Friday, November 6, 2015

"Keep Fighting, Beloveds"


Molly Ivins knew better than anyone what it is like to be a liberal in a deep-red state, and she never gave up.  We can't either.

First, we need to know what we're facing.

Gov. Bevin’s changes likely to be felt immediately

Even before next year’s session of the Kentucky General Assembly convenes, many of Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive orders are now at risk of being immediately rescinded by Matt Bevin once is sworn in on Dec. 8.

Beshear’s executive orders at risk include prevailing wage on construction projects; a $10.10 per hour minimum wage for state employees and contractors; protection of state employees from discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and – most significantly – his creation of Kynect and the expansion of Medicaid to those up to 138 percent of the federal poverty rate. Bevin appears likely to rescind most of these, though he at times backtracked during his campaign on a pledge to do away with Medicaid expansion “on day one.”

The hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who have coverage through Medicaid due to this expansion will be watching Bevin closely to see whether their eligibility will be rescinded with the stroke of a pen – assuming that is legally possible, which is up for debate – or if he will attempt to push for this through the legislative process.

Democrats still have a firewall in the state House… for now

While Bevin becoming governor is a major victory for Republicans and their policy agenda, the big remaining hurdle is the Democrats’ slim majority in the state House. Republicans have long called for so-called “right to work” legislation, tort reform, charter schools, abortion restrictions, fuller privatization of public pensions, and a more regressive consumption-based tax reform in the General Assembly – only to be stymied by Democrats in the House. Though Bevin will now have the bully pulpit of the governor’s mansion, his favored legislation still will face the hurdle of Democrats and House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
Or will he? A serious threat for Democrats over the next two months will be rural conservative House Democrats flipping to the Republican Party, seeing the writing on the wall of their electoral future by having a D next to their name in a region of voters trending solidly Republican. Another threat is Bevin appointing any of these Democratic House members to a position in his administration or a judgeship, which would come along with a hefty boost in their public pension and open up the seat for a Republican to win in a special election. Gov. Beshear tried the same strategy with Republican members of the Senate in order to flip the majority of that chamber, though ultimately failing in that task.

If this happens and the Republicans take over the House, the entire Republican policy agenda likely will pass by this spring. If not, Bevin and his party still have the opportunity to pick up enough seats in next year’s state House elections, delaying their long sought after wish list of policy goals until 2017. Until then, the House remains the Democrats’ only firewall.

Dems to the left, Dems to the right?

Following Tuesday night’s bloodbath, Sen. Ray Jones – the Democratic minority leader of the state Senate – blamed his party’s losses on Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, saying Kentucky Democrats have to further distance themselves from the party’s national leaders. Pressed on this by Rene Shaw of KET, Jones had difficulty differentiating local Democrats and Obama on policy positions outside of coal regulations, highlighting the challenge of how his colleagues could pull off this familiar strategy that has failed so badly in the past two statewide elections.

Other Democrats have taken the exact opposite lesson from this election, saying their candidates’ insistence on villainizing Obama over the past seven years has managed not only to suppress the vote of progressive Democrats, but made the party’s brand so toxic that no attempts by candidates to distance themselves for Obama – like Grimes in 2014 and Conway this year – can work.

This internal debate among Democrats will not be resolved anytime soon, but it will surely shape the direction of the party going forward.

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