The Race for Wendell Ford’s Senate Seat: Baesler, Bunning, Henry, and Owen

The Race for Wendell Ford’s Senate Seat: Baesler, Bunning, Henry, and Owen

The Senate race was a monster challenge: trying to find a candidate who best represents the interests of our readers?

Insiders on the Hill tell us that Baesler is the most elect-able candidate, and that he is surrounded by competent, genuinely committed staff. We were also assured that there are fiscal checks and balances in place that would prevent a debacle such as the failed cultural center/Ben Snyder block (which many still blame him for during his stint as Lexington’s mayor) from occurring at the national level. It’s a good thing too, unless somebody wants to see all those lovely monuments demolished. Hmm. Is a Democrat still a Democrat if he votes the Republican party line nearly every chance he gets? Well, read on for Rob “Big City” Hulsman’s commentary on that race.


Eeny Meeny…
by Rob Hulsman

A scoundrel’s last refuge used to be patriotism. It is now knee-jerk conservative politics. As the primaries approach for the 98 election and the race for Wendell Ford’s Senate seat heats up, it’s sometimes hard to find the Democrat amongst the conservative to (at best) moderate candidates. With the issue of the day, school violence, looming over the nation’s collective conscience, would-be lawmakers have been in their rhetoric quick to propose the removal of problem students from the classroom environment. The only problem becomes finding another environment for these future-felon go-getters without, A. sacrificing their educational and constitutional rights, and B. straining the already tight education budget. But hey, that’s why so many new prisons are under construction.

For the moment, let’s leave the “left” side of the political aisle for later. Let’s first hone in on the Republicans running for Ford’s seat. The race for the Republican nod is a poor match. Kentucky Congressman Jim Bunning (not Jim Palmer-that’s the guy in the underwear ad) is the proverbial Goliath facing Barry Metcalf’s best David (and we doubt his aim is that good). Bunning has so outspent Metcalf it has gone beyond not funny and back around to almost hilarious. Bunning’s war chest is estimated at over $1 million, while Metcalf has already gone into debt, spending just over $2,500 so far. Both men are very conservative, and both are very adamantly against women’s reproductive rights. Bunning’s response to ACE’s query is chock full of “family values” style catch phrases. Bunning has been one of Kentucky’s congressional representatives, voting consistently along conservative Republican lines. Surprisingly, Bunning has also voted anti-labor, even though as a professional baseball player in Philadelphia he helped form one of the first players’ unions. Bunning’s knee jerks rather quickly when he feels crossed. It was Bunning who fired off the (now famous) salvo against Pitino for appearing with President Clinton, decrying this as such a foul he would never support the Cats again (he has since done a 180, proclaiming himself a Tubby fan). Bunning is a strong challenge to the Democrat’s crowded field however, touting years of Congressional experience and the most coveted trait amongst politicians-former pro-athlete status.

Metcalf’s main achievement in the state senate was a straight pipe sewer bill. His “office,” seemed to consist of a staffer who admitted to a lack of familiarity with fax machines-and we feared a request for email might’ve sent him into a catatonic state.

If this is the only primary you’d planned on voting in, our best recommendation would be to stay home.

On to the Democrats. None lean to the left, and some propose some very un-Democrat like ideas. This crowded field of moderate to conservative candidates could ultimately work against the party in general. Baesler and Owen are already duking it out on TV, bloodying themselves before the actual race ever starts.

Scotty is a fighter though, and he can stand the test of primaries. He is the odds-on front runner in the Democratic line up. His services as mayor of Lexington and as 6th district congressman have bolstered his campaign in the name recognition category. Just what reaction that sort of recognition brings depends on how the voters (especially in Lexington) feel about some of his well-publicized missteps. He got caught with his pants down a few times as mayor, with city workers moving his furniture and cronies selling the state a bum-deal building that was over-appraised. His Ben Snyder/Cultural Center legacy still looms dark in many voters’ minds. The state party seems to feel however, that he has a very capable staff and stands poised to get some work done for the party. But just which party? A quick review of his voting record (see sidebar) reveals that in the past 18 months Baesler has voted 38 out of 62 times along the same lines as Bunning. His staff didn’t respond to our deadline on time (despite the fact that we cover a substantial portion of his “hometown” constituency), and when they did, the response was just a photocopy of generic campaign material. Baesler’s overall conservative bent is not surprising, though. The other candidates in the Democratic primary don’t look much more promising to the few liberals left in Kentucky.

Dr. Steve Henry, part-one-time-owner of Euclid Avenue’s ill fated Hardees and current Lieutenant Governor, has also tossed his hat into the Senate race. This democrat is officially supported by the governor, yet Patton isn’t exactly yelling it from the mountain tops. The Henry campaign’s main thrust is health care. Dr. Henry wants to make sure you know he is a doctor and that he cares. His “Patient Protection Act” is the centerpiece of his run. He publicly wants to empower the patient, yet has been cited by consumer groups for doing just the opposite. Henry sided with the Insurance lobby in the 1996 session, who want to charge more for clients with poor health histories. The Lieutenant Governor quite noticeably bristled at mention of this during our conversation-immediately shifting into spin-cycle. Henry claims the tougher regulations on insurance companies that were proposed ran off the competition, and that the actual bill that was passed was “95 percent the same as mine.” Unfortunately he didn’t back up that statement with any sort of substantive facts as to what makes up the five percent difference. (Is that the Hippocratic oath or the Hypocritical oath?)

Charlie Owen is a millionaire from Louisville. A savvy investor, who saw cable television’s impact coming a mile away, has made a very Pert-like statement by not accepting PAC money. (One can only hope that’s the only parallel.) He doesn’t need to; some estimate his wealth as high as $98 million. Don’t hold it against him, however. Owen, after a three-year stint as a federal prosecutor, moved back to Kentucky at then governor Ned Breathitt’s request, forming the Kentucky Crime Commission. His actions as executive director of that commission, including creating a parole board, initiating standards for police training and creating the state’s first public defender system, were exemplary. Even when the next administration elected turned out to be Republican, Owen was kept on because of his fair-mindedness. One of the commission’s laws dealing with probation recently came under fire from Baesler as being too easygoing, a simplistic accusation-a bonus in the Owen column.

Overall Owen impresses us favorably. On juvenile offense he remains heavy-handed and all statements to the contrary, his campaign IS guilty of negative ads, but otherwise he’s as close to progressive as we can find in this race. Owen has an uphill battle on his hands, but he may be the best of a difficult choice.

It would be unfair not to mention the other Democratic candidates in the race-unfair to comedy as an art form in general. Jim Brown, an attorney from Louisville who also moonlights at a local flea market, supports prayer in school and is against abortion. Ken Thompson, an inventor from Berea, who also is an indicted check-bouncer, and convicted drunk driver, is staunchly opposed to gun control. As for David Lynn Williams, of Cave City, it’s hard to say anything bad about him…given his past assault conviction and demonstrated fondness for firearms (given his willingness to discipline his children “upside the head” with them). Williams is also against abortion and gun control, and if elected, would like to turn Fort Knox into a boot camp for troubled juveniles.

This race is enough to make you want to watch wrasslin’.