Gov. Steve Beshear Signs Executive Order Restoring Right to Vote


Gov. Beshear Signs Executive Order Restoring Right to Vote, Hold Office to Certain Offenders

Press Release Date:Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Contact Information:Terry Sebastian
Jennifer Brislin

Order excludes persons convicted of violent or sex crimes, bribery or treason

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Governor Steve Beshear today signed an executive order  that automatically restores the right to vote and hold public office to certain offenders once all terms of their sentences have been satisfied.

The order excludes persons convicted of violent or sex crimes, bribery or treason.

“The right to vote is one of the most intrinsically American privileges, and thousands of Kentuckians are living, working and paying taxes in the state but are denied this basic right,” Gov. Beshear said. “Once an individual has served his or her time and paid all restitution, society expects them to reintegrate into their communities and become law-abiding and productive citizens. A key part of that transition is the right to vote.”

Under the terms of the order, for felons who are currently incarcerated or under probation or parole supervision, the Department of Corrections (DOC) will verify prior to issuing a restoration of civil rights that there are no pending criminal cases, charges or arrests, or outstanding court-ordered restitution. Individuals meeting those criteria will be granted automatic restoration and a certificate of Restoration of Civil Rights will be issued.

Individuals who have already left the correctional system may pick up a restoration of rights form at any Probation and Parole office, or by contacting the Department of Corrections at 502-782-2248 or online at, and return it to the address listed. DOC will verify whether they meet the criteria set out in the executive order. Offenders who do will have their voting rights restored “without undue delay” and receive a certificate of Restoration of Civil Rights in the mail.

Offenders who don’t meet the criteria for automatic restoration, including those convicted of federal crimes, may still individually apply to have the Governor restore their civil rights under the current restoration process.

“This approach strikes an effective balance between the need to re-enfranchise thousands of Kentuckians who have paid their debt to society, and the recognition that there are some crimes of such a nature that they require a more deliberative review,” Beshear said.

Under the state’s constitution, persons convicted of a felony are stripped of their rights to vote, hold public office, own a firearm or serve on a jury. Kentucky is one of only four states that does not automatically restore felons’ voting rights upon final discharge of their sentence. An estimated 180,000 Kentuckians have served out their sentence but lack the right to vote.

“Today is a wonderful day for all Kentuckians,” said former state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, of Lexington. “The steps that Gov. Beshear has taken through this executive order will allow for democracy at its best.”

“Gov. Beshear should be congratulated,” said Sen. Gerald Neal, of Louisville. “Restoring the voting rights of ex-offenders enhances the credibility of the justice system in Kentucky. Kentucky now joins all but a few states in discarding this reactionary, useless restriction.”

“It has long been my belief that once offenders have paid restitution for their crimes, they deserve to have their voting rights restored,” said Sen. Denise Harper Angel, of Louisville. “As someone who has co-sponsored legislation numerous times to restore voting rights, I am very pleased that Gov. Beshear has taken this bold step to move Kentucky forward.”

“This is a major step toward fully re-integrating individuals into society who have paid for their past mistakes,” said Rep. Darryl T. Owens, of Louisville. “I appreciate the leadership of Jesse Crenshaw on this issue and I commend Gov. Beshear for taking this bold action.”

In signing the executive order two weeks before his terms ends, Beshear noted he has consistently supported legislative efforts to permit a constitutional referendum on restoration of rights, and wanted to allow that process to play out. When those efforts failed, he said, he waited under after the November election so as not to politicize the issue during the campaigns.

“The ACLU-KY applauds Gov. Beshear for taking an important step toward breaking down barriers to ballot boxes in Kentucky,” said Michael Aldridge, Kentucky executive director of the ACLU. “We know the Commonwealth’s disenfranchisement policies, some of the harshest in the country, have negatively impacted families and communities, especially those of color, by reducing their collective political voice. Studies have shown that individuals who vote are more likely to give to charity, volunteer, attend school board meetings, serve on juries and are more actively involved in their communities.”

“Today’s order transforms the process for restoring voting rights in Kentucky and makes it accessible to thousands of Kentucky citizens, some of whom have waited many years for this,” said Tomas Lopez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Everyone eligible should act now to take advantage of this important reform.”


Matt Bevin panders Yarmuth and Beshear stand on principle


At least Matt Bevin, the guy Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign called an “East Coast con-man” during last year’s GOP senate primary brawl, is a consistent panderer.

On the campaign trail, it was homophobia. Now, its xenophobia.

Kentucky’s reactionary, tea party-tilting, union-busting governor-elect is opposed to Syrian refugees resettling in the Bluegrass State.

He knows only Uncle Sam can say who gets into the country and who doesn’t. So do about 30 more governors — all Republicans but one — who are bloviating that they won’t take any refugee Syrians in their states either.

Bevin and the other Trump Lite governors, according to George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times, “are constitutionally ignorant or shamefully demagogic.” He suggests “most likely it’s the latter, but some may be both.”

Bevin made political hay among Christian conservatives by helping elevate world-class anti-gay bigot Kim Davis to martyrdom in Bible Belt Kentucky. He doubtless expects to score more points among these folks of the gays-and-everybody-else-who-doesn’t-believe-like-us-is-going-to-hell persuasion with a hefty helping of nativism and Islamophobia.

While Bevin pandered to anti-immigrant and anti-Islam prejudice, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth stood on principle. The Louisville lawmaker voted against the GOP-sponsored bill that would essentially ban all refugees fleeing the ISIS murderers in Syria and Iraq.

Nonetheless, the measure passed the house, with 47 Democrats voting “aye.” The legislation faces a less certain future in the senate — and a certain veto from President Obama.

