Part 1...Total Power Corrupts
If having the power of state government as center of all (like the Sun), then modern Kentucky politics has revolved around two planets (Democrats and Republicans) with the always rising and waxing moons of far left progressives and far right conservatives.
Birthing of a Modern Kentucky Political System
Louie Nunn, Republican, took control of the Kentucky's Governor's Office in 1968. This is an important date as the Republican Party had hopes of taking full control of political power in the state.
Using the Governor's Office, Nunn soon established a new level of bureaucracy to deal with local project needs and the flow of federal dollars. By the end of 1968, Nunn had designed a new form of state-regional-local platform for a11ocating money to local projects.
This was done through the creation of 15 Area Development Districts to cover the 120 counties in Kentucky. Nunn used "political officers" embedded into important levels and functions of state government. Their job was to monitor the levels of loyalty the system paid to the Governor.
From 1968 through 1972, Nunn established control over all local counties through his new "Federalism". Nunn also broke the power of the major critical areas of concern to daily Kentuckians lives. Nunn made Health, Transportation, Economic Development, Education, Tourism bow down to his way of doing business.
The vehicle for Nunn's success in gaining control of Frankfort power centers was one state office. Nunn created the Kentucky Program Development Office as the most powerful agent to (1) shape up those power centers that stood up to him (2), use this office to gain control of all federal dollars coming into Kentucky, and (3) lay the foundation for a second term in office.
History shows that as brilliant a schemer and doer in running the power levers of Kentucky State government. Nunn was also very human. He made mistakes. The road contracts, the urban relief contracts, tourism and parks contracts, and joint planning contracts were in some cases questionable.
During this time, two areas that Nunn's team failed to fully appreciate was their misreading of the situation. These were the Lexington Base Spindletop Research Center Contract for almost a million dollars, and the rise of Wendell Ford's power base.
Power is never shared. It must be taken from the Battlefield
After four years of contract between Spindletop and State government, the project was an accounting mess. Federal auditors were beginning to ask questions. KPDO staff were told to honor the contract even though the Scope of Works was only one paragraph long. It simply stated for payment of the contract, Spindletop had to "Make an attempt to do good."
This was one of those Frankfort Inside Deals that was kept in the shadows away from the public.
As Nunn's team worked the lure of federal funds' power over much of the just formed Area Development Districts around Northern Kentucky, Louisville, and Lexington, a new threat was taking shape.
As Lieutenant Governor, Wendell Ford found his spot in government. From his office, Lt. Governor, Ford acted like a "king in power, not quite yet sworn in as official ruler" of the kingdom. With very smart aides and advisors like J. R. Miller from Owensboro, William Sullivan, and Julian Carroll of Paducah, Ford was very successful at building a powerful political base statewide.
In the 1972 Governor's election, Ford had promised several new or additions for massive state parks, a true network of new high speed Kentucky Parkways, and a serious review of new higher education projects.
This was the year that Democrat Wendell Ford beat Louie Nunn, the Republican on the simple campaign to promise and deliver new local and regional jobs to each major region of Kentucky. Ford became the Godfather transforming the Kentucky of the 1940's, l950's and 1960's into the platform for moving a new Kentucky into the future of economic prosperity.
Part 2.............................................................. Builders
Democratic Governors Build Modern State Government
In 1972, Wendell Ford, as new Governor of Kentucky litera1ly set fire to the old fortress style of power silos that had grown into self-contained issue kingdoms. Within weeks of winning, the Ford Team had developed:
- New Kentucky State Government organizational chart of 7 Cabinets that swa1lowed up the previous 100 agencies and organizations of old State
- Through non-merit state government reorganization, most of the Nunn supporters and operatives were fired or their job/function were This action opened up hundreds of new jobs for Ford's supporters.
- Revisited the state merit They turned it into a national model for keeping politics out of day-to-day state operations. State planning, regional planning, water and natural resource planning, and federal coordination for funding Kentucky projects became the new "normal" for Frankfort Capitol operations.
- Broke up the Nunn Super State Government Powerhouse and Issue fortress of the Kentucky Program Development Office (KPDO).
