Kentucky Politics Distilled: Bevin Concedes Election Friday, Nov 15 2019 

This week in Kentucky politics, Gov. Matt Bevin conceded his race for reelection, paving the way for Governor-elect Andy Beshear to take office next month. Bevin had requested a recanvass of the results after losing by about 5,000 votes, but the process only produced one new vote.

Meanwhile, Andy Beshear has begun assembling his administration.

We talk about the concession and transition this week on Kentucky Politics Distilled.

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Strange Fruit: Swimming While Muslim Tuesday, Nov 12 2019 

This week we talk to Rowaida Abdelaziz about her essay, “When Swimming As A Muslim Becomes A Political Act.”

And UofL student activist Finn DePriest joins us to talk about the importance of finding queer role models.

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ANALYSIS: Could Charles Booker Actually Beat McGrath And McConnell? Monday, Nov 11 2019 

State Rep. Charles Booker, who announced on Monday that he is forming an exploratory committee for a possible U.S. Senate run for Mitch McConnell’s seat, will be a different kind of candidate for statewide office than Kentucky usually has. Kentucky Democrats often run fairly centrist people for major offices (think Andy and Steve Beshear), but I expect Booker will embrace unabashedly liberal policy goals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. He is young (35 years old) and black. (Democrats ran an all-white slate of candidates for Kentucky’s statewide offices in 2019.)

Booker has a law degree. But he has not spent his time in the state’s elite law firms (like Andy Beshear and Daniel Cameron), instead serving in roles like director of strategic partnerships for a Louisville nonprofit and as an education and equity policy analyst at the Louisville Urban League. Democratic politicians in Kentucky often highlight their connections to more conservative, rural and white institutions and people, to downplay the notion that the Democrats are purely a party of people who live in cities and racial minorities. But I would expect Booker to emphasize that he lives in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood, which is about 90 percent black.

Russell is poor, with a median household income of just above $17,000 (compared to about $46,000 in Jefferson County overall). So watch for Booker to run a campaign connecting the challenges of the black people he represents to those of low-income white people in the rest of the state, particularly Appalachia. In a press release, Booker announced his potential candidacy as “a movement of the people taking on the powerful.”

So if Booker follows through and runs for the Senate, I think he will be a very compelling candidate. But I’m not sure he will be a winning one. He has four big challenges:

Challenge #1: McGrath (and perhaps other Democratic candidates)

In one sense, McGrath bungled the rollout of her Senate campaign this summer. Her confusion about whether or not she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court (she eventually  settled on no) annoyed liberals in the state. I don’t think Booker or others would be considering campaigns against McGrath if she had started off better.

That said, McGrath has already raised $10 million for her campaign, spent months courting activists in Kentucky and outside of the state and is likely to have the informal backing of the national Democratic Party. And remember, McGrath won a competitive Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat in 2018 in the Lexington area–she is fairly strong in the state’s second-biggest liberal stronghold.

Sports radio host Matt Jones has also formed an exploratory committee for this Senate seat. And Rocky Adkins, a longtime state representative and former gubernatorial candidate, has not ruled out a run. In short, I’m pretty sure McGrath will have a formidable opponent for the Democratic nomination (the primary is on May 19). I’m just not sure it will be Booker.

Challenge #2: Booker’s lack of experience

Booker has won one election in his life, getting about 11,000 votes to win his state house seat last year. (He also won a competitive Democratic primary, with about 1500 votes.)

McGrath has never won an election, but about 145,000 people voted for her last year in her U.S. House race. We have no real sense of whether Booker will be a strong candidate in terms of presenting his policy ideas, answering questions or raising money. If someone experienced like Adkins gets in the race, Booker will have to convince Kentucky Democrats that they should choose a virtual newcomer to take on McConnell instead of a more seasoned figure.

And let’s be honest: it may be hard for some Kentucky Democrats to believe in Booker’s “electability” — that a young, black, decidedly-liberal man from west Louisville can win a general election in a state that is fairly white and conservative. (I personally don’t think Booker has any electability challenges beyond being a Democrat in a red state. Cameron is black and young and was just elected attorney general. But he is a Republican and has strongly embraced President Trump.)

