My retired neighbor — a registered Democrat who dons his own unique version of political agnosticism — reminds me daily how eager he is for the current political warfare to cease.
He’s an equal opportunity critic of both political parties who often shares his (unsolicited) conviction that the level of discontent within the current political environment is such that not even a campaign by “Jesus Christ himself” could satisfy most partisans.
“They would be trying to find some dirt even on him,” he bemoans.
Still, this election season hasn’t been entirely about dirt-digging, at least not here in Kentucky.
For instance, we’ve seen a display of solid bipartisan support for making government less secretive and more accessible to its citizens.
Amongst the partisan rancor associated with Kentucky Republicans wrestling to take control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1920 is increased bipartisan momentum for revealing the retirement benefits of all current and former lawmakers.
Both Democratic and Republican candidates in 10 House districts have signed the 67-word Bluegrass Institute Legislative Pension Transparency Pledge that champions shining the bright disinfecting light of transparency on benefits received by lawmakers resulting from both their part-time work in the General Assembly as well as appointments to gravy-train jobs in state government allowing them to pad their political pensions.
Incumbents and candidates who sign the pledge agree to be held accountable for their future statements, votes and commitments related to transparency during the remainder of their political careers.
Granted, some incumbents signed the pledge only after being confronted by challengers for their long-held seats.
“I proudly signed this pledge IMMEDIATELY – unlike my opponent who waited until just days before our debate to suddenly be ‘for transparency,’” tweeted Bowling Green City Commissioner Melinda Hill, who’s challenging Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, for his 20th District seat.
Still, the fact that Richards, who’s held the seat since Jimmy Carter was president, ultimately signed the pledge and voted as a member of the House State Government Committee during this year’s legislative session to make politicians’ retirement information transparent shows he understands: it’s a losing proposition to oppose making information about legislative pensions available to those who fund such perks.
Hopkinsville Democratic Rep. Jeff Taylor, who won a special election in western Kentucky’s 8th District earlier this year, apparently feels the heat of voters’ disapproval of secretive government, agreeing at a recent campaign forum to sign the pledge when confronted by Republican contender and signer Walker Thomas.
Taylor still hasn’t submitted a signed pledge.
Yet considering he agreed to sign under pressure from a campaign opponent indicates he understands it’s politically beneficial to oppose cryptic government.
The fact that pledge signers include at least one of the candidates in most House districts and in 19 of the 27 races identified as being among the most competitive by political strategist Les Fugate, executive vice president of RunSwitch Public Relations, further confirms: transparency is good politics as well as sound public policy.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who faces a challenge to his own 95th District seat in Floyd County from Prestonsburg attorney Larry Brown, a pledge signer, has so far refused to even allow House members the opportunity to vote on transparency bills approved by committees chaired and dominated by his own party.
Doesn’t Stumbo know that the good-ol’-boys’ approach of doubling down on defending the status quo of closed-door government is so yesterday as evidenced by the fact that 30 states — including neighboring Missouri, Tennessee and Illinois — now make information about retirees’ benefits, including names of individual pensioners, transparent?
Doesn’t he recognize that open government is always in vogue?
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.