Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

January 12, 2011

Shakespeare in Frankfort or General Assembly

By Ronnie Ellis - CNHI News Service

Jan. 11, 2011 —     “. . . the play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” (Act II, Scene II, Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

    There’s no King Claudius — and some would say very little conscience — in the General Assembly, but still the play’s the thing.

    The Republican majority in the “more deliberative” Senate, which traditionally has eschewed legislative agendas, preferring to let issues “bubble and percolate,” is rushing through a series of farreaching bills. Democrats, having guaranteed they’d gain seats in the last election but then lost three, howl but they can do nothing.

    It’s all for show, of course. No one believes  much of the Republican agenda will pass the Democratic controlled House where Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, seems bemused by what’s going on in the Senate. He’s made clear the House has no intention of adhering to Republicans’ rapid schedule. And he couldn’t resist pointing out that “none of us over here are running for governor.”

    That was aimed at Senate Republican President David Williams, who is running for governor. Of course, this is the same Stumbo who said Kentucky would be lucky to have either Williams or incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear for governor — an odd thing for Mr. Democrat to say. But then Stumbo and House Democrats aren’t on the best of terms with Beshear either.Yes, they “unanimously” endorsed Beshear in their closed-door caucus the other day. But that, too, was for show.

    For his part, Beshear sent out an e-mail touting his accomplishments. Topping the list was 11,500 potential jobs created or retained. Potential, of course, is the key word. We don’t know if he’s counting jobs in the Ark theme park he announced — without having seen a feasibility plan. We do know he hasn’t articulated much of an agenda for the 2011 session.

    Stumbo wants the House to “discuss” his previous proposal for a “Kentucky Jobs for Kentucky Families” plan which would take on more state debt to build new schools and infrastructure — at least in the districts of those lawmakers who voted for the plan. (It died in the Senate in the last session). Stumbo says now is the best time to make such an investment, when interest rates are low, unemployment is high, and the state has critical infrastructure needs. But then he says the House is only discussing it to be prepared to implement it next year — when interest rates and unemployment may have changed.

    Williams — with a straight face — says the agenda he announced in December and which he rushed through the upper chamber has nothing to do with his running for governor. Reporters roll their eyes. So do some Republican senators, though they don’t dare actually say it.

    Democrats are happy to say it. But they’re so few, no one listens. One of the measures is a catch-all constitutional amendment that covers pretty much every trendy conservative (read Tea Party) issue. Its preamble laments a drift from the spirit of the federal constitution and lists examples of federal overreach as justifications for the amendment.

    Inconveniently, the Kentucky Constitution — the document Republicans seek to improve — requires amendments to “relate to a single subject or related subject matters” at a time. But when a reporter grilled a Republican senator about that, he laughed and said: “You’re such a cynic.”

    Well, yes, but I’m not alone, Senator. Most of the 138 lawmakers I talk to don’t expect anything much to be done in a session where Williams and Beshear are looking for political advantage.

    Ah but “the play’s the thing.”

    Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at