Anyway, Yarmuth’s “nay” proved “there’s at least one person from Kentucky in Washington who isn’t a first-rate bigot,” according to Page One Kentucky, the no-holds-barred Bluegrass State blog.

Naturally, Kentucky’s quintet of GOP congressmen voted “aye.” McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, also a Republican, will almost certainly do likewise.

Anyway, “John Yarmuth stands against xenophobia,” declared the headline on the Page One posting.

Yarmuth, my favorite Kentucky Democrat, doesn’t stand alone back home, even beyond “liberal Louisville.” (Falls City Mayor Greg Fischer, also a Democrat, is with Yarmuth.)

From Frankfort, the state capital, outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear urged Kentuckians to do “the Christian thing” and welcome all refugees who have passed a rigorous government vetting process, the Associated Press’s Adam Beam wrote.

Across the state, not only in Louisville and Lexington, but also in communities like Inez, Crab Orchard, Waddy and Summer Shade, more than 1,300 folks have signed Kentuckian Ben Plume’s online petition against Bevin’s fear-mongering.

Of course, nativism is not new to Kentucky. In the 1850s, the Know Nothing Party, whose members railed against immigrants, mainly Catholic Irish and Germans, elected a governor and won a majority in both houses of the legislature. Most of Kentucky’s congressional delegation was Know Nothing, too.

The Know Nothings claimed the German and Irish newcomers were part of an international Catholic conspiracy to make the pope ruler of the world.

On election day in 1855, Know Nothing mobs rampaged through Louisville, beating and even murdering naturalized citizens who dared try to vote. The mobs also looted or burned down many immigrant Irish and German homes and businesses in what went down in history as “Bloody Monday.”

At any rate, “Tell Gov.-elect Bevin: You do not speak for me. Kentucky welcomes Syrian refugees,” Plume invites signees.

“Matt Bevin, it goes against my own Christian values and against humanitarian values to refuse a single refugee coming to the Commonwealth based on his passport or nationality,” Plume’s petition says. “If we selectively like some refugees but opposes others, based on their nationality or religion, we directly support those who attempt to polarize Christians vs. Muslims and try to plant fear into our hearts. Helping my neighbor, Syrian or Cuban or Iraqi or American, is what my religion calls me to do (and I follow this calling).

Plume said he works for a refugee organization. He added that by “publicly (likely without any legal basis) refusing refugees,” Bevin and the other governors are sending “the wrong signal to those in need of our help.”

This 65-year-old lifelong western Kentucky Presbyterian who packs a union card and voted for Attorney Gen. Jack Conway, the extremist Bevin’s moderate Democratic foe, was happy to put his John Hancock on Plume’s appeal.

When I clicked on the red “SIGN THE PETITION” bar, I even said “amen,” though quieter than the ones you sometimes hear at Baptist churches. We Presbyterians – “the frozen chosen” – don’t do “amens” except the ones we sing at the end of hymns.

Anyway, Page One Kentucky included Yarmuth’s statement on why he voted the way he did:

John Yarmuth Photo By Berry Craig

“As we saw in Paris, the threat of terrorist attacks and radicalization of European nationals is a global security threat. We must continue to work with our allies to combat ISIS and other jihadists who seek to harm and kill innocent civilians. Here at home, the federal government needs to ensure that everyone entering the United States poses no threat to the American people.

“Today, I opposed a misguided bill that uses bureaucratic delays to shut down our Syrian and Iraqi refugee programs, while failing to provide any security improvements to our vetting process. I supported an alternative proposal that improves our vetting process for refugees from all countries with active terrorist networks, not just Syria and Iraq, increases Congressional oversight of these programs, and continues to help families fleeing horrific violence.

“We all saw the heartbreaking and tragic photo of a dead three-year old Syrian boy who had washed ashore in Turkey this past September. His mother and sister also died as they desperately tried to find safety in Greece. More than 70 children have drowned since that photo was taken. The war in Syria has killed at least 250,000 people, including more than 12,000 children. This is a humanitarian crisis.

“As we work to strengthen our security, our answer cannot be to abandon the innocent victims of the same terror we strive to defeat. Our nation was founded with the idea that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights, endowed, not by Congress, but by our creator. We became the wealthiest, most powerful nation the world has ever known as we welcomed the tired, hungry, and poor. These are the values that made us great, and in the face of terror, we cannot turn from them. We must hold them close or risk losing them forever. I’m proud to represent a city that has embraced those ideals, a city that celebrates its rich history of welcoming refugees from around the world. Today, I stand with the people of Louisville in refusing to turn my back on those in need.”

Here comes another Presbyterian “amen.”

Give me that old time Social Gospel


On election night, House Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg urged his fellow Democrats not to let Republicans “make people believe that we are not Godly people.”

Republican Gov-elect Matt Bevin won with a big boost from Christian conservatives. Calling himself “PRO LIFE, PRO FAMILY, PRO 2ND AMENDMENT,” born-again Christian Bevin ran hard on the so-called social issues. One of my union brothers labeled them “the Three Gs – God, guns and gays.”

The matchup between Bevin and Attorney Gen. Jack Conway, the Democrat, was yet another election in Bible Belt Kentucky where the Republicans wanted the voters to think their party is the Godly party. “They act like ‘GOP’ stands for ‘God’s Own Party,’” one western Kentucky Democrat griped.

Eastern Kentucky Democrat Stumbo did his best to rally a roomful of despondent Democrats. He challenged the faithful to not let the Republicans convince voters “that only Christians are Republicans and Republicans, therefore, are entitled to hold office.”

Stumbo admitted he hadn’t “read the Holy Book from front to finish.” But he said he couldn’t find “the word ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’” in the Good Book.

Stumbo added, “People sometimes ask me…what would Jesus have been if he were alive?” The speaker said he didn’t know and that “nobody knows. The Bible doesn’t tell us that.”

