Hardworking Americans labeled “deplorables” by Hillary Clinton, Donald J. Trump’s corrupt and elitist opponent, stormed the Establishment’s Bastille on Tuesday and handed the populist real-estate mogul the keys to the White House in an improbable finish to an election that strained our political system, causing it to creak and groan but ultimately hold together.
Voters both in Kentucky and nationally also took a reprieve from divided government, which, when conducted in good faith, serves taxpayers well by placing an imbedded check-and-balance against increasing government’s size and cost.
However, divided government as defined and demonstrated by Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who was defeated in his re-election bid in the 95th District, means using political power to obstruct any kind of meaningful legislative process and debate – much less movement – on vital economic, education and transparency reforms.
Stumbo, who first came to the legislature in 1980 and was Kentucky Attorney General from 2003 to 2007, gives new meaning to the term “self-serving politician.”
The longtime eastern Kentucky representative will ride off into retirement sunset with an estimated $1.24 million pension bonus –not including cost-of-living increases – as the result of House Bill 299 in 2005, which spikes lawmakers’ pensions by allowing the three highest years of salary in any government position to determine the size of their legislative retirement checks.
Instead of Stumbo’s legislative retirement being based on his “high three” salary while occupying a General Assembly seat, which averaged around $40,000 annually, it will be determined using his nearly six-figure salary as attorney general.
Also, the fact that he “maxed out” his legislative pension at 24 years and two months “made him eligible to draw 100 percent of his $98,824 AG salary” and “triggered the 1998 law that automatically enrolled him in the Kentucky Employees’ Retirement System to begin a second legislative pension,” the late Lowell Reese wrote in a Bluegrass Institute report entitled Future Shock: Kentucky Politicians’ Opulent Pensions Have Become a Modern-Day Gold Rush.
In terms of policy obstruction, it may indeed be “good riddance” as Gov. Matt Bevin wished the double-dipping Prestonsburg Democrat during a victory lap filled with radio interviews on Wednesday.
However, taxpayers will be forced to send Stumbo hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars in pension payments for years to come.
Still, his exit from Frankfort and the Republicans’ takeover of the South’s only remaining state House of Representatives under Democratic control, is a positively consequential political victory.
It sets up the very real possibility that the Kentucky General Assembly will become the nation’s most conservative state legislature.
Yet while Republicans won this battle, they must not be timid and halting, as some establishment-type politicos started advising even before the lights were turned off at the polls on Tuesday.
Instead, this new legislature must immediately push forward and take new ground.
There certainly was nothing timid about either Trump’s election or Kentucky voters’ decision to give Republicans a historic 17-seat swing in the state House, which amounts not just to a majority – which would have pleased GOP leaders heading into Tuesday’s election – but to a 64-36 supermajority.
Evidence eludes me of any similar previous developments in favor of Republicans in Kentucky General Assembly history.
If Washington can already be considering a special session of Congress to deal with the despised Obamacare fiasco, then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect to see bills filed in Frankfort posthaste to bring long-awaited increased transparency, right-to-work, school choice and pension, tax, regulatory and Medicaid reforms to the Bluegrass State.
What should not elude the new House majority is that Trump’s election shows a growing impatience among voters, who don’t at all seem timid about making wholesale changes when their interests aren’t acted upon prudently and promptly.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected]