Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

March 2, 2011

Legislative week in review

By Ronnie Ellis - CNHI News Service
CNHI

March 2, 2011 —     There was more than one “somewhat unusual coalition” on display last week in Frankfort.

    That was the description used by Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resource Council which advocates on environmental issues and usually represents “the little guy.” But Wednesday, Fitzgerald stood with the presidents of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Association of Manufacturing, and most noticeably the Kentucky Coal Association. All oppose a bill by Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, which would require Public Service Commissioners to be elected rather than be appointed by the governor.

    Jones and other coal field legislators like Leslie Combs, Fitz Steele and Keith Hall are hearing from constituents unhappy with big spikes in their electric bills after the PSC approved a 17 percent increase. That’s not surprising, but finding them on the opposite side of coal is. We won’t even go into the irony of coal industry supporters taking up for the “little guys” opposing coal interests.

    Earlier in the week, Senate President David Williams, who is running for governor, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the darling of the Tea Party, staged some theater. They asked the state Senate to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment. Never mind that Williams’ critics often point to the state debt he’s supported for projects he favors. Never mind he’s often allied with Sen. Mitch McConnell and Congressman Hal Rogers, both of which used to boast of federal spending they directed to Kentucky and both of whom supported Paul’s opponent in last year’s Republican primary.

    No, what stood out were those folks in the back of the room wearing “No con con” (no constitutional convention) t-shirts. Many of them – most of them – are members of the Tea Party and among Paul’s biggest supporters in last year’s Senate race. Many of them support Phil Moffett in the Republican gubernatorial primary rather than Williams. They favor a balanced budget amendment, but they fear a runaway constitutional convention might propose amendments that would erode or eliminate other constitutional guarantees and protections.

    That fear put them on the same side with Democratic senators like Gerald Neal of Louisville, Walter Blevins of Morehead and R.J. Palmer of Winchester. Strange bedfellows. (Neal, by the way, delivered the best line of the committee hearing during a light-hearted exchange with Williams: “I agree with you 10 percent of the time. I appreciate you 30 percent of the time. The rest of the time, I respect you.”) That’s more praise than Williams can elicit from Tea Party people like some of those in the back of the room.

    Then, when Paul and Williams met with reporters after Paul addressed the full Senate, they were joined by Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield.  DeCesare said he’ll introduce an identical resolution in the Democrat-controlled House. That’s not surprising because DeCesare is against pretty much everything that spends money. What made it a bit off-key is that DeCesare isn’t a member of House Republican leadership. Then again, maybe it isn’t so surprising for those who know Williams isn’t all that close to House Republican leaders who – unlike DeCesare – don’t always do Williams’ bidding.

    The resolution isn’t likely to go anywhere in the House where Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said that chamber will consider it “when pigs fly” – which of course puts the ardent Democrat on the same side as those Tea Party opponents of a constitutional convention.

    Frankfort may not always be inspiring, but it’s almost always interesting and entertaining.

    RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com.