them in an articulate and effective way. We just thought that maybe someone who had an open mind would be a good pick. But that is clearly not the view of House Democratic leadership.”

Thursday, January 04, 2007

See what I mean?

I was quoted again today in an article on the front page of the Louisville Courier-Journal's metro section on the growing Kathy Stein controversy. I don't think Kathy did herself any favor's however. Here's what the Courier quoted her as saying:
In an interview with The Courier-Journal, Stein said she's proud of her views on gay rights, which she described as a civil-rights matter, and on abortion access, where she said the true "conservative" position opposes "government invading the bodies of women."
Then this:
She said the [Family Foundation's] influence with some lawmakers is waning, after it insisted on placing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the November 2004 ballot, in which House Democrats lost seven seats....I believe that we're beginning to recognize that they have led us down the wrong path on several occasions," Stein said.

So this candidate for one of the most powerful committees in the House is saying that the Marriage Amendment to the KY Constitution, which more Kentuckians voted "Yes" on than voted "Yes" and "No" on any previous amendment, was not a good idea?

Again, the question is not whether The Family Foundation supports or opposes her nomination, but whether putting her at Judiciary chair is the act of a mainstream political party.

Hand it to her, she's being candid, but I can't imagine that legislative leaders who obviously want to put her at the post (largely because they want to put a woman in a prominent committee position) don't have their heads in their hands right now wondering what they've gotten themselves into.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Nickolas goes berserk over wingnuts under the bed

Meanwhile, over at the increasingly strident blog of Mark Nickolas, there is a post titled, "Wingnuts go berserk". He says in the post that the "wingnuts" are "going nuts" over her potential appointment to chair the House Judiciary Committee. Lo and behold, this is a reference to my remarks yesterday about Rep. Stein.

And what, precisely, does Nickolas consider "going nuts"? Was it my observation that Stein is one of the most liberal members of the State House? If so, then what are we to make of the fact that Larry Dale Keeling, who is of the same ideological stripe as Stein says, over at KyKurmudgeon:
And a more moderate majority leadership could help Lexington Rep. Kathy Stein, one of the most liberal members of the General Assembly...
Does that make Keeling a "wingnut" too?

Perhaps it is my observation that Stein is "out of the mainstream" and that her selection would be a poor political move by Democrats who have been trying to avoid the label of "San Francisco Democrats" in a very conservative state. Does Nickolas seriously think that Stein is not out of the mainstream? Or that this is a bad political move for the Democrats? After all, he is in the political consulting business. Does anyone want to hire a man who can't see the politically obvious?

And by the way, can someone buy this man a thesaurus? If I had time, I would count up the numerous occurrences of "wingnut" on his blog, but, alas, I don't. It's just heartrending to think of all those poor synonyms out there feeling neglected right now.

CJ to run article on Stein chairmanship controversy

I did an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal today on the potential nomination of Kathy Stein for Judiciary Committee Chair. It should be in tomorrow's edition. The issue continues to garner attention which could be bad news for her appointment. Politicians don't generally like controversy and the Democrats can't be excited about being portrayed as out of the mainstream.

Nickolas the Terrible

Mark Nickolas of BlueGrassReports.org seems to have a penchant for name-calling, but he has really outdone himself with his comments today on Rep. Stan Lee, whom he calls, in a recent post, a "racist and a bigot." He is probably one of those "open-minded" liberals who opposes hate speech too, only to couch his close-mindedness in the most virulent forms of rhetoric.

His comments came in response to news that Rep. Lee had been elected by the House Republican Caucus to the position of Minority Whip.

And exactly how does Nickolas justify this characterization of Lee (whose only fault seems to be that he is a political conservative)? He doesn't say.

Comments on Stein nomination on the air this afternoon

I was interviewed midday today by Tony McVeigh, State Capitol Bureau Chief of the Public Radio Partnership, on the potential Kathy Stein appointment to be chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Those comments should be running on public radio stations statewide this afternoon.

Competence is not the problem with Kathy Stein

I was quoted today in the Lexington Herald-Leader on the prospect of Kathy Stein being made chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. See the press release below, and my earlier post about this issue from which my comments were drawn.

