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Kentucky Governors: Studies in Failure of Command

What issues will face this Governor?

Trying to make sense out of Frankfort politics is like watching three people fighting each other to seize control of the surf board they are standing on - as it races toward the beach during a hurricane.

This image is fine if you are watching a rerun of The Three Stooges. However, this scenario is deadly if you want elected leaders to provide leadership during this era of wave after wave of political, social, military, and economic storms.

Gone are the old days of Frankfort insider power figures keeping control on the local situation with a little blacktop here and a few low skilled and paying patronage jobs there.

Governor Bevin is trying to put down as much power moves as possible before the state Democrats can regroup in the November 2016 general elections. Elected as an honest to God Tea Party candidate, Bevin is finding his path through the minefields of Frankfort power bases and agendas. True to form as his national role model of soon-to-be GOP national candidate for U.S. President, Donald Trump, Bevin is ignoring traditional anything and attacking the budget, state politics, party politics, and personal politics on a complete new crusade of total down sizing of government form and function.

Soon, blacktop and patronage jobs will be trumped by really ugly issues that will not go gently into the night.

Local government costs; collapse or failure of local infrastructure; lack of jobs; plight of an aging population held captive by rural geography; lack of opportunities; failure to prepare our young for world class jobs; state budget shortages; retiring state workers and loss of institutional memory; pollution and destruction of Kentucky's water resources; and the health care crisis will define the public issue debate for most of the next governor's administration.

The act and art of governance in 2016 through 2020 demands a new breed of politicians who fully understand issue leadership.

Issue leaders are driven by civic and community needs rather than political positioning and political agendas. Most Kentucky Democratic governors since 1980, and the only other Republican governor during this time, Ernie Fletcher, have failed to provide issue leadership. Their legacy, for the most part, has been of "failure of command."

These governors dealt with contracts rather than issues. Roads, blacktop, and rewards to the loyal party member, framed gubernatorial policy more then Kentucky's failing social and economic infrastructure needs.

The legacy of Democratic Governor Paul Patton (D) was a strong governor who could take on the issues of higher education and make this resource work. However, his tenure and legacy was destroyed by scandal. Governor Beshear (D) two terms in office legacy is still being debated.

Republican Governor Fletcher's four years in office, by all accounts was an administrative disaster. War with the House of Representative, war with most serious issue interest groups, and war with the state universities cost Fletcher value time in fighting defensive actions within the merit and non-merit employee trenches of Frankfort.

Before Fletcher came Wilkinson, Jones, and Brown who all suffered from a lack of political skills for improving the day to day life of most Kentuckians. In all three of these governors time in office, power interests gain contracts, political favor, and more profits at the expense of the citizens of the state.

Now, newly elected Republican Governor Matt Bevin stands in the sunshine of new hope and opportunity for moving Kentucky into the 21st Century. This new governor has a chance to end this disgrace of high public office incompetence in Kentucky. To this end, Bevin must project and lead with foresight and sound policy actions that will define a new Golden Age for Kentucky.


Yet, the fear among many professional politicians in both Democratic and Republican Parties is that this next administration will return to the "good ole' days" of political spoils. Ordinary citizens pray that this time a new administration will balance the push and pull of politics with preparing Kentucky's urban and rural communities for the 21st Century.

The hope among the working poor, economical battle weary middleclass, college students, and senior citizens, is that the next Governor of Kentucky must load his cabinet with high minded public servants and private sector leaders. He must also recruit a strong secondary team of politically smart and issue savvy managers who know the ins and outs of Kentucky state government.

Kentucky's future will demand that both types of individuals be in place with the next administration if the state is ever to pull itself up by its bootstrap and overcome 30 years of mismanagement by previous governors. The question that only time in office will answer is "Will Matt Bevin be a leader or wrecker of Kentucky's future?"

This will take bold and powerful leadership skills from our new governor in 2016. He will roll the "governmental dice" for the future or for the past.

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