By Ashley Sidebottom, staff writer
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky.— If you’re sick of all the Ernie Fletcher/Steve Beshear commercials on TV every night, prepare to see even more of those hateful ads in the coming weeks. That’s according to three experienced Kentucky political leaders who predict this year’s gubernatorial race “could get pretty ugly.”
Those leaders are Al Cross, Ron Ellis and Lowell Reese, and they were the featured speakers at the most recent Kentucky Heartland Institute on Public Policy (KHIPP) forum at Campbellsville University Oct. 9.
An interview with the three guests will be aired on Comcast Cable Channel 10 at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, and 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17. This interview is with John Chowning, vice president for church and external relations, and the show is “Dialogue on Public Issues.”
Cross serves as director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, and is a political columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville;
Reese is the founder and editor of The Kentucky Roll Call Inc., a Frankfort-based governmental affairs publishing company and former owner of “The Kentucky Gazette”; and Ellis is a political writer covering state government, the General Assembly, politics for Kentucky papers and produces a weekly column for the CHNI News Service in Frankfort.
Each guest gave a brief presentation about the upcoming gubernatorial election in Kentucky and answered audience questions about various topics including next year’s presidential election.
“This governor’s race is all about Fletcher,” Cross said, “and will also be a test of the succession amendment.”
This amendment, passed in 1992, allowed the incumbent governor to seek a second term, but made him or her ineligible for four years following the end of the second term, according to the free online encyclopedia “Wikipedia.” Prior to 1992, the governor was not allowed to serve two consecutive terms in office.
Cross said his “great regret” for this gubernatorial race focused mainly on the hiring scandal and gaming is “the issues that really need to be debated are being ignored.”
These issues, such as budget priorities, the unhealthiness of Kentuckians, health insurance issues, pension problems, how to better maintain Kentucky’s roads, how to help Kentuckians obtain college degrees, how to fight the drug problem without adding new problems in other areas, and protecting the natural landscape of our state, have been completely ignored by both candidates, according to Cross.
The irony of the entire situation is “Fletcher ran on a platform of cleaning up the mess in Frankfort four years ago, and he’s now made his own mess in Frankfort,” Cross said. He simply is “not cut out for this job.”
“Social conservatives will stand by Fletcher, but it seems like most people have already made up their minds about him,” Cross said.
“Beshear’s platform on gambling could give Fletcher some traction in the race,” Cross said, but Ellis pointed out that “Fletcher can’t win without a higher percentage of registered Republicans.”
“There are only four weeks left, and it will be very hard to turn his large deficit around,” Ellis said.
Reese warned the audience of the possibility of many more negative ads in the coming weeks, and said “it could get pretty ugly.”
“Fletcher’s only hope of getting re-elected will be getting back the support of his Republican base,” Reese said. “And even then, he will still need 125,000 to 150,000 Democrats to cross over and vote for him.”
The probability of Fletcher winning is “not very likely,” Reese said.
Reese also reminded the audience of the 1948 Presidential race between Thomas Dewey and Harry Truman, when the Chicago Tribune ran the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” based on the predictions of the top 50 political writers in the United States.
So, the fact remains that anything can happen in this election, the guests said.
Fletcher’s “mess” in Frankfort revolves around the recent hiring scandal, which Reese said, “normally would have gone to the personnel board and the District Court, not the Circuit Court.”
“This case was highly overblown, and The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader played right into it, taking more interest and giving it more coverage (than any event) since World War II,” Reese said.
Reese said Fletcher is also taking an “inept” approach at campaigning to win, because his strategy appears to be “not driving up the negatives on Beshear, but on gambling, so that voters will hold that against Beshear later.”
The panelists were asked several questions from audience members, and discussed the political future of Attorney General Greg Stumbo, Representative Ben Chandler, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, and several other politicians, and then moved into a discussion about next year’s presidential primary and election.
“The issues most people in this country are worried most about are Iraq and their own security,” Cross said.
Reese said the 2008 election will be very different in the fact that there will be no incumbent on the ballot.
“We should have a very interesting primary,” Cross said, because even though Hillary Clinton has a slight lead in the polls, the question in Iowa will become “Who is second choice?”
One audience member noted a possible disinterest in the gubernatorial race, and asked the panelists if that could roll over to the presidential race.
Cross said there is “big stuff” revolving around the presidential election, and doesn’t see a disinterest making an appearance on Election Day.
Reese pointed out that if Clinton is elected, the past 30 years would have been led back and forth by two “family dynasties.”
Cross said he thinks “people will flock to Clinton, but she is far from the overwhelming favorite in the race.”
The panelists agreed that Clinton has the “shortest odds” in the presidential race, but there is still a long way to the finish line.
John Chowning, vice president for church and external relations and executive assistant to the president, who founded KHIPP, said, “The forum on political parties and elections was excellent.All three panelists brought unique insight to the topic and captured the attention of the audience.”
“With the fall governor’s race in Kentucky and the intensive race in both parties for the presidential nominations in 2008, there is an array of topics and issues to discuss,” Chowning said.
“Al Cross, Lowell Reese and Ronnie Ellis all were very engaging in their presentations, and the surprise visit by Comment on Kentucky host Al Smith was a special unexpected treat,” Chowning said. “Professor Max Wise and Dr. Mary Wilgus both did very fine jobs in their roles and displayed the excellence we have among our faculty at Campbellsville University.”
Wise, assistant professor of political science, served as moderator for the question and answer session, and Wilgus, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of history at CU, welcomed the guests and delivered the invocation.
The next KHIPP event at CU will feature Dr. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs with the National Association of Evangelicals in Washington, D.C.
This session on “Evangelical Christian Perspectives on Public Policy Issues Confronting Our Nation” will beTuesday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. in CU’s Little Auditorium. Cizik will also be speaking at CU’s chapel/convocation on Wednesday at 10 a.m. discussing “Creation Care – Concerns on Global Warming and Climate Change.”
Chowning said, “Campbellsville University has established the institute that primarily focuses focus its attention on facilitating public policy study and issues debate, while encouraging the involvement of Christian leaders in the public and civic arenas.
“A wide range of public issues will be studied and presented by the institute for the purposes of engaging Campbellsville University students, faculty and staff, and the general public, in a greater awareness and understanding of the myriad issues confronting our culture,” he said. Chowning said KHIPP is “committed to preparing Christian civic and political leaders for the 21st century.”
Anyone requesting more information about KHIPP can contact Chowning at (270) 789-5520.
Campbellsville University is a private, comprehensive institution located in South Central Kentucky. Founded in 1906, Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has an enrollment of 2,310 students who represent 100 Kentucky counties, 32 states and 28 foreign nations. Listed in U.S.News & World Report’s 2008 “America’s Best Colleges,” CU is ranked 22nd in “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the South and eighth in the South for “Great Schools, Great Prices.” CU has been ranked 15 consecutive years with U.S.News & World Report. Campbellsville University is located 82 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., and 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky. Dr. Michael V. Carter is in his ninth year as president.