Yet he said the Bible teaches “that you reach out to those who can’t help themselves, that you offer hope where hope isn’t. That you believe that tomorrow’s a better day and that everybody ought to sacrifice to help those that aren’t as lucky as you.”

Helping “people who can’t help themselves” and urging people “to sacrifice to help those that aren’t as lucky as you” are appeals straight out of the old-time Social Gospel, which, if some polling data is correct, might be poised to make a comeback, especially among young people. Other surveys show that the Three Gs don’t resonate among a lot of them.

The Social Gospel movement was part of a general reform impulse that swept the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Dr. Martin Luther King said he was “deeply influenced” by the Social Gospel, which emphasized “that the Christian religion must not only be concerned about saving the individual’s soul but also dealing with the social evils that corrupt the soul.”

Dr. King cited the Rev. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor and theologian, who helped lead the Social Gospel movement. He and like-minded religioius leaders stressed the here-and-now, not just the hereafter. In the name of Jesus, they spoke out against racism, economic inequality, anti-immigrant prejudice, militarism and other injustices. They denounced greed and union-busting as un-Christian, too.

Their aim was to “work in this world to establish a Kingdom of God with social justice for all.”

The Social Gospel movement stressed the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and the part in the Lord’s Prayer which says, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus,” Rauschenbusch wrote. “Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master.”

Asked Rauschenbusch: “Will the twentieth century mark for the future historian the real adolescence of humanity, the great emancipation from barbarism and from the paralysis of injustice, and the beginning of a progress in the intellectual, social, and moral life of mankind to which all past history has no parallel? It will depend almost wholly on the moral forces which the Christian nations can bring to the fighting line against wrong, and the fighting energy of those moral forces will again depend on the degree to which they are inspired by religious faith and enthusiasm.”

Father John Augustine Ryan, a Catholic priest expressed similar views. He favored “a legal minimum wage, an eight hour limit on the work day, protective legislation for women and children, protection for union picketing and boycotting, unemployment insurance, provision against accident, illness and old age, municipal housing, public ownership of utilities, public ownership of mines and forests, control of monopolies, and an income tax.”

Ryan’s faith also led him to favor a “living wage” for workers so they could adequately provide for their families.

Anyway, if reactionary Republicans and their Christian rightist followers were to visit just about any college campus in Kentucky, they’d get a pretty good idea that the future is not theirs, even in Bible Belt Kentucky.

Odds are, in In the student parking lots, they’d espy vehicles plastered with bumper stickers with messages like “I’m Christian and I support gay rights,” “Another Christian who happens to be gay,” “Praise God, you pick which one” and “I’m for the separation of church and hate.”

In concluding his remarks, Stumbo urged the Democrats to keep the faith and “go home and you go to your church and you tell people I’m a Democrat, I’m a God-fearing Democrat, I’m a Democrat that believes the principles in the Bible have become the principles of our party — that this wealth accumulation in America has to cease, that people have to have a right to have an equal educational opportunity, that people have a right to have health care and people have right to enjoy the American dream.”

Stumbo’s use of the Bible as the basis for denouncing the accumulation of wealth, for demanding an equal education opportunity for everybody and for championing everybody’s right to have health care would have likely brought an “amen” from Rev. Rauschenbusch and Father Ryan.

What’s the matter with Kentucky?

AFT Local 1360

“Kentucky counties with highest Medicaid rates backed Matt Bevin, who plans to cut Medicaid,” read the headline on John Cheves’ Lexington Herald-Leader story online.

So here I go again: “You’d think convincing people to vote against their own best interests would be mission impossible. But it was mission accomplished for the Republicans.”

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve written that about a GOP winner in a Kentucky election.

Once more, the social issues – what one of my union buddies calls “the three Gs – God, guns and gays” — have helped elect a reactionary union-buster in my home state.

Cheves quoted Cale Turner, Owsley County’s Democratic judge-executive on Gov.-elect Bevin’s victory: “To be honest with you, a lot of folks in Owsley County went to the polls and voted against gay marriage and abortion, and as a result, I’m afraid they voted away their health insurance. Which was their right to do, I guess. But it’s sad. Many people here signed up with Kynect, and it’s helped them, it’s been an absolute blessing.”

It was hardly a secret that Bevin, as Cheves pointed out, “pledged to cut the state’s Medicaid program and close the state-run Kynect health insurance exchange.”

Cheves said the local paper in Owsley County, The Three Forks Tradition, barely mentioned Kynect during the election campaign. “Instead, its editorials roasted Obama and Hillary Clinton, gay marriage, Islam, ‘liberal race peddlers,’ ‘liberal media,’ ‘black criminals’ and “the radical Black Lives Matter movement.’”

For his story, Cheves interviewed Andrea Malji, a Transylvania University political scientist, who “said she has crunched state data and found a ‘99 percent confidence level’ between the counties’ Medicaid enrollment levels and their gubernatorial choices. The larger the Medicaid numbers, the more likely they were to back Bevin, she said. The lower the Medicaid numbers, the more likely they were to favor the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jack Conway.”

Cheves’ story put me in mind of Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Published in 2004, it’s as timely as ever and could be rewritten and re-titled What’s the Matter with Kentucky? How Conservatives Won the Heart of the Bluegrass State.

“Strip today’s Kansans of their job security (or Kentuckians of their health insurance), and they head out to become registered Republicans,” Frank wrote.

“Push them off their land, and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society (Bevin’s a Bircher booster). But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.”

Frank recalled that Kansas was once home to militant farmer-populists who “would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay. This would have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline. When business screwed the farmers and the workers – when it implemented monopoly strategies invasive beyond the Populists’ furthest imaginings – when it ripped off shareholders and casually tossed thousands out of work – you could be damned sure about what would follow.”