Challenge #3: Fundraising

I don’t think Booker needs to match McGrath dollar-for-dollar. You could imagine him running a grassroots campaign in the style of New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

That said, he needs to raise some money. And he doesn’t live in a wealthy neighborhood or work at a big law firm. Booker may raise money from progressive donors across the country who have given money to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and want a real lefty candidate to challenge McConnell.  But I assume a lot of Democrats interested in defeating McConnell have already given to McGrath and might be reluctant to give to another Kentucky Democrat. They might even be wondering why Kentuckian Democrats can’t just rally around her–since she has already been in the race for months.

Challenge #4: McConnell and Trump

Let’s say Booker won the primary. He would be an underdog in the general election–he is a Democrat running in Kentucky. I know Andy Beshear was elected governor last week, but the other Democrats running lost, some of them by very large margins. Trump remains fairly popular in Kentucky, so I would expect strong GOP turnout next year. Sure, McConnell isn’t that popular, but I don’t expect the state’s teachers to make defeating him their mission, as they did with Gov Matt Bevin. Also, McConnell is a far more skilled politician than Bevin–having been elected over and over again in the state.

But here’s the thing about Booker — if he lost in the general election, he would likely do so in an interesting way. Kentucky Democrats in high-profile races often spend the entire general campaign trying to distance themselves from the Democratic Party and seem as centrist as possible. (Remember when Alison Lundergan Grimes, running for the Senate in 2014, wouldn’t say if she voted for then-President Obama?)

Sometimes this approach works (the Beshears), but it usually doesn’t — Republicans dominate the state government and Kentucky has one only Democrat (John Yarmuth) in its eight-person congressional delegation. McGrath is already running a fairly cautious campaign, downplaying liberal ideas. Maybe she can win simply because McConnell is unpopular.

But Booker will likely run an unabashedly liberal campaign. The risk for Democrats, if he is the party’s nominee, is that Kentucky’s conservative-leaning electorate hates his policy stands, so he loses voters who might have been OK with McGrath. The potential reward is that Booker really excites liberals in Louisville and Lexington and also connects with Kentuckians in rural areas with a populist message and gets people who usually stay home to turn out and vote.

My bottom line: I think Booker is an underdog against McGrath and would be a big underdog against McConnell. But I’ll be watching him and his campaign very closely — and you should too.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a national political writer based in Louisville. You can reach him via Twitter or e-mail.

ANALYSIS: Exit Poll Provides A Closer Look at Bevin’s Loss  Saturday, Nov 9 2019 

A group of political scientists and researchers, including Benjamin Knoll at Centre College, conducted an exit poll of the Kentucky governor’s race. They interviewed nearly 4,000 residents in the state.

What they found was that Matt Bevin won overwhelmingly among evangelical and born-again Christians (62-36). He also won male voters (52-44), those over age 65 (53-47) and those with only a high school education or less (53-43). Beshear was very strong with black voters (86-14), college graduates (60-39), people under 40 (62-34), those who say they never attend church services (71-26) and women (57-42). None of that is too surprising — it generally jives with who belongs to the two parties both in Kentucky and nationally.

Here’s where Bevin probably lost the race. According to the exit poll, 16 percent of self-described Republicans backed Beshear, compared to 81 percent who supported the governor. In other words, about one in six Kentucky Republicans broke with Bevin. In contrast, Beshear overwhelmingly won Democrats (94-6) and had an advantage with independents (58-31.)

In fact, the exit poll suggests Bevin was uniquely unpopular among Republicans. Fifteen percent of people who said they have a favorable view of President Trump backed Beshear. Similarly, 16 percent of people who said that they voted for Republican Daniel Cameron for attorney general also voted for Beshear. Cameron, unlike Bevin, won basically all of Kentucky’s Republican vote (91 percent.)

