Off The Record: Are yellow dogs turning colors?

November 10, 2003|HERB BROCK

Post-election notes written on the back of one of the seemingly hundreds of "Chandler for governor" yards signs around Danville:

GOP NOW BMOC IN KY... First, Republicans began winning senatorial elections. Then, they began winning presidential races. Then, they began winning congressional races. Now, because of results in Tuesday's general election, they've won the biggest political prize in the commonwealth - the governorship - and they did it in a near-landslide.

For four decades, the Republican Party has slowly but surely been taking control of Kentucky's political landscape. To allude to the economy policy of Ronald Reagan, it's been a trickle down evolution as more and more voters have been casting ballots for Republicans in races for offices in Washington, D.C., and they now are electing more GOPsters to offices in Frankfort. On Tuesday, they sent a Republican to the biggest office in Frankfort, breaking a Democrat stranglehold that basically has existed for way over a century, with a few aberrational victories by Republicans, such as the last one when Louie Nunn won in 1967.


Since 1960 or so, voters in this once solid-Southern Dixiecrat state have become increasingly comfortable voting for Republicans. They have found out they won't be struck by lightning and it's OK to be or have a dog that is a color other than yellow.

While most Kentuckians still prefer to register Democrat - Dems still enjoy a 2-to-1 registration margin over Republicans - many of them appear to favor the generally more conservative views of the state and national Republican parties and their candidates. The increasingly liberal national Democratic Party continues to turn off Kentucky Democrats, politicians as well as regular people.

The national party's unpopularity in the state, plus the popularity of a conservative Republican president, had almost as much to do with Republican U.S. 6th District Rep. Ernie Fletcher's victory on Tuesday as the scandals of outgong Democrat Gov. Paul Patton and the way they tainted all "Frankfort Democrats," including Ben Chandler. Despite a good record as a hard-working auditor and attorney general who went after Patton and other Dems, Chandler fell into the political quicksand created by the governor and the national party.

It's too soon to say whether Fletcher's victory was the start of Republican domination of the governorship or another aberration. But we do know he will have a much friendlier legislature to deal with than Nunn did. The GOP controls the Senate. In Nunn's day, the only thing Republicans controlled was the line in the Capitol Annex cafeteria. The few Republicans in the House and Senate had a lot of time to chew the fat because they had nothing to do in their respective, Democrat-dominated chambers.

The next step for the GOP in their trickle-down take-over of political offices is winning some courthouses, most of which still are firmly in Democrat hands. But no matter what the future holds, the recent past indicates those hands are losing their grip on Kentucky's voters.

LOCAL GOP CAN REALLY CELEBRATE NOW... I recall back in the 1980's covering Republican election parties after big wins by then-Republican U.S. 6th District Rep. Larry Hopkins and then- Republican presidents Reagan and Bush. The group, which could fit in a small phone booth, was giddy and gleeful that their GOP heroes had won. They also seemed to take a little credit for delivering Boyle County.

Those folks did deserve credit for their loyalty but little for the outcomes of congressional and presidential victories. What they deserved was a room with a couch and a shrink for their delusionary demeanor. The local and state Republican parties were extremely weak as viable organizations, while their party's congressional and presidential candidates were very strong and took advantage of Kentucky Democrats' general disconnect with the liberal party.

But now that small group of loyalists of the 1980s can get off the couch and join the much larger, better organized and more aggressive local GOP and celebrate a victory the local party actually had something to do with. Chances are Fletcher probably could have won Boyle County without much help from the local party, but the local party, led by Tom McClain, took no chances. They worked the phones and the door bells on behalf of Fletcher.

Unlike their predecessors, McClain and other party leaders didn't wait for statewide and national elections to go to work. They recruited several candidates to run in the last county elections and, while unsuccessful in all but one race, showed they plan to give Boyle voters a choice from now on.

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