When Bevin screwed Kentuckians, they voted for him.

Time was, most Kentucky farmers and workers rejected plutocratic Republican politicians (Bevin’s a millionaire.) who did the bidding of the folks President Franklin D. Roosevelt dubbed “economic royalists” – today’s “one percent.”

FDR and the New Deal were hugely popular in Kentucky. He carried the Bluegrass State in landslides all four times he ran and won. FDR believed government had a broad responsibility to help people who needed help. Bevin the Social Darwinist doesn’t.

Sadly, Cheves’ article is more proof that a lot of people who need government aid vote for well-heeled politicians like Bevin who make no bones about taking away that aid. But, hey, Bevin’s heroes are Kim Davis, Kentucky Right to Life and the NRA.

Bevin’s triumph reminds me of the motto of Jim Pence’s feisty Hillbilly Report blog: “Never before have so few with so much promised to take away so much from so many and then laugh their asses off as the so many with so little vote for the so few with so much.” – © Jim Pence


Pundits liken Bevin to Trump; Grio columnist compares Hampton to Carson


Some pundits compare Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s Republican governor-elect, to Donald Trump. They call the two millionaire conservative political “outsiders.”

David A. Love, one of my favorite columnists at the, likens Jenean Hampton, the Bluegrass State’s lieutenant governor-elect, to Dr. Ben Carson. Like Trump, Carson is a current frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Love doesn’t pull punches. “Imagine Ben Carson, but as a woman living in Kentucky, with all the atrocious political positions and appeals to white racists,” he wrote.

Love added, “And at a time when sisters are doing things such as building a new #BlackLivesMatter movement to fight racism and police violence against black people, Hampton is one of the few black women in the country who is down with the Tea Party.”

Love said Bevin “apparently is down with white supremacists. But we’ll get to that later.”

Hampton has been a Tea Party activist. Bevin is a Tea Party hero.

Hampton shares Bevin’s far-right- wing agenda, which includes bare-knuckles union-busting. Both of them are rabidly anti-union.

Bevin and Hampton support a “right to work” law and oppose the prevailing wage. They don’t just reject a minimum wage boost. They hate the very idea of a government-mandated floor wage.

Anyway, Love doesn’t buy claims by Republican bigwigs that Hampton—the first African American ever elected to statewide office in Kentucky–is more “proof” that the GOP, though overwhelmingly white, isn’t racist.

Party officials also cite as “proof” a handful of other African Americans who got elected as Republicans — Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former Congressman Allen West of Florida, for example. Like Bevin and Hampton, Scott and West are Tea Party-tilting ultra-conservatives who despise unions.

“Conservatives will likely say Jenean Hampton and those of her ilk help to humanize a GOP that African-Americans perceive as hostile,” Love wrote. “In Kentucky and elsewhere, running against Obamacare and Obama — and by extension black people in general — was a winning strategy for the Republicans.”

In the Bluegrass State and elsewhere, Republicans blow gaskets when anybody accuses them of pandering to racial prejudice. “We are still a racist state, I hate to admit it,” Politico’s Jason Zingerle quoted a Kentucky GOP strategist in a 2014 article about Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell. “Anything you can connect to Barack Obama is a winning thing for us.”

Bevin, Love pointed out, voted for a white supremacist for president in 2004. In addition, Bevin received $500 from another white supremacist when he challenged McConnell in last year’s GOP senate primary. (He and Hampton each contributed $500 to an NAACP minority scholarship fund after the media broke the story about the money Bevin got from the bigot.)

“The Republican base hates them some black people, but they love some black people who hate them some black people even more,” Love wrote. “This makes Hampton a useful tool in the Civil War white conservative Southerners have been fighting since 1861.”

He concluded, “Jenean Hampton and Ben Carson appeal to those who want to bring out the worst in white folks, with an out-of-poverty, up-from-bootstraps narrative that seeks to cut down those who want to get up the ladder. Please believe, this new breed of black conservatives has all the makings of a hot mess.”

Carson, and presumably Hampton, are two black conservatives who appeal to some Rebel flag wavers. The other day, I spotted a white guy driving an SUV with a Carson-for-president sticker on the back window next to a sticker depicting the original red, white and blue, seven-star Confederate “Stars and Bars.”

The banner was adopted in 1861 after six other Deep South slave states, fearing President Abraham Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” would abolish slavery, followed South Carolina out of the Union, thus accepting the Palmetto State’s invitation “to join us in forming a confederacy of Slaveholding States.”

Below on the back hatch was one of those small, metal Christian fish stickers, which are especially popular with Christian conservatives.

My friend Dr. Bill Schell, a history professor at Murray State University—not a guy who pulls punches either—suggested the Carson-for-president-Rebel flag-fish sticker combination provides “insight into the sort of people who support Ben Carson – a conservative Christian proud of his/her Confederate heritage which he/she insists is not racist, in search of an anti-Obama candidate.”

A Rude Unhinging – a Political Body in Shock

By Ron Leach

My medical colleagues will recognize the title – A Rude Unhinging – derived from Dr. Samuel Gross’ 1862 description of a rapidly deteriorating physiological state of the human body now known as shock; “the rude unhinging of the machinery of life.”  They will also recognize the term homeostasis; the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes, necessary for health and long-term survival of the biologic organism. Just as the biologic body – human or other living organism, and the interconnected ecosystem – requires a state of equilibrium within narrow metabolic norms, our “body politic” requires homeostasis, or a balance within certain ranges of normal if the essential core functions of that body shall persist and serve us appropriately.