From the wreckage of KDPO, Governor Ford built a core grouping of new state agencies with the same responsibility:
- Office of Management and Budget (control of state budget/money)
- Office for Local Government (contact with local counties and cities)
- Office for Federal Affairs (federal funding coordination)
- Office for Area Development Districts (funding and planning coordination
Just after the end of the 1974 General Assembly Legislative Session, Wendell Ford announced that he was appointing himself to replace Marlow Cook as Senator to the Congress of the United States. The moment that this action became official, Lieutenant Governor Julian Carroll became governor of Kentucky. He would serve out Ford's term and run for his own race for Governor in 1975. He won and for the next four years Governor Julian Carroll developed Kentucky as one of the top 10 states in America for modernization of operations and services.
Under the administration of President Jimmy Carter, Governor Carroll wrote and campaigned for an American energy policy to deal with the national energy crisis of 1977. In 1978, Carroll was elected as Chairman of the National Governors Association.
In the election of 1979 for Kentucky governor, the Democrats ran a bright young Secretary of Commerce, by the name of Terry McBrayer for Governor. He lost.
In 1980, the new Governor of Kentucky, John Y. Brown took office. He was elected due to his totally new way of campaigning, with his wife, a former Miss America and traveled by helicopter to remote parts of Kentucky. With a new face to politics and glamour, Brown won most of the large urban areas in central Kentucky.
Part 3....Disruptors and Destroyers
The years from 1980 through 1984 would prove to become an era of state governmental disorganization and the death of strong local Democratic Party traditions and structure. It would also become a time of mega scale corruption in the Governor's Office.
Governor Carroll, as Chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA) convened a special issue Task Force between the Governors, The White House and important Committees of Congress to design and implement a national small town and rural development policy.
This Task Force included 20 people from 10 states, 30 people from key Federal Agencies, 12 people from key Congressional Committees. Kentucky led the group. By the election of 1980, a working draft for such a national rural policy was being signed off on by all parties.
Two events changed everything. John Y. Brown was elected Kentucky governor. He closed out all of Kentucky's national role in these matters. Governor Carroll became the "out of office Governor."
Governor Brown first two years in office brought the following: (1) closing out of NGA relations (2) design and implementation of a full force reorganization of Kentucky state government, and (4) a new accounting system which led to extensive confusion among state agencies.
The final blow wrecking a strong Kentucky Democratic Party came when Brown refused to play a role in directing relations with General Assembly leadership, their committees or legislative functions. It was the end of strong Democratic governors from the 1970's and the beginning of a strong legislative branch of government.
To add pain to suffering, President Reagan, Republican, implemented a big government ''trickle down theory" for sharing wealth. Trickling down was the burden of government with the benefit going to big corporations at the expense of American families.
Reagan shut down much of Washington networks for working with state and local governments. President Reagan turned the concept of a strong federalism policy
into a weak policy of letting the states take care of their own without outside hindrance.
By the end of the John Y. Brown term in office (1979-1983) and the term of President Ronald Reagan (1980-1984), the Democratic Party was a handful of people wandering the streets, back roads, hollars, and small towns in Kentucky looking for unity, sense of purpose and strong state leadership. These were the days when Democrats' role changed. They were now the walking, stumbling forward wounded" spirits searching for new strong leaders and issues.
Part 4....Winners & Losers - the new political landscape
Emerging from the battlefields of Kentucky elections in 2022, 2023, and 2024 will be the leaders who will design and establish Kentucky cultural and economic strategies for the next 20 years. From 1968 up through 2022, some 15 Governors, 10 US Senators, 20 US Congressman, hundreds of mayors, city councilmen, judges, clerks, PVA's, sheriffs and jailers, school board members have carved out a piece of the public power platform.
Used to be you are either "fer me or agin me" There were always the two sides to any issue or question. Well, that was then and this is now, a time of much more complexity.
These are the people and or organizations that seem to always on the right side of power. These groups come with an agenda for playing well with others to get what they want. They are willing to invest in politics and cultivating politicians.
- Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
- Kentucky Farm Bureau
- KU, Kentucky Utilities
- Association. of Counties ACIO
- Kentucky League of Cities
- Area Development Districts
- State Universities
To back this first wave of money, issues, and influence are the secondary power hitters. Normally these are one group or single issue. They may range from $50,000 to $1,500,000 dollars spent each session on lobbying and lobby efforts.
All told, the amount of money spent by all lobbyists to secure favor or influence the direction of legislation was just over 11 million dollars to guide a state budget of $18 Billion. The really major hitters in this game were:
- Kentucky Chamber of Commerce - $139,508
- Kentucky Hospital Association - $130,949
- ACLU of Kentucky- $115,153
- Altria Client Services LLC - $108,655
- Kentucky League of Cities, - $87,789
- Pace-O-Matic of Kentucky - $78,650
- Kentucky Retail Federation - $72,121
- Pharmaceutical Care Management Association - $66,570
- Greater Louisville, Inc. - $64,711
- Kentucky Farm Bureau - $55,545
As Kentucky State Government travels through this new age of Pandemics, recession, supply chain disruptions, and global impact's from new climate change threats, many small towns in the 100 rural counties of the state are reverting back to simpler times and structures.
From the list above highlighting the powerful special interests of non-governmental entities, local government is transforming itself into historical patterns of local power silos.
Very powerful special interest groups are once again erecting strong barriers to blunt outside county influences. These areas of new 21st century local power silos are linking up with their counterparts in mind, spirit, and thinking like that from the 1930's and 1940's.
In West Kentucky, the old Kentucky Democrat Party is all but dead. Rising in its place are the Tea Party of 2008 and 2010 years the; strong statewide Mitch McConnell Republican Party; and the stirrings of the new far right Freedom Republican Party. Aside from the normal blend of political fighting in Kentucky is now a movement to travel back in cultural heritage time for protection from the issues and threats from this 21st century.
These old and comfortable silos of power are taking shape in many poor rural communities, especially in the far west and far eastern parts of Kentucky. This reality of cultural power is settling within the boundaries of these centers of political and economic power. They are
(1) political power, usually Republican (2) economic power from local banks, (3) Chamber of Commerce's small business, (4) agricultural, (5) faith base houses of worships (6) non-profits (7) tourism and cultural heritage, and (7) school system.
Within this new social landscape lie the seeds of economic and social disasters. These rural counties are beginning to be impacted from the evermore rising cost of government services to the population. Higher taxes will further erode the future of many small towns. Without attractions of jobs, tourism, higher education, culture centers, isolation from out of the way transportation back roads, these small towns and hit rural counties will see more population loss during the next 10 years.
At risk are many sections of Kentucky's economic and cultural base. Less money, less population, weak leadership will put in jeopardy any forward movement from relief to taxpayers, successful small businesses, teachers and school systems going without , failure to incorporate new energy and severe weather systems protection, failure of maintaining good health and wellness platforms, and sever social and cultural isolation from failure to import strong internet and Broadband services.
"Kentucky on the March"
"Kentucky on the March" by Harry W. Schacter, is a 1949 book devoted to cataloging what was going wrong with Kentucky and a plan for how to save Kentucky's future. In 201 pages, Schacter explained the problems in Kentucky small town life and points on how to confront these problems.
His purpose for writing the book can best be understood with his words written in the Foreword.
"In such a circumstance no better purpose can be served than to give all the people of the state a complete picture of the society in which they live. Nothing so directly strikes at the lethargy; nothing so quickly bears home the economic waste in poor education, a high disease rate, and failure to protect natural resources; nothing so quickly reflects the pride and stimulates imagination and action.
In Summary....The Future
You, the reader should reflect what part, what geography, or what path going forward, you may want to engage in for designing a new Kentucky for this new 21st century. You may want to start you reflection on what role, if any, you want play within the crucial crossroads of past and present creating the future.
Voting counts. Social issues count. Saving the Earth's resources count. Creating a nation at peace, externally and within itself, counts. Whatever leaders or events that comes forth from the years of 2022, 2023. and 2024 will define the next 20 to 30 years of the American Experiment.
The last time such mega waves of change crashed into the American Experiment was the years of 1857 through 1865.
Maybe this time we will get it right!