For people following national politics and the debate over whether the Democrats should nominate a more liberal candidate (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren) or a more center-left one (Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg), this data and the Beshear-Bevin race overall offers arguments for both sides. For those who favor a more moderate approach, Beshear illustrates the virtues of that style. Beshear did not campaign on very progressive ideas, instead keeping the focus largely on his controversial opponent. And he won, getting a sizable bloc of Republicans behind him in a very red state. You could imagine Buttigieg or Biden taking this approach in a campaign against Trump.

On the other hand, Beshear just barely won and every down-ticket Democrat lost. Voter turnout was fairly high for a Kentucky governor’s election, but the majority (58 percent) of Kentucky’s registered voters did not cast ballots. Beshear, even with his moderate views, was blown out in the most rural areas of the state. And since he campaigned as a moderate, I would not expect Beshear to take aggressively liberal stances on many issues as governor. Add all of that up and I doubt progressives in Kentucky or nationally will take Beshear’s victory as a sign that they should cede to the strategy of the party’s center-left wing.

Finally, the survey had some potentially bad news for Senator Mitch McConnell. Kentuckians are relatively positive about Trump, according to the survey: 41 percent view him very favorably, 13 percent somewhat favorably, 7 percent somewhat unfavorably, 39 percent very unfavorably. McConnell is viewed very favorably by only 21 percent, somewhat favorably by 25 percent, somewhat unfavorably by 13 percent and very unfavorably by 41 percent. So essentially Trump is in the positive (54-46) and McConnell in the negative (46-54), and McConnell lacks the enthusiastic support that the president has.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a national political writer based in Louisville. You can reach him via Twitter or e-mail.

Strange Fruit: Is Impostor Syndrome Worse For Women Of Color? Friday, Nov 8 2019 

In 1978 a landmark study revealed that many accomplished and highly ambitious women suffered from a psychological condition coined “impostor syndrome”: a tendency to minimize achievements, chalk up accomplishments to luck, and hold an overwhelming fear that they will eventually be discovered as frauds. While this study was groundbreaking, it primarily focused how the impostor phenomenon manifests within educated, middle to upper class white women.

This week we speak with therapist and educator Lincoln Hill about why impostor syndrome is worse for women of color, and how such studies fall short by overlooking the unique experience of being simultaneously Black and a woman in professional settings.

To start this week’s show, we’re joined for hot topics by educator and mentor Shauntrice Martin, and we discuss school safety, controversial Halloween costumes for kids, and the recent revelation that all modern humans originated in Botswana on the continent of Africa.

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ANALYSIS: Teachers Are Changing American Politics In Kentucky And Elsewhere  Friday, Nov 8 2019 

Teachers are changing American politics.

We can’t quantify exactly how much of a role teachers and their opposition to Matt Bevin played in Andy Beshear’s victory this week. The teachers didn’t directly get Beshear elected on their own. There are about 42,000 public school teachers in Kentucky, so even if every one of them voted for the Democrat, that would only be 6 percent of the nearly 710,00 votes Beshear received.

But if you went to his events, teachers were there and were among his strongest supporters. If you listened to Beshear’s speeches, one of the central themes of his campaign was effectively, “I will not say mean things about teachers like Matt Bevin does.” Teachers were heavily involved in get-out-the-vote efforts for the Democrat. And broadly, the opposition to Bevin from teachers helped make Beshear’s campaign less about electing a Democrat (not a particularly useful message in a red state) and more about defending educators, who are in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties and generally well-respected.

The mobilization of teachers isn’t unique to Kentucky. The last two years have seen teacher strikes across the country, from fairly conservative places (Oklahoma, West Virginia) to liberal enclaves like Chicago and Los Angeles. Many of these teacher strikes are to push for better benefits and higher pay, like people do in other industries.

But I think there are three distinct dynamics of these teacher movements that are worth highlighting:

In red states, they are a form of resistance to the Koch-style ideology of modern Republicans.