Needless to say, Rep. Stein was not happy with my comments. Here is the section of the story with her response:
Stein, an attorney who has been a House member since 1997 and a member of the House Judiciary Committee for 10 years, said she was "very disappointed" with Cothran's comments and the Family Foundation "to single out this one chairmanship and suggest I would not be a good chair for a major committee in the House."
Note that I did not say that she wouldn't be a "good chair". I said she would be a very liberal chair--which would certainly be good for liberals. I did not question Stein's competency. In fact, it is her competency as a liberal advocate that is precisely the problem. She is a dangerous enemy for the very reason that she is a competent and articulate advocate for her positions.

In fact, she may very well be more worthy of respect than the other contenders for the position because she is honest about where she stands. She makes no bones about where what she believes on political and social issues, which makes her more worthy of respect than some other lawmakers, who will tell you one thing, and then do the exact opposite.

The question is not Rep. Stein's competence, but her positions on issues, which are not only out of the mainstream, by simply mistaken. The question is what her selection by Democratic leaders would say about the Party, and where she would take policy in this state.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Domestic partner benefits article in Monday's Herald-Leader

I was quoted in an article on domestic partner benefits at state universities that ran on the front page of the Lexington Herald-Leader yesterday. There are several things worth commenting on about the article.

First, the article is prefaced by one of the anecdotal stories that are characteristic of much of the media treatment of this issue: namely, a heart-rending story about someone with a dread disease who won't get treated unless such a policy is pursued. I doubt if we will ever see an article from the Herald-Leader that will tell a similar story of a live-in blood relative who won't be getting medical treatment under the proposed UK domestic partner plan.

The second interesting thing about the article is Gov. Fletcher's weak response to reporters' questions on this issue. "I will have to evaluate that," he said. "We have left these decisions to the university boards." The Governor has already passed up a chance to take a position on the casino gambling issue. If he fails also to take a position on the domestic partner benefits issue, conservative are going to have to start asking what this governor has done for them lately. There are only so many times a political leader can pass up the opportunity to lead on something before he will start having face questions from his base about whether he has any leadership ability at all.

The third thing is this: it is always interesting to see, after talking with a reporter for an hour on an issue (as I did), which comment he chooses to print. In this case, it was my response to the idea (proffered by the reporter) that universities might want to be in a good position to recruit gays because gays are more "creative" than heterosexuals. My response, of course, was that I would like to see the evidence on that.

What is interesting about this is that if you made this claim about any other demographic group, you would probably be laughed out of polite society. Would you ever ask this question about whites as opposed to blacks? Or men has opposed to women? How far are we away from Lawrence Summers being turned out of his job as president of Harvard University for postulating that men may be more capable at mathematics than women?

I have heard it said that who are emotionally disturbed are more creative because of their psychological condition. Maybe we could try to recruit more psychologically disturbed people to staff the chairs of higher learning at our schools.

Is there someone at the universities who is proposing that gays are more creative that heterosexuals as a reason for recruiting them? If so, things are worse than at our universities than I thought (and that's saying a lot).

Press Release: Family group calls committee chair contest, "a defining moment for the Democratic Party"

For Immediate Release
January 2, 2007 A. D.

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

LEXINGTON, KY. —A state family advocacy organization is calling the contest for the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee a “defining moment” for the Kentucky Democratic Party. Democratic leaders in the Kentucky House of Representatives are poised to make a decision that will tell us where they want to take the state politically and socially,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky.

The committee chairmanship, vacated when its former chairman, Gross Lindsey (D-Henderson), lost his seat in last year’s legislative primary, could be given to Kathy Stein (D-Lexington). Stein is considered one of the House’s most liberal members because of her outspoken and ardent pro-abortion and pro-gay rights positions.

“For House leaders to place Kathy Stein at the head of a committee that deals with family-related legislation would be seen as a message to mostly conservative Kentucky voters that the Kentucky Democratic Party has arrived as a liberal party and that they are burning the ships.”

“The selection of Rep. Stein for Judiciary chair this week would be seen by many Kentuckians as a signal that the Kentucky Democrat Party is nothing more than the state branch of a liberal national party,” said Cothran, “and would, in one fell swoop, eliminate what little hope now exists for the passage of pro-life and pro-family legislation in the House. Cothran argued that Stein’s record indicates she is everything Democrats in Kentucky have said in recent years that they are not: “a San Francisco Democrat.”

