Heeeeeeeeeeeeere's Baesler. Again.
But who's interested?
By Alex De Grand

Best burley in the world

he sixth district congressional campaign is revving up and all the tired political clichés are rolled out one more time like the weathered bunting for a lethargic holiday pageant.

In one corner you've got incumbent Ernie Fletcher - the Republicans' patrician doctor - and in the other is Scotty Baesler - the Democrat's basketball playin', tobacco growin' good ol' boy who's "just folks."

It's the same old story every election cycle, but for some voters it feels kind of... empty.

Fletcher, cast as the conservative Republican, seems authentic enough. Hell, the nuts in the ultra-rightist John Birch Society think half of his congressional votes in 1999 were inspired.

But Baesler? What does he represent exactly?

Many remember Baesler hanging around that New Democrat crew- the breed of politico whose pandering to business and the middle class has alienated a lot of the groups that have been pulling the donkey lever since the 1930s.

People remember Baesler's votes for "free trade" behemoths like NAFTA and how he blew off the concerns of working people on other occasions.

Some of those who voted for Baesler before will stay home. Others will hold their nose and pull the lever for him one more time.

The Kentucky AFL-CIO has endorsed Baesler's candidacy with a hopeful eye to the future, explaining "Scotty's changed."

But some are finding they might be to better stomach Fletcher instead.

In a district that has exhibited an historic indifference for party affiliation when it comes time to send someone to Washington, that could spell big trouble for Baesler.

Be Like Mike?

A number of voters might identify with Mike Fitzpatrick who, on paper, looks like he should be a regular Democratic voter.

Fitzpatrick, a Frankfort firefighter, is president of his union and active in labor issues.

But he isn't going along with the rest of Labor's leadership who will find it in their hearts to give Baesler one more chance.

Not only is he not voting for Baesler, Fitzpatrick is working for Fletcher's campaign as the field director in charge of grassroots for most of the Sixth Congressional District.

Fitzpatrick explains: "We [in the firefighters union] addressed Scotty Baesler when he was congressman and asked him to support our issues of collective bargaining and other safety issues for fire fighters," Fitzpatrick said. "He wouldn't listen to us; he said he didn't agree with us on those issues."

In contrast, Fitzpatrick said, Fletcher "looked at our issues and signed on to our national collective bargaining bill three months after getting into office."

Fletcher agreed to help out the firefighters even though they backed Fletcher's opponent in the election, Fitzpatrick said.

"The integrity of Ernie Fletcher impressed me," Fitzpatrick said, explaining why he ended up going to work for the man vilified by other labor groups. "He was a freshman Republican congressman and only one of a small number of Republicans to be for that bill."

Fitzpatrick isn't the only one to remember Baesler's cold shoulder.

Lexington's sanitation workers recall Baesler, as mayor, threatened them with privatization of garbage services if they didn't stop complaining about low wages and dangerous working conditions.

And as a congressman, Baesler voted for NAFTA and GATT - two free trade agreements that organized labor vehemently opposed. In fact, unions were so intent on stopping those trade deals, they threatened to cut off support to any lawmaker who voted for them.

The Baesler campaign did not return calls for comment.

Fitzpatrick said he doesn't understand why labor in the sixth district endorsed Baesler.

"Four nights after I met with Baesler, I went to an AFL-CIO Central Labor Council meeting," Fitzpatrick said. "Guess who was there? Scotty Baesler. Guess who's looking for support? Scotty Baesler.

"I stood up and told the council he wasn't supporting us and [Baesler] even agreed that was true," Fitzpatrick said.

The group ended up endorsing Baesler anyway, Fitzpatrick said.

In 1999, the AFL-CIO graded Fletcher's congressional votes a zero - a rating that astounds Fitzpatrick.

"How can you be a zero if you're with a fire fighters' collective bargaining bill?" Fitzpatrick said, explaining that his union, the International Association of Firefighters, is a member of the AFL-CIO.

