Muddy Boots in the 2002 Kentucky election wrap up

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GUEST OPINION: Muddy Boots in the
election wrap-up

By John Butwell



It’s Tuesday night, and the mud on my boots proves I voted in southeast Kentucky today. The election officials are friendly at Roundstone precinct in Rockcastle County. But the little red shed behind the grade school is too small to hold more than three voters waiting in line. The rest had to bring their umbrellas. And the “walk” back to the parking lot is just a muddy lawn.

Meanwhile, my wife didn’t wade through any puddles to vote. Even though we live in the same house, we’ve been assigned by the county clerk to vote in different precincts for four years now.

The precinct line must go through the center of our bed. Her polling place is in the garage of a private home in Climax precinct. But the ballots in both precincts were the same this year, so it really didn’t matter.

Except the situation does show how inaccurate our election process can be, and what a problem that could be if we had a close count in Kentucky like the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

Meanwhile, roughly one quarter of registered Kentucky voters reelected Republican Mitch McConnell to a fourth term as our U.S. senator.

No, the other reports aren’t wrong.

According to Secretary of State John Y. Brown III’s office, McConnell carried 64.3 percent of the vote Tuesday, compared to 35.7 percent for Lois Combs Weinberg. Mitch definitely won the race.

But because only 41.3 percent of the state’s 2.65 million registered voters cast ballots in the Senate race, his supporters represent only 27 percent of Kentucky’s electorate.

The conventional wisdom is that Republicans win when the weather is bad on Election Day, because such traditional Democrats as the poor and the elderly don’t get out to vote.

If that’s true, the rain helped reelect Mitch. But isn’t there any way we could get a better turnout in Kentucky elections?

In Oregon, voters are mailed their ballots three weeks before the election. Then they have until Election Day to mail their votes in, or else they can turn their ballots in at drop boxes until 8 p.m. on Election Night.

The result, in the 2000 presidential election, was a 79.8 percent voter turnout in Oregon, or nearly 80 percent!

That compared with 61.3 percent of registered Kentuckians voting in the same election. Voting statewide was even worse in last May’s primary in Kentucky, which only saw a 32 percent turnout.

Why not give voters three weeks to make their decisions, instead of falling for last-minute smear campaigns? (No, that mud on my boots wasn’t from the advertising we heard on Election Eve, although it could have been.)

Mailed ballots might be part of the answer. But we also need elections featuring viable candidates.

In the last two elections for major statewide offices in Kentucky, including Tuesday’s, the major parties offered up sacrificial lambs to run for those important offices.

That’s the only way to describe Republican Peppy Martin’s race for governor in 1999 against Paul Patton, and Democrat Weinberg’s race against McConnell this year.

In both cases, the parties thought the incumbents were too strong to beat, so they let little-known standard-bearers tilt at windmills for them.

In both cases, the challengers also were women who didn’t receive backing from the good ol’ boy party machines.

Martin crossed the line when she accused the majority of Kentucky sheriffs of being in league with the state’s marijuana growers.

That might’ve cost her supportif she’d had any to start with.

Weinberg went against the Democratic machine when she opposed a new industrial park at Bowling Green for environmental reasons, including fears that it might pollute the groundwater in Mammoth Cave.

The trouble was, not only does McConnell support the park, so does Paul Patton-who somehow didn’t have the nerve to run against McConnell himself. Patton either was waiting to finish his term as governor (what an old-fashioned concept), hoping Jim Bunning would be easier prey in two years-or perhaps he knew his extracurricular affair was about to become news.

In any case, Patton was the big gun the Democrats could have run against McConnell-and they didn’t do it.

Of course, the real numbers in the McConnell-Weinberg race are the dollar totals. McConnell raised about $4.5 million, compared to her $2.1 million. Why did so many big spenders want to cough up for him? Doesn’t that make you wonder? That’s about $1 per Kentuckian, or more than $2 per registered Kentucky voter.

In the Sixth District, incumbent Republican Congressman Ernie Fletcher took 72 percent of the vote as he set his sights on running for governor next year.

But with no Democrat facing Fletcher, independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith received 26 percent of the vote, probably despite his pro-hemp stand.

Of course, Galbraith pointedly barbed Fletcher for his gubernatorial ambitions. “I am seeking this office because the incumbent doesn’t want the job,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “We all suffer when this job is treated as a stepping stone.”

[That sort of voter resentment is a phenomenon that may have contributed to Crosbie's loss in Lexington's mayoral race to Teresa Isaac.]

In state offices, Republicans kept control of the state Senate by a count of 21 seats to 17. Now we’ll see if they can finally pass a state budget.



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