Just as our bodies have normal criterion ranges on exam resulting in optimal outcomes, our body politic operates most effectively and for the good of the body as a whole – i.e. all of us – within a narrow range of healthy norms.  The current political vital signs and behaviors point to trouble. On exam I see an abnormal temperature in our political temperament – ideological extremes. I see multiple Behavior Health concerns such as paranoia, schizophrenia, and depression. I see a substance abuse disorder manifested in the ever growing influence of money used more frequently even once the damage is readily apparent – (yet I am sure every politician will insist that they don’t have a problem, and can quit any time).

In human medicine, seriously concerning values or significant behaviors abnormalities require immediate attention. Measurable quantifiable lab values, when significantly outside of normal, are referred to as “critical values” and require immediate reporting to and acknowledgement by the treating provider. I am reporting the critical values and out of range behaviors I am seeing in our democracy or Body Politic. We – all of us – as the care takers of our own democracy must acknowledge these critical values and formulate a treatment plan.

A Febrile Body Politic – Ideological extremes and hyperpolarization: Whereas the human body has a vital sign of temperature, our politics has a measurable vital sign in temperament. The current polarization within our politics exceeding normal values on both the left and right, has stricken our democracy and wrought a paralysis rendering our body politic unable to appropriately address the most significant and growing challenges of our nation.  What is a “normal” range/value for political vital signs?  Biologic normal values are often derived from a reference range defined as the set of values for which 95 percent of the normal population falls within.  So, what would be a normal range for political polarization and what would indicate a body politic with a polarization and partisanship that exceeds a “normal” healthy range and potentially a critical value?  By what measure can I definitively state that our politics is no longer in homeostasis and is in a life threatening state of imbalance?  First, I will point to the quantifiable and measurably growing polarization within the walls of our US Congress.  From post WWII through the early nineties, 40 percent of US Congressional members where rated as moderates based on their votes and positions.  These moderates carried, nearly equally, the label of Democrats or Republicans. Within the ranks of Democrats and Republicans there existed a degree of common ground on many issues and room for mutual respect and compromise. Now the number of moderates has dropped to 10 percent, with a growing absence of bridge builders and coalition builders on both sides of the isle.  Another way to examine this shifting vital sign of our democracy would be to look at the shrinking number of US House and Senate members who fall between the most liberal Republican member and the most conservative Democratic members within their respective legislative bodies as discussed in Chris Cillizza’s The Ideological Middle is Dead in Congress – Really Dead, 10 April 2014, Washington Post.  A few graphics from that article to make the point:
It is no coincidence that this trend has coincided with more frequent ideological showdowns while our US Government is frequently taken to the brink of shutdown or default, sequestration in lieu of responsible budgets, and CR (continuing resolution) after CR; no actual budget passed from 2009 until just recently while on the brink of a fiscal cliff once again.

Polarized Congress Only Getting More Split– Now Proven by Math by Seth Augenstein, Digital Reporter 04/22/2015 reaches the same conclusion.

The US Legislature is temporarily playing nice.  In October 2015 a budget was finally passed and the US House passed a deal to finally fund the Highway Trust Fund for more than a few months at a time (although riddled with financing gimmicks/ smoke and mirrors rather than a clean straightforward adjustment in the federal gas tax that has remained unchanged for about two decades now – has lost inflation adjusted value of 63% since last raised and is further diminished measured by revenue per mile driven due to successes in increased fuel efficiency – a double whammy that has repeatedly depleted the fund).    As we get into the swing of another election year the perceived ability to actually govern is becoming a key issue in voter’s minds. Legislators are attempting to imitate actual governing. But the near insurmountable ideological divide remains and is growing, and the failure to make pragmatic and realistic deals is the result. This mounting and ongoing failure is reflected in the electorate’s declining congressional job approval ratings:
Signs of Depression within our Body Politics: Anhedonia– “the loss of interest or pleasure in activities one normally engaged in” is a key indicator of depression for which we strive to screen for at each patient encounter. Anhedonia, while a subjective measure when evaluating our human patients, is a measurable and objective vital sign of our politics. A key normal activity in a democracy is voting. Yet, in the US, generally the rate for Presidential elections is around 50% participation, around 40% or less in midterm elections, and as witnessed in Kentucky’s Governor’s race last Tuesday, can be as low as 1 in 3 eligible voter or lower.  Just like our individual patient dealing with depression, our body politic expresses feelings of hopelessness and futility.  In addition to a voluntary lack of participation, we must add the millions in America who are disenfranchised by law – prior convictions of non-violent crimes for which they have paid their debt, or discouraged often intentionally by politicians seeking to choose the electorate, rather than trusting the electorate to choose them.

Schizophrenia – “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.” –Or more simply – (in general use) “a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements.”

Is the electorate – the global cognitive functioning of our body politic – exhibiting signs of schizophrenia?  YES, absolutely! Let’s look at Boyle County KY exit polling from the now only 10 days past Kentucky Governor’s race. While not a perfect picture of the state as a whole, it is close. (According to the Secretary of State’s website, 54.7% of Boyle County voters voted for Bevin, 40.1%, Conway, and 4.6% for Curtis, while Kentucky as a whole went 52.5% Bevin, 43.8% Conway, and 3.7% Curtis).  According to exit polling, 64.3 percent AGREE on raising the minimum wage to $10.10/hour – a position aligned with the Democrat that they rejected. The electorate agree on EPA regulation of the coal industry at 56.2% – Yet Bevin has been quoted as saying he will ignore the EPA and that the EPA can “go pound sand.” The electorate agrees with outgoing Democratic Gov. Beshear’s Medicaid expansion decision at 61.9% and support, Gov. Beshear’s implementation of KYNECT insurance exchange (Kentucky’s successful state run insurance exchange) 55.2%.  Yet Governor elect Matt Bevin  – while waffling from immediate repeal to “scale back” and shift current insured onto the federal exchange (so much for that libertarian “the states can do it better” mantra) is opposed to this position. On the issue of support for Rowen County Clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses, only 32.6% support her and Governor Bevin’s position. Yet these same voters gave Matt Bevin 54.7% of their vote (a 14.6% margin of victory over Democrat Jack Conway).  Of the six exit polled questions, the only exit question in which the electorate sided with the candidate for which the majority gave their vote was on the issue of random drug testing for recipients of public benefits.  So, yes, the electorate reflects a degree of inconsistency, i.e. “a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements.”