Particularly in the Midwest and South, it’s not just that Republicans are gaining power. Many states, particularly in the South, were once dominated by Democrats, then by those same Democrats after they changed parties and became Republicans. Those Democrat-turned-Republicans weren’t necessarily opposed to big government programs. But gradually, statehouses in the South are controlled by Republicans like Bevin who have a political ideology similar to the Koch family that is very influential in conservative politics: resistance to social welfare spending (so Medicaid and pensions for public employees, for example) and an embrace of privatization of more services (like charter schools and school vouchers) and low taxes and overall government spending.

This agenda of shrinking the public sector is not necessarily that popular with rank and file voters, even those who vote for Republican candidates. (For example, Bevin could have fully withdrawn from the Medicaid expansion program under Obamacare. Instead, he opted for more limited reform of the program, adding work requirements, likely to avoid the political backlash that would have come from a full withdrawal.) The teachers in states like Kentucky and West Virginia are giving voice to that opposition to cutting (or not increasing) spending on public programs, particularly education.

I don’t think the impact of teachers in red states is usually going to be at the ballot box, defeating Republican governors or state legislators. They are in red states, after all. (Even Bevin nearly won.) But polls suggest increasing teacher pay is broadly popular, even among Republicans voters. So GOP lawmakers and governors are going to feel pressure to bend to the teachers’ will (Oklahoma and West Virginia increased teacher pay after the strikes.) I expect this dynamic to continue. If you’re Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles or one of the other Republicans likely to position himself to run for governor against Beshear in 2023, it would probably be smart to tout conservative ideas like charter schools but not do things that get you painted as anti-teacher as Bevin was.

“The fact that teachers (and nurses) are everywhere is key,” said Lara Putnam, a historian at the University of Pittsburgh who has extensively studied organizing movements on the left that have sprung up since Trump’s elections.

“Teachers, and even more so nurses, tend to have very politically heterogenous personal networks. Their neighbors, church friends, and co-workers tend to range widely across the vast middle of the U.S. political spectrum.  So when they get political engaged and mobilized to work to, say, vote out a Republican governor, they have folks in their personal networks whose votes that governor had in the past, and needs in the present,” she added.

In Democratic areas, teachers are pushing back against the testing/accountability movement.

The Obama administration was heavily associated with the “school reform” movement, which generally favors regular standardized testing to evaluate schools and teachers, consequences for schools that don’t perform well on those tests, and greater experimentation in education, including charter schools. But some Democratic presidential candidates, particularly Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are explicitly rejecting his vision.

“As president, I’ll push to prohibit the use of standardized testing as a primary or significant factor in closing a school, firing a teacher, or making any other high-stakes decisions,” Warren said in a recent statement detailing her education policy ideas.

Why are prominent Democrats souring on this approach? Those Democratic politicians may just think the education reform movement’s ideas have failed or are ineffective. What I’m pretty sure of is that teachers oppose the school reform movement’s ideas — and Democratic politicians want to get teachers’ support. Either way, Democrats are moving away from the Obama education agenda — and I think teachers are driving that.

The teacher mobilization may be part of the broader anti-Trump movement.

We don’t have great data on how many teachers went to say, the women’s marches around Trump’s inauguration or gun control protests that have happened after mass shootings over the last two years. That said, I would assume that the broader anti-Trump protest movement has probably inspired teachers to mobilize around issues that particularly affect them.

After all, teachers are disproportionately female and Democratic, like that broader anti-Trump movement. About 77 percent of American teachers (and nearly 78 percent of Kentucky’s teachers) are women. An Education Week national survey of teachers and other school employees in 2017 found that about 41 percent identify themselves as Democrats, 30 percent independents, 27 percent Republicans. According to this survey, educators were much more likely to have backed Hillary Clinton (50 percent) than Donald Trump (29 percent) in 2016.

“Usually, women currently employed as teachers or nurses aren’t the ones at the forefront of new grassroots groups — their work schedules don’t permit it,” said Putnam.

“But retired teachers and other women from ‘helping professions’ — social workers, health care administrators, librarians, nurses, etc — are everywhere prominent among women who’ve stepped forward to lead and power grassroots groups,” she added.

