On the weekend before Memorial Day, on KET’s Comment on Kentucky show, I proposed that our candidates for Governor say something different in their speeches. With five months and a few days to go before the general election, is it too much to ask the nominees for a little straight talk? Even a daring new idea about improving our lives?

Well, Memorial Day passed, but I listened in vain for a pledge to honor our fallen heroes with a credible solution to any problem in the society they died for. An example: how about kids’ teeth? Two-thirds of Kentucky’s poorest children who are eligible for government-assisted dental care don’t get it. In a state with three medical schools, oral health of the poor is almost the worst in America. It’s bad in rural Kentucky, but some of the most appalling neglect is of kids who live in Lexington and Louisville, cities with dental colleges. Only 31 percent of the Medicaid-eligible children in Fayette County and only 36 percent in Jefferson County see a dentist in communities that between them have more than one-fourth of the dentists in the state Why?

Voters may listen in vain for an answer to that tough question, but I fear they are in for plenty of empty promises like the one about the Logan County dog law. In Russellville, the county seat where I edited the weekly paper for twenty years, there was a candidate for the Fiscal Court in the horse and buggy days who was called upon by the farmers who raised sheep to define his position about a law against sheep-killing dogs.

“I’m for a law that protects the sheep,” he said, and then added, “but I’ll make it fair to the dogs.”

The war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 56 Kentuckians in the military plus scores of GIs from Fort Campbell’s 101st Division who went where they were sent. If their sacrifice was remembered in all the fund raising calls from candidates to fat-cat donors in the recent primary, I don’t know it. But it’s not too late for Steve Beshear and Ernie Fletcher to honor those who gave their lives for us with some plain, purposeful talk between now and November. Perhaps like the following:

“I will serve the past by focusing on the future for economic and social progress, meaning real access to education, decent jobs that reward education, universal health care, and secure opportunities to save money.

“I’m going to stop giving away tax dollars for crummy jobs that disappear before we get the investment back. There will be no more disposable Kentuckians; we will start rebuilding our economy from within. Because I know what $3 gas, unaffordable insurance, inflated prices, and lies to consumers are doing to the least well off, I will begin the fight at the college level. We must stop pricing education beyond the reach of our people. I will copy Ireland, once the poor stepchild of Europe, now the richest per capita nation. Ireland made college nearly free.

“I will stop ignoring and enabling polluters. I’ve heard about clean coal all my life, but I haven’t seen it yet. If you have to rip off a mountain top to get this stuff, it isn’t worth it.

“I will push all of us to quit smoking, lose weight, eat right, and buckle up. But they are nothing if we get sick and can’t afford a doc. I’ll fix that problem. We will raise the tobacco tax, discourage kids from starting to smoke, extend Medicaid to the working poor, and buckle down on an exploitive insurance industry and exploitive lawyers.

“God bless our heroes who gave us democracy, and those who died for our country. May we know that all who call upon Him in politics are not heroes, that some are hypocrites. Bless us that we may go forward in truth and transparency. Amen.”

So what shall we hear this long, hot political summer? Thoughtful proposals to address genuine problems? Or calls for a dog law?

Veteran journalist Al Smith will leave KET’s Comment on Kentucky program Nov. 16 after 33 years as host-producer.

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