If you’re one of the relatively few Kentuckians who will vote in the May 21 primary for statewide constitutional offices, beware. Several candidates are seeking your vote with arguments that are largely irrelevant and sometimes misleading.
Irrelevant political pitches are nothing new, but they dominate this month’s TV ads, videos, mail pieces and online chatter in a way we haven’t seen before.
That’s partly because our politics have been made so unusual, by a most unusual president who dominates the daily news and social media, giving voters less time to ponder the less entertaining and less outrageous politics of their states and localities.
But more about President Trump later. Let’s start with the marquee race, the Democratic primary for governor.
The race hit a turning point Thursday, May 2, when the political action committee formed by allies of former state auditor Adam Edelen put up an attack ad against the front-runner, Attorney General Andy Beshear. Edelen followed suit with a similar ad Monday, May 6. (It’s illegal for the campaigns to coordinate, and they say they’re not; the PAC is financed mainly by the mother-in-law of Edelen’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Gill Holland.)
Both ads mention Tim Longmeyer, the former Beshear deputy who is prison for crimes committed as personnel secretary for Beshear’s father, then-Gov. Steve Beshear. Edelen looks into the camera and says he doesn’t like negative ads, but Beshear “told you he’s fighting corruption, but his top aide is in jail for taking bribes.”
That implies the crimes were committed in Andy Beshear’s office. They weren’t, except one bribe Longmeyer accepted after being busted and he was cooperating in an FBI sting operation that resulted in another conviction. There’s no evidence that Beshear or his father knew about these crimes. The case may cast doubt on their judgment, but it was a surprise to those who knew Longmeyer; this guilt-by-association dog doesn’t hunt. At least Edelen, who was an aide to Steve Beshear, makes the attack himself, an unusual step.
The PAC ad says Andy Beshear “is all about the money,” and says he got contributions from Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, the main drug that fueled the opioid epidemic. That’s misleading; the money was given in 2015 when Beshear was running for attorney general, and it was given to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, which backed him as a party nominee.
A response ad from Beshear says he’s sued nine drug makers over the epidemic, and “won’t take their money.” In another response, Beshear says of his foes, “The only person they’re helping is Matt Bevin.” Only if Beshear wins the primary; a sense of entitlement won’t help him do that.
Our Republican governor has a nominal primary, in which state Rep. Robert Goforth has attacked him on several fronts – including a key issue on which Bevin is running, abortion. A Goforth mailer warns that Bevin gave to an independent congressional candidate in Maine “who is both pro-abortion and Planned Parenthood-endorsed!”
Bevin’s $1,000 contribution was to Marty Grohman, a business associate and former prep-school classmate. Helping an old buddy should cast no doubt on his strong anti-abortion stance.
Bevin’s first ad, a 60-second spot, is relevant, except maybe these 12 seconds: “President Trump is taking America to new heights, but it hasn’t been easy. People are afraid of change. But I’m not. Neither is the president and together, our changes are working.”
Bevin goes on to note Kentucky’s record-low unemployment, which is probably more attributable to Trump than to him.
Trump has little to do with other issues in the race, but he’s the biggest asset Bevin has, because he’s popular in Kentucky and the governor is not. It’s almost surprising that he’s in only one-fifth of the ad – especially when compared to the GOP primary for attorney general.
Daniel Cameron, former aide to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, and Wil Schroder, state senator from Northern Kentucky, seem to be competing for who can be the Trumpiest, in various ways that are mostly irrelevant.
Cameron is backed by TV ads from Judicial Watch, a national group that doesn’t reveal its donors – not a good look for someone running to be the state’s chief law enforcer, even if the ads are independent. A Cameron mailer says Schroder is a former Democrat “disguised as a Republican,” and an altered image shows him holding a “Best Democrat” trophy. That’s not only over the top, it’s irrelevant.
A Schroder response ad shows him shooting up a TV and saying Cameron is “running a shameful, negative campaign.” The ad says he is “a father, a husband and a Christian.” Cameron has no children and is divorced. Those facts are relevant to many voters, but they should remember the Constitution says “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That’s relevant, too.
Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. NKyTribune and KyForward are the anchor home for Al Cross’ column.