Substance abuse disorder– Substance use/abuse disorder, also known as drug use disorder, “is a condition in which the use of one or more substances leads to a clinically significant impairment or distress.”  The abused substance/ the substance for which our body politic has developed a disabling and unhealthy dependence is money. “Money is not the root of all evil in politics, In fact, money is the lifeblood of politics” former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay once said. Majority Leader DeLay was later indicted for election law violations asserting undue corporate money influence (later acquitted – because that same corporate money can buy whatever “justice” is sought).  How do we decide when there is a substance abuse disorder vs a harmless and responsible use? For alcohol the long used screening “CAGE” questionnaire asks the following:
• Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
For our Body Politics we could ask equivalently have you ever felt you should cut down on the amount of time you spend fund raising and spend more time actually governing?
• Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
For our legislators clearly under the influence, we could ask “have your constituents, those you are elected to represent, ever suggested that you fund raise too much and have no time for them or their concerns?”
• Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
We could ask “have you ever felt guilty with the company you keep to supply your insatiable need for money? Have you ever done things/made votes you are ashamed of because you needed another fundraising fix?”
• Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (Eye opener)?
Have you ever missed a vote or a constituent meeting for a fund raiser? How soon after the previous election (how many hours later) do you feel the need to do just a little more fund raising?

Item responses on the CAGE are scored 0 or 1, with a higher score indicating alcohol problems.  A total score of 2 or greater is considered clinically significant.  I feel we can safely assume that the vast majority of our elected “representatives” would, if honest, produce a max score of 4 indicating a significant dependency impairment.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a condition in which a child (Member of Congress) displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior toward people in authority (the electorate/ E Pluribus Unum –the idea that we are all in this together and stronger as one). The child’s (insert the US House “Freedom Caucus”) behavior often disrupts the child’s (Legislators) normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school (insert US Congress). Are there any questions on validity of  this observed pathology exhibited by a 40 US House member minority and a smaller handful of US Senators that has hijacked and rendered our US Congress dysfunctional? Enough said.

Are we now witnessing our body politic spiraling rapidly to the rude unhinging of the machinery of life, towards a point of no return?  A traumatized or ill body has compensatory mechanisms that can for a short duration stave off shock – an increased heart rate, peripheral vascular constriction to restore blood pressure and direct blood and oxygen to core functions of the heart, brain, and other vital organs; but at the expense of other less immediate needs.  We are witnessing this compensatory state within our body politics. Core functions, while compromised and maintained in a clunky inefficient and short term myopic fashion, are continuing. But the non-standard/ outside of “regular order” methods – Continuing Resolutions in the absence of responsible and deliberate budgeting, sequestration that fails to distinguish between vital and non-vital investments, discharge petitions to force votes on popular bills with wide spread bipartisan support etc., employed to sustain minimal core functions are not without costs.  The less immediately vital, but in the long-term essential, functions required to maintain our nation’s growth and health are starved and will deplete and weaken our nation over time.  A healthy Body Politic has the mental and cognitive strength to constrain excesses, plan for the next generation rather than pander for the next election, and give due diligence to all that ails us, not just blunder forward aimlessly.

Just as the human body’s ability to compensate eventually fails and is followed rapidly by the rude unhinging of the machinery of life, with rapidly diminishing likelihood of recovery in the absence of timely and aggressive life support, our body politic is approaching the point of decompensating and a precipitous decline towards a point of no return.  In the early stages of shock, as core immediate body functions are prioritized and less immediate needs are neglected, the damage begins almost immediately as areas deprived of normal oxygenation and blood supply begin anaerobic metabolism resulting in acidosis, lactic acid production, and an accumulation of metabolic toxins that even if full reperfusion is restored, will wreak havoc and harm to the body as a whole.  We see this same toxic buildup in our body politics today – an acidic political environment, atrophy of our public institutions and the public’s confidence in these institutions,  a steady spiral towards the point of no return, towards a rude unhinging that is eventually irreversible.

What interventions are required?

Prescription/plan: Regular Exercise – Exercise our Vote!  And as with all healthy exercise programs, we need voters to “exercise smartly”, and able to make informed and healthy exercise routines.

(1) Automatic voter registration for every citizen at age 18.

(2) A National Election Holliday on our traditional Tuesday federal election day as well as open polls the Saturday and Monday prior.

(3) Mandatory public debates that will force incumbents to face and engage opponents and defend their record and ensure a more informed electorate able to exorcise there vote more effectively. Debates are a vital part of democracy often dodged by incumbents calculating that they have everything to lose and nothing to gain – as my opponent demonstrated in Kentucky’s 2nd US Congressional District race in 2014.  P.S.  –Debates should be over public airwaves and accessible to all, not only for those with the right cable package!

Substance Dependency Treatment
(1) End Citizens United, END ALL Corporate funding and Super PACS, make public all money spent to achieve political outcomes – i.e. buying legislation. Enforce moderation with enforceable caps on contributions for any perceivable purpose of influencing the electorate.

(2) Consider lengthening and staggering US House terms to mitigate the polar swings election cycle to election cycle and the member’s perceived need for endless fundraising due to the always near term next election.