I don’t expect to see teachers striking constantly — or them campaigning as hard against other politicians as they did against Bevin in Kentucky. But will aggressive, organized political mobilizations by teachers continue? I think so — since they seem to be having a lot of success.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a national political writer based in Louisville. You can reach him via Twitter or e-mail.

ANALYSIS: Governor’s Race Shows Kentucky’s Large And Growing Urban Rural Divide  Thursday, Nov 7 2019 

In his successful 2007 gubernatorial run, Steve Beshear lost 28 counties, winning the state’s other 92. He also lost only 28 counties in his winning reelection bid in 2011.

His son Andy Beshear, running in a similar Democrat-but-not-that-left style, won just 23 counties on Tuesday, losing the other 97. Andy Beshear’s path to victory included huge margins in Jefferson and Fayette counties, which combined he won by about 36 percentage points (68-32). But the attorney general lost the rest of the 118 counties to Gov. Matt Bevin by a combined 12 percentage points (44-56).

The Father Beshear v. Son Beshear comparison illustrates something important that is happening in Kentucky politics: a growing divide along party and density lines, with people in rural areas increasingly favoring the GOP and urban voters preferring Democrats. This is not a particularly surprising divide, since it’s happening across the country. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won urban areas by 26 points (60-34), while Donald Trump won rural areas by a similar margin (34-61).

Electorally, this growing divide is bad for Democrats and good for Republicans in Kentucky, since the percentage of people who live in rural areas is higher here than in all but seven states. That divide helps explain why Democrats lost the other five constitutional offices and barely defeated the deeply unpopular Bevin.

But in terms of policy and governance, this divide is probably bad for Democrats, Republicans and most importantly, the state’s people. The state’s Republican Party is in many ways split from the cities that drive the state’s economy, Louisville and Lexington. Democrats, even if they really want to help the rural areas of the state, have some incentive to really focus on the two big cities, since they are heavily reliant on Democrats in Louisville and Lexington whenever an election comes up.

For the state’s residents, this urban/rural divide means that Republicans have a big electoral incentive to cast the Democrats as totally obsessed with Louisville and Lexington and demonize those city’s residents. Kentucky is one of the poorest states in the nation. But it has a totally different group of lawmakers working on urban poverty (Democrats) and rural poverty (Republicans) when a more collaborative approach might be more useful.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a national political writer based in Louisville. You can reach him via Twitter or e-mail.

You’ll love the chicken at The Charcoal Restaurant Wednesday, Nov 6 2019 

Humans have been cooking over open fires at least since the Paleolithic era, and 200,000 years later, homo sapiens still loves food cooked over charcoal. The folks who’ve recently opened The Charcoal Restaurant get this. Using an impressive grill table loaded with glowing charcoal to roast chickens on hand-turned spits, they turn out delicious charcoal-grilled … Continue reading You’ll love the chicken at The Charcoal Restaurant

The post You’ll love the chicken at The Charcoal Restaurant appeared first on LouisvilleHotBytes.com.

Strange Fruit: Silence, And The Power Of Breaking It Wednesday, Oct 30 2019 

This week we talk with Mathangi Subramanian about her family, her work, and her recent essay, “The Day My Outrage Went Viral: Racist attitudes against my Brown daughter energized me to raise my voice.” (Read it here.)

In Juicy Fruit: Calling the cops when someone steals your illegal weed, and casting news about Sony’s upcoming Cinderella retelling.

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ANALYSIS: Would Matt Bevin Be More Aggressive In Second Term? Wednesday, Oct 30 2019 

Much of the coverage of the Andy Beshear v. Matt Bevin governor’s race, mine included, assumes we are covering a fairly traditional contest in American politics. And that is true in a lot of ways. The teacher unions are allied with the Democrat, business groups with the Republican. The Democrat is emphasizing issues like education and health care, the Republican is emphasizing his opposition to abortion and illegal immigration. 

I’m fairly certain that model of coverage rightly applies to Andy Beshear, a fairly conventional Democrat who is essentially pledging to govern like his father, who was a fairly conventional Democratic governor. I’m not sure that model applies to Matt Bevin. In his first term, the governor has mixed traditional conservative policy stands with 1. Attempts to undermine the legitimacy of institutions that might check his power (like news outlets and the judiciary), 2. Very aggressive rhetoric attacking groups (teachers unions) and individuals (doctors who perform abortions) that he doesn’t agree with and 3. Conduct that ranges from very secretive (not disclosing the reasons for some of the trips he has taken on a plane owned by the state or releasing his tax returns) to potentially unethical (hiring longtime associates at high salaries for government jobs they don’t seem uniquely qualified for.) 

I think a Gov. Jamie Comer or a Gov. Mitch McConnell would have had similar policy goals to Bevin–I don’t think either of them would have attacked the press constantly or refused to release their tax returns. Based on what we have seen the past four years, I think it’s entirely possible that a second Bevin term includes: 

Bevin hasn’t proposed any of these things as his second term agenda. But it’s hard to look at his first term and consider them outlandish possibilities. Also, because of term limits, Bevin can’t run for a third term in Kentucky. So I expect he will start positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run if he wins reelection next month. (Bevin has already made visits to the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and regularly appears at events sponsored by the umbrella of groups affiliated with billionaire conservative activist Charles Koch.) If he starts planning a presidential run, Bevin will have obvious incentives to take steps that will please conservative activists nationally, even if they aren’t popular in Kentucky. 

No governor in America has completely ended their state’s participation in the Obamacare Medicaid expansion (some states never started participating, but even Republican states haven’t completely withdrawn once they began). No state has zero abortion clinics. Ending abortion and the Medicaid expansion in Kentucky would be the kind of moves that could distinguish Bevin from other fairly conservative Republican governors likely to position themselves for 2024 presidential runs, like Doug Ducey of Arizona and Ron DeSantis of Florida. 

I emphasize those items above because they are steps Bevin could take without Kentucky’s legislature having to sign off. And they would all constitute Bevin pushing his authority beyond normal means to act in ways that are unlikely to have much public support. 

In other words, this election in Kentucky may be about democratic values (like a press able to hold politicians accountable) as much as Democratic (or Republican) values. This is a complicated idea–to separate what are simply ideological differences from democratic values. You could argue Medicaid and the takeover of Louisville schools are essentially traditional left vs. right policy disputes. But I think it’s one thing for the state legislature to pass a limit on abortion and Bevin to sign it into law–and something different for Bevin and his aides to make it so hard for abortion clinics in Kentucky to operate that none remain. It’s different for Bevin to be critical of press coverage than for him to cast one of the state’s leading journalists as “Peeping Tom” for trying to figure out where the governor actually lives. 

“He is intentionally and explicitly aligning himself with ‘Trumpian’ approaches to governance, going out of his way to show disregard for many democratic norms,” said Benjamin Knoll, a political science professor at Centre College. 

Jason Gainous, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, has referred to Bevin’s attacks on institutions that challenge him as “right out of the authoritarian playbook.” 

A lot of what I’m saying roughly parallels what is happening at the national level: Donald Trump is enacting the kinds of conservative policies that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would have, but also doing things that it’s hard to imagine Cruz or Rubio doing (constantly questioning the legitimacy of the press, proposing to host the G-7 at one of the hotels his family owns, refusing to release his tax returns.) With Trump on the ballot, the 2020 presidential election will raise similar questions about how well the Democrat v. Republican frame of politics coverage applies to that race.  

So in the days before the election, it’s worth Kentuckians, including the press, trying to figure out where Beshear and Bevin stand on policy issues. But it’s also worth exploring these broader democratic values questions–Is Kentucky in for another four years of Trump-style norm breaking? Or will Bevin lose, or take a different course in his second term? 

Perry Bacon Jr. is a national political writer based in Louisville. You can reach him via Twitter or e-mail.

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