"He should at least get a one," Fitzpatrick said.

As a labor activist in Frankfort, Fitzpatrick is outspoken and occasionally even brash. It isn't too uncommon to find him in the face of Frankfort's city manager or elected officials over his union.

Some of his fellow labor activists consider Fitzpatrick to be too narrowly focused on issues concerning his union and missing the larger truths.

After all, Fletcher's voting record last year earned him a spotless 100 percent rating from the not-too-labor-friendly Business-Industry Political Action Committee –-compared to the United Auto Workers who liked his votes just 8 percent of the time.

Follow the money and you'll find business groups are showing Fletcher their love. As of early August, the Center for Responsive Politics reports Fletcher has raked in $410,245 from business, compared to a measly $55,550 for Baesler.

But, as former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil said, "All politics is local."

And no matter how much someone urges looking at the "big picture," a voter is likely to be deeply resentful after he gets a one-on-one snub from an elected official.

Making up is the best part of breaking up

A lot of people will remember the 1990s and its peculiar fads by the quaint Green Day tattoos and the smudgy Lisa Loeb CD singles. Baesler might wax nostalgic over his "free trade" voting record.

"One of the reasons Baesler lost the 1998 senate race was that (Jim) Bunning ran that ad attacking his NAFTA vote," said Chris Sanders, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO. "The one that had the guy with the Mexican accent saying, 'Gracias, Señor Baesler.'

"Talking to him, I think Baesler deeply regrets that vote," Sanders said. "I wouldn't say he's all the way there, but in significant ways he's reconsidered 'free trade.'"

Based in part on these conversations, Sanders said, the AFL-CIO is willing to welcome back Baesler. And demonstrating its rekindled affection, Labor has given Baesler as of early August $213,500 (compared to just $7,000 for Fletcher), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But, Sanders acknowledged, an even larger reality prompts the AFL-CIO to get back on board with Baesler: It's a two-party system and the Democrats are short just a handful of seats before they take back the House of Representatives.

"Majorities count," Sanders said. "Electing Baesler is very important for getting a majority of worker-friendly congresspeople in place to see pro-working family legislation pass."

That kind of "bigger picture" thinking has bolstered Democrats like Baesler in the past, according to Ernie Yanarella, a University of Kentucky political science professor and labor specialist.

"New Democrats are getting a free ride," Yanarella said of the Democratic Party's ideological faction derided by critics as merely "Republican-lite."

"The lack of a multi-party system pushes Labor into the arms of Democrats no matter how right-of-center, hoping to pick up some crumbs," Yanarella said.

"It's a big problem; we're searching for a better way," Sanders admitted. "In the meantime, we're staving off disaster."

Disaster, for the AFL-CIO and others, is more Fletcher and the congressional Republican majority.

While he may be helping the firefighters' union, other labor groups argue Fletcher has voted for $624 billion in tax breaks - 80 percent of which will go to the top 20 percent wealthiest taxpayers.

Labor complains the Republican majority - with Fletcher in tow - is creating all these breaks at the same time it pleads poverty as reason not to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare or investing in deteriorating public school facilities.

And Fletcher is a solid conservative on other issues besides economics.

The National Right to Life Committee considered Fletcher to be with them 100 percent of the time in 1999 just as Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League rate Fletcher a zero.

On the environment, the Sierra Club awarded Fletcher a zero.

"We've got a candidate who supports us most of the time versus someone who would like to annihilate us," Sanders said.

Let the least hated win

The old cliché is that friends are temporary - enemies accumulate.

Baesler's raked up a sizable pile of disappointed, bitter, disenchanted, or plain old weary voters.

But then again, so has Fletcher.

Perhaps the most publicly acrimonious breakup since Tom Arnold and Roseanne was the American Medical Association's split with Fletcher over health care reform.

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but the Center for Responsive Politics reports health professionals have given $317,487 to Baesler and only $78,277 to