(3) Voice of the Represented Only  – Ban contributions from outside the district for which the candidate seeks election – only allow contributions from the State for which a US Senator seeks election or re-election, the multiple counties of the district for which a US Representative seeks election, the few counties that a state representative or state Senator seeks to represent.  In doing so, election results will be determined by those represented, not by millions of dollars in outside contribution. This would greatly level the playing field upon which incumbents currently have a near insurmountable advantage. Elections would less likely be won through saturating the airwaves with biased and carefully crafted TV ads, but rather be won by good old fashion shoe leather, local organizing, public debates and engaging with the electorate directly.

Antipyretics – Fever reduction. Address the temperament –hyperpartisanship – that is destroying our body politic.

(1) End Gerrymandering. All state and federal legislative districts created by an independent non-partisan means (several sophisticated computer programs/applications do a very fine job while eliminating any potential human bias or partisanship).

(2) End “straight ticket voting” here in Kentucky and the remaining other nine US Sates that allow it. Straight Ticket voting only exacerbates polarization.  Parties are NOT candidates. Voting straight ticket without making individual choices from top to bottom of the ballot is not actually voting for actual candidates on their merits at each level/race, and unless the voter can actually name each and every candidate on the ballot for which he or she is indicating a vote (for or effectively against) by choosing straight ticket, the basis of an informed vote is not truly exercised and they have not actually cast a vote for or against any actual candidate. Independents are disenfranchised/ disadvantaged – there is no Independent slate “straight ticket” choice, therefore they are not equally represented in the process.  In the case of severely polarized electorate (most electoral districts in Kentucky) the down ticket major party candidates are also disadvantaged having their fate severely skewed by the electorate’s response to the “top of the ticket” exacerbated by “straight ticket” voting option.

(3) Eliminate the (D), (R), (I) and other party designations next to the names on the ballot.  This overlaps with the aforementioned elimination of straight ticket voting, but takes it one step farther in seeking to ensure voters are selecting people rather than parties.

(4) Runoff elections: Consider voting that allows the electorate to rank candidates when three or more candidates seek the same elective office. Might also consider adding “none of the above” as a standard choice.  If no one candidate reaches a greater than 50 percent threshold as the electorate’s “1st Choice”, then there would be a runoff election for the top two finishers two weeks following the first round elections. In the case where the Independent or third party candidates rank high as the second choice for a majority of Democrats and Republicans, they would be more likely to move forward in the runoff rather than be eliminated because of the “spoiler effect” and “least of two evils” fear during a one off election. This technique may very well have resulted in a Bevin vs Curtis runoff election here in Kentucky and the possibility of a non-partisan and pragmatic outcome for our Great Commonwealth of Kentucky which would have better served us all. (See data confirming Independent Drew Curtis support less partisan/more moderate).

You may note that I did not list term limits. Why?   Because without many of the above and other measures, I fear that term limits could inadvertently bring about greater polarization. How? Consider a “wave” election year (landslide left or right) in which a relatively centrist legislator who would otherwise likely be reelected cannot seek reelection due to term limits. His or her potential moderating influence would be lost and likely replaced by a more ideological newcomer.  Additionally, unless you cutoff the immense influence of PACs, Super PACs and other special interest monetary advantage, these entities will simply swoop into every race now an open race (no incumbent) due to term limits and install the candidate of their choice – i.e. he or she most compliant or willfully sponsored by them.  I do not completely reject the idea of term limits and am sympathetic to the argument, but fear the result may not be as intended if not implemented in conjunction with other systemic reforms.

This is not an all-inclusive list of the measures I would suggest to restore the health and functionality of our American democracy, and I do not suggest that I have all the answers. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions – second opinions or the assessment of specialists so to speak.  The bottom line is our Body Politic is severely ill, and further delay of our intervention will only result in a continuing deteriorating state with diminishing chances of recovery. Some of what I have suggested may have untoward side effects and may not be the right answer. In medicine every intervention if followed by a reevaluation and adjustment of the treatment plan as indicated. The same will need to be the case as we attempt an aggressive resuscitation of our democracy. But doing nothing would equate to malpractice. We are the care takers of our own democracy. We must acknowledge the current deteriorating status and actively and aggressively intervene now.

Ron Leach
Brandenburg Kentucky


College: A Debt Trap?

Are student loans a debtors’ prison?

Mother Jones
A ProPublica analysis based on new data from the US Department of Education shows that students from low-income families graduate from NYU saddled with huge federal loans. The school’s Pell Grant recipients—students from families that make less than $30,000 a year—owe an average of $23,250 in federal loans after graduation. Read more.

What about those that that didn’t finish college and took out student loans will they have to pay?

The College Investigator
The fact is, whether you graduate or not, you’re still on the line for your student loan debt. Just because you don’t finish doesn’t get you out of repaying what you’ve already spend on school. I was recently talking to a woman named Sara, who went to college for a year and a half before deciding the college wasn’t for her. She accrued $45,000 in debt from that year and a half. She really wanted to become a dental hygienist, which required another couple years of vocational school, at a cost of $20,000 per year. She was looking for a way out of the original debt – but it wasn’t happening. Read more.

Can you stop paying your student loan when you start drawing Social Security?

CNNMoney (New York) August 24, 2014
It’s a growing national trend. Last year (2013), 156,000 Americans had their Social Security checks garnished because of student loans they had defaulted on. It’s tripled in number from 47,500 in 2006, before the Great Recession. That’s according to analysis done by the U.S. Treasury for CNNMoney. Read more.

Can you stop paying your student loan if you become disabled?

