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Bill Straub: What in tarnation is going on in NKY? Outlier is one thing, but total confrontational?

A friendly acquaintance, James Carville, who guided Wallace Wilkinson’s successful campaign for governor in 1987 before earning fame and fortune ramrodding Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential effort, once remarked of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that it was Pittsburgh on one end, Philadelphia on the other end and Alabama in the middle.

There’s still a lot of truth in that. To take it a step further, more and more it’s beginning to look like the Commonwealth of Kentucky is Paducah on one end, Pikeville on the other end and Franco-era Spain in the 4th Congressional District.

To paraphrase that great philosopher Yosemite Sam, what in tarnation is going on in Northern Kentucky?

The region, basically running along the Ohio River from the outskirts of Louisville to Ashland, has traditionally had a right-of-center bent with small government notions and conservative cultural values, especially on the issue of abortion. But recent political events have tossed the region over the edge, into a MAGA duchy that makes it look like feudal England under Henry II, where insurrectionist values are on display.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

In Tuesday’s primary, Republican voters ousted three state House incumbents with solid conservative credentials because, presumably, they weren’t vicious enough in their legislative dealings. The electorate instead went with a trio aligned with a faction operating under the misnomer of “liberty,” who are expected to join the right-wing crazy crowd in Frankfort since the GOP nomination these days is tantamount to victory in those districts.

Analysts maintain the upstarts benefitted from attacking the incumbents for failing to aggressively oppose the health regulations imposed by Gov. Andy Beshear in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – requiring folks, for instance, to wear masks to halt the spread, which seems a small price to pay to avoid death, but what do I know?

In one of those races, it appears voters nixed Rep. C. Edward Massey, R-Hebron, at least to some degree, because he opposed efforts to impeach Gov. Andy Beshear. Massey did so because, well, Beshear did nothing to warrant impeachment. But that’s neither here nor there to these folks.

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, lost to Erlanger attorney Steve Doan who carried the endorsement of a dangerous outfit called the National Association of Gun Rights that won’t be happy until every child is presented with an AK-47 immediately after exiting the birth canal.

It should come as no surprise, then, that former President Donald J. Trump received 64.8 percent of the district’s vote in his unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2020. What is surprising is Trump actually ran behind Congressman Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, who garnered 67.1 percent of the vote that same year.

Massie is a motivating factor among the “liberty’’ candidates, especially with Doan, who specifically received his endorsement. Now, we could spend hours here, days really, going over Massie’s mind-blowing escapades during his 10 excruciatingly long years in office that renders him, along with the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-CO, and others a card-carrying member of the Most Ludicrous Member of Congress Caucus.

We’ll just take a quick shortcut here to note that the House on Wednesday adopted legislation calling on lawmakers to recognize the “dangerous rise of antisemitism globally and in the United States” and “condemn and combat any and all manifestations of antisemitism.”

The vote was 420-1. The lone holdout? You guessed it – Massie. That tells you all you need to know. But place your bets now that, despite this and other unforgettable and unforgiveable outrages perpetuated by this joke of a congressman, the voters of the 4th Congressional District will return him to office this November in overwhelming numbers.

Massie’s continued success, the election of three “liberty” candidates to the Kentucky House and the overwhelming affection for Trump exposes something broiling beneath the surface in Northern Kentucky, particularly as it relates to the Republican Party.

Northern Kentucky has always been something of an outlier in the Commonwealth’s politics. During the age of Democratic dominance in the state it was the second-most Republican region, behind only the 5th District in hilly Southeastern Kentucky along the Tennessee border, which traditionally served as one of the nation’s strongest GOP strongholds, right up there with the likes of Orange County, CA.

It always sent a troop of Republicans to Frankfort and most, if not all, acquitted themselves well and concentrated on serving their constituents rather than try to score cheap political points. In the latter half of the 20th Century, folks like the late Lawson Walker, a particularly good guy who died too young, Lou DeFalaise, Barry Caldwell, Ken Harper and others too numerous to list did their best at a time when Republicans were overwhelmed. Art Schmidt, of Cold Spring, and Clyde Middleton, of Ft. Mitchell, served admirably.

That’s not to say there weren’t any Republicans in Northern Kentucky who held their office with an edge. Lloyd Rogers, from what was then the far-right wing of the party, was elected Campbell County judge-executive 1982. He quickly imploded and didn’t return to office. And, of course, there was Jim Bunning of Ft. Thomas, a state senator, a 4th District congressman before Massie and then a U.S. senator for 12 years whose persona was as sharp as his inside fastball used to be.

Generally, however, the GOP Frankfort delegation was the suburban, Chamber of Commerce sort with a strong aversion to abortion. That was consistently drummed into the local political system by Catholic Bishop Richard Ackerman and attorney Robert Cetrulo, the long-time head of Northern Kentucky Right to Life who made it nearly impossible for proponents of abortion rights to get elected in the region.

But the new Republicans obviously prefer the confrontational and abusive style employed by Trump, It has carried the party further to the right – so far to the right it’s barely distinguishable on the horizon. But it’s even more noticeable in the way they do business, constantly in the face of political foes, refusing to compromise or look for common ground, all to own the libs.

It’s further an outgrowth of the Tea Party Movement, launched in 2009, which sought to gain control of the nation’s fiscal issues – reduce debt and spending – but was really based on the fear of African-Americans asserting their rights in an increasingly diverse nation. Funny how few Tea Partiers complained during the Trump administration about huge increases in debt and spending.

The focus of many Republicans, including the Northern Kentucky variety, has shifted from economics to culture. The Supreme Court is poised to grant them a victory on the abortion issue — its days as a protected constitutional right appear to be limited – and the focus will probably shift, in due time, to same sex marriage.

Regardless, voters in the 4th Congressional District have adopted the Trump MAGA politics of division, abuse and, particularly, grievance, as their own. A place where folks believe the 2020 presidential election was rigged and trust that the replacement theory is obviously progressing.

God save the Commonwealth.

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One Comment

  1. Col Owens says:

    As usual, Bill Straub hits the nail on the head – this time with a sledgehammer!

    What he does not get into is the great irony in the juxtaposition between the NKY population, socioeconomic status, and standard of living,and those of other areas in the state.

    We are a highly educated area. Our economy is strong. We have an array of excellent education systems, and good health care. As Chamber President Brent Cooper points out, collectively Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties have well over 400,000 residents, making us the second largest populace in the state, larger than Fayette County. (And well over half the population of the 4th Congressional District.) We have a transportation system that is the envy of many, a major airport, a river, and two major expressways.

    Yet, for all that, we vote for regressive leadership, indeed, completely ineffective leadership. It is a travesty to call it leadership. I know of not one thing that Thomas Massie has done in Congress – besides embarrass us.

    NKY needs to wake up and seize its destiny. Replace Massie with Matt Lehman this fall.

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