The Richmond Register

March 2, 2013

So far, so bad at General Assembly

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — FRANKFORT – Be careful what you wish for, my mother used to tell me. I should’ve listened.

Two months ago I wrote a column, only partly tongue in cheek, saying I was actually looking forward to the 2013 General Assembly.

Lord, what was I thinking?

The 22nd day of the 30-day session concluded Friday, and so far as I can see, not much of significance has happened. Bills which looked like sure bets – transparency from special taxing districts; a “framework” for growing hemp; and a bill to let military personnel stationed overseas vote by email – all seem in various degrees of trouble.

What lawmakers on both sides called “the single biggest issue facing this General Assembly,” pension reform, appears to be a hopeless mess, mired in gridlock.

We started out listening to lawmakers from both sides, as well as the governor, talk about a new tone, a new dialogue, a new atmosphere where the two parties could discuss major issues, even those about which they disagree, in civil terms.

Now one side is trying to make the other responsible for what many believe is an inevitable special session while the other side says the first will bankrupt the state while violating the constitution.

Hemp has gone up in the smoke of “politics,” and Secretary of State Alison Grimes wonders if politics is affecting the military voting bill.

Almost daily, we’re told the House has a plan for redrawing its legislative districts; then later the same day, we’re told that map is still evolving but should be ready tomorrow or Monday.

As I predicted two months ago, we have bills to honor people and to name things for them. We have a nullification bill to stand up to Barack Obama and his nefarious “big daddy government;” we’re fighting over “Obamacare” and those old familiar standards: abortion and charter schools.

Real problems facing our commonwealth and its people are ignored.

Stop by press row on the second floor of the Capitol and listen to the whining reporters. They’re exhausted, they’re snapping at editors and sometimes at each other. We complain that we’ve never seen such a frenetic pace in a “short session,” then we realize at the end of each day, despite back-to-back-to-back committee meetings, nothing much really happened.

Small wonder we jump at any chance to ask if Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell. (Wouldn’t you rather cover Ashley than Rocky or Damon?)

In the past, reporters would suggest that behind the scenes, a deal was being cut and David Williams or Greg Stumbo would at the end pull a rabbit out of the hat. This time, they’re wondering if Stumbo and Williams’ successor, Robert Stivers, may have run out of rabbits. (At least soon, they won’t have coyotes to blame.)

Gov. Steve Beshear made an appearance alongside Stumbo and Stivers to extol the success of a bill to crack down on prescription pain pill abuse. But, as he has in recent years, Beshear seems otherwise unengaged. The sense is he’s waiting for everything to fall apart and try to secure pension and tax reform packaged together in a special session.

But he hasn’t sold tax reform to the public. and he hasn’t persuaded the Republican Senate. Stivers still says, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”

As Yogi Berra famously said: “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

I wish I hadn’t wished for what I now wish would go away.

I ended that column two months ago asking if anyone could suggest a good counseling service. I’m still open to suggestions.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.