CBS News
The government and collection agencies can beat you with tactics not allowed for other types of loans. For example, they can seize tax refunds, garnish up to 15 percent of your disposable income, and seize part of your Social Security or disability payments if you receive more than $750 a month — all without getting a court order. Many states can also cancel your professional licenses, such as those for teachers, lawyers, and healthcare workers, making it impossible for you to find the work you’re trained for. Read more.




Veterans Day: Remembering Charlie Frost

Charlie Frost a real American hero is no longer with us. He passed away Sunday, January 24, 2010.

I considered this man a friend and feel fortunate he allowed me to capture his story in 2005.

Charlie’s moving story is below.

Radcliff, Kentucky — A local man who survived the Tiger Death March as a POW in the Korean War died Sunday, January 24, 2010.

Charles Frost Jr. often arrived at local veterans events in a 1942 Army Jeep. He also would wear his old uniform, which he will be buried in. He was 77.

“Wherever there was something that paid a tribute or an honor to soldiers, he was there,” former state Rep. Mike Weaver said.

Frost joined the Army at age 15, and two years later was sent to battle in Korea.

Serving in the 34th Infantry Regimen, 24th Division, he and his fellow GIs were ambushed several times; Frost was the lone survivor of at least two of these attacks.

After he was captured, a North Korean officer — nicknamed “The Tiger” because he was so harsh — forced him and other Americans to march 126 miles to a Chinese prison camp. The temperature at times dropped to 20 below zero.

“It just took an extremely strong person to survive that,” said Weaver, a retired Army colonel.

Only 212 out of 850 GIs survived the march. Some froze or starved to death — or died from disease. Others were shot for leaving formation.

Frost — a prisoner of war from 1950 until 1953 — was bayoneted twice in the leg. He also lost a kidney because of malnutrition, according to Weaver.

Fifty years later, with Weaver’s help, he was awarded the Purple Heart medal.

Matt Bevin’s War Against Medicaid And Jobs

Kentucky Republicans have declared war against jobs. How do you eliminate 35,000 jobs? Ask Matt Bevin he has all of the details.

Kentucky Governor elect Matt Bevin has promised to dismantle Medicaid expansion and thousands of jobs.

Bloomberg View
In 2015, Medicaid expansion in Kentucky is expected to generate an extra 35,000 jobs, $1.3 billion in payroll and $3.5 billion in economic output. That translates into an extra $127 million in new revenue through income, sales and occupational taxes. The estimates are similar for other states. Read more.


While enrollment increases will likely slow and begin to level off, it is expected that the average capitation rate will continue to increase at roughly four percent per year. As a result, total Medicaid expansion spending is expected to increase by four to six percent per year. The annual increase in our estimate of the payroll effects is about the same; we expect the employment impact to grow by roughly four to five percent per year through fiscal year 2021. By the end of fiscal year 2021 we estimate that the additional healthcare spending resulting from the expanded eligibility will lead to 41,000 more jobs, with a payroll of $1.8 billion. Read more.

Matt Bevin and the Fletcher Factor


Go ahead and call it wishful thinking, or whistling past the graveyard, on the part of this union card-carrying lifelong Kentuckian whose politics are left of liberal. 

But I’m not the only one who sees a potential Fletcher Factor in Matt Bevin’s election as Kentucky’s governor. Okay, it seems like everybody else who sees it too it is a Democrat who, like me, voted for Attorney Gen. Jack Conway, our party’s candidate.

“Ernie Fletcher and his posse rode into Frankfort determined to flatten the place, and the natives rose up and brought him down,” the no-holds-barred, liberal Blue in the Bluegrass blogsite recalled. “It’s Bevin’s turn now.”

Still, I’m wondering if at least some establishment Republicans are a tad worried that the tea party-tilting, uber-conservative Bevin could be the sequel to One Term Ern.

Fletcher won the governorship in 2003 on an anti-government and anti-union platform. He catered to Christian conservatives and emphasized hot-button social issues. Bevin’s campaign looked like a carbon copy of Fletcher’s.

Like almost all true believers — left-wing and right — Fletcher and Bevin have big egos. Fletcher’s vanity led him into a hiring scandal that resulted in some administration officials getting indicted. Fletcher’s fate was disgrace and defeat in 2007.

Anyway, in his election night victory address to the faithful, Bevin urged everybody to work together, regardless of party. That’s what every winner says in every election, even a dog catcher-elect.

Before he ended his speech, Bevin ditched the kumbaya stuff, obviously self-serving as it was. He led the flock in chanting “Flip the house! Flip the House!,” a call to wrest the legislature’s lower chamber from the Democrats next November.

I doubt Bevin’s fans need  worry that their guy has gone soft on the Democrats.

By working together, Bevin meant the Democrats need to hoist the white flag, come out with their hands up and get on board with his radical right-wing program.

Maybe I missed it. But nowhere on the campaign trail did I hear Bevin even hint at a willingness to meet the Democrats halfway. He was the compromise-is-surrender, show-no-quarter ideologue to the end.

At the close of their final debate, Conway complimented Bevin for adopting some children from Africa.

Given a chance to say something nice about Conway, Bevin snapped, “I look forward to you having the opportunity to join the private sector.”

On Friday in Frankfort, the state capital, Bevin “repeated his election night comment that Republicans and Democrats must work together as ‘one Kentucky’ to tackle the challenges ahead,” USA reported. “We have a clear political mandate where the people clearly state, ‘We want something new.  We want to be heard,'” the paper quoted him.

Bevin beat Conway 53-44. But less than 31 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. In other words, Bevin’s “mandate” came from about 16 percent of signed up voters.

A more thoughtful candidate might be careful about claiming “a clear political mandate” when 84 percent of voters stayed home on election day or voted the other way.

Anyway, a dozen years ago, Fletcher became One Term Ern.  Four years from now, Bevin just might become Four And Out Matt.