At Thursday night’s 18th Annual Kentucky Chamber Day with 1500+ politicians, lobbyists, and business leaders looking on, affirmations of bipartisanship abounded from the podium speakers that included the governor and top ranking legislators from both chambers. KET’s Bill Goodman emceed the event held in Lexington. While business attire at the Kentucky Chamber dinner is expected, spectators are eager for the Capitol’s top brass to infuse a less buttoned-up approach in their addresses.
Think of it as “Fancy Farm Gone Mild,” with light-hearted partisan punch lines and polite audience laughter instead of the fist-pounding, call and response rhetoric to which the yearly western Kentucky political event claims ownership.
Some of the speakers come with prepared text that’s more policy than joviality. House Speaker Greg Stumbo started with the latter, but cranked up the decibels on his main takeaway: “It’s time to quit kidding ourselves in Kentucky with 1 in 4 kids in poverty…we need to stop talking and be courageous to do something for Kentucky, he said in signature animated fashion. “Let’s stop talking about bi-partisanship and do it,” he added.
Bipartisanship was the theme of the night, as were calls to act on public pension and tax reform, legislative redistricting; even industrial hemp got a mention. With about 2/3 of the state legislature in attendance and a handful of former governors sitting among the packed crowd, newly-elected Senate President Robert Stivers kept to the script on policy points after jokingly expressing gratitude to Governor Steve Beshear for the judicial appointment of former state Senate chief David Williams that made way for Stivers’ ascension to the top slot. Perhaps the most salient remark from the 17-year legislative veteran was that “systemic changes in Kentucky will be made through education.”
That remark is particularly poignant on the same day he stood among a phalanx of lawmakers and university presidents to announce bipartisan support for a plan to let public universities issue their own bonds for projects ranging from classrooms, to housing, and athletic complexes. House Republican leader Jeff Hoover pointed to that shared goal as one demonstration of the new day in Frankfort.
Senate Democratic leader R.J. Palmer spoke of how tax reform has been “studied to death and now it’s time to act,” and stressed the need to tackle legislative redistricting this year.
“This is the first legislative session in five years that I’m looking forward to,” said a grinning Governor Steve Beshear at the dinner. He bragged about recent rankings showing Kentucky’s progress in education and government metrics giving the state a second place ribbon for job growth. Beshear also tempered pleas for public pension reform now without creating “a massive influx of revenue” to mitigate the system’s multi-billion dollar unfunded liability. He added that it can’t be accomplished by slicing and dicing government programs. What he didn’t mention was the prospect of expanded gaming as a coffer-plumping measure.
Many folks are cautiously optimistic about a new day in Frankfort. By session end, there will be a clear record of vows made and kept. When the seasons change from winter haze to spring’s splendor, we’ll know if (in the words of Senator Stivers) “gotcha politics are a thing of past.”
“Legislative Update” has the wrap-up of the first week tonight at 11pm ET on KET. And, we will present a one-hour highlights program of the Kentucky Chamber dinner on Monday night at 9pm ET following “Kentucky Tonight.”