Cothran said that there are a lot of good conservative Democrats in the House, many of then new. “These are the people who are the future of the Democratic Party in this state. But a decision like this could threaten that future.”


Monday, January 01, 2007

A defining moment for Kentucky Democrats

Democratic leaders in the Kentucky House of Representatives are poised to make one of their most significant decisions in recent years, a decision that will tell us where they want to take the state politically and socially.

The chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee will be decided this week when lawmakers return to Frankfort for a short organization session. The seat opened up when former chairman Gross Lindsey (D-Henderson) was unseated in last year's primary election. Now the spot seems to be a contest between Rep. Brent Yonts (D-Greenville) and Kathy Stein (D-Lexington).

Neither legislator will be particularly well-received by conservatives, but, although there is not a great deal of difference in kind between the two, there is definitely a difference in degree. Stein is perhaps the House's most outspoken and ardent liberal. Pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, pro-big government, Stein is everything Democrats in Kentucky have said in recent years that they are not: San Francisco Democrats.

The fact that Democrats are even thinking of placing Stein at the head of a committee that controls so much legislation dealing with social issues is itself a commentary on where the party is. This, of course, is why the state's most liberal newspaper, The Louisville Courier-Journal, said yesterday that Democrats should put her in charge of the committee: to further a radically liberal policy agenda.

Although the Democrats gained seats in the State House, that feat was accomplished in an issueless election on an off-year in the midst of an anti-war, anti-Bush backlash. No reasonable political mind would consider this a mandate from voters for anything. And Democrats have to be concerned that this fall's results may be nothing more than a bump on the road to an eventual Republican majority in both chambers.

On social issues in particular, Kentucky is a conservative state. For Democrats to select Stein for the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee would have to be the result of some sort of political death wish.

There has always been some hope, albeit dim, for the Democratic Party in Kentucky because they still harbor a number of fairly conservative legislators in their ranks. Indeed, the makeup of their leadership is not terribly immoderate, with legislators such as Jody Richards and Bob Damron in the seats of power. These are legislators who, however conservative their own political philosophies, cannot afford to stray far from the conservative line because of their fairly conservative districts.

But a selection of Stein for Judiciary this week would pull the plug on any pretensions that the Kentucky Democrat Party is anything other than the state branch of a liberal national party, and would, in one fell swoop, eliminate what little hope now exists for the passage of prolife and pro-family legislation in the House.

The appointment would be a message to Kentucky voters that they have arrived as a liberal party and are burning the ships.

Kentucky Democrats really Kentucky Democrats? This week will give us the answer.

Dogs are conservative, cats are liberal

After winning the debate competition at an academic camp a couple of years ago, my daughter and her debate partner challenged another debating duo to an exhibition match on the issue, resolved: dogs are better pets than cats. My daughter, whom we affectionately call St. Ann of Assisi because of her love for all creatures with the power of voluntary motion, argued that dogs are superior to cats due to their penchant for loyalty. You have never heard of a cat, her tem argued, who dragged its master from a fire. This, it turns out, was the deciding factor for the judges, who rendered their decision by howling.

Indeed, this confirmed my own (admittedly intuition-based) belief that dogs are conservative and cats are liberal. Why? Because loyalty is a fundamentally conservative virtue, along with every other virtue that places responsibilities ahead of rights, allegiance before autonomy.

Dogs have it, and cats don't.

But several days ago a report came that a cat saved its family's life by scratching its master's face to alert it of a cigarette-caused fire in their home. Jonah Goldberg at the National Review greeted this report with the skepticism it warranted in a blog post several days ago over at The Corner:
Don't Believe the Hype:
Cat saves family's life. First of all, look at the source: the French Press. Second, Occam's razor people. What is the most likely scenario? That it tried to save his family's life? Or that it had a panic attack? Heck, maybe it figured its family was as good as dead and so why not start eating? Do we even know the cat didn't light the fire itself?
That was several days ago. Now, however, Goldberg has gotten to the bottom of the story and exposed this "Hero Cat" for what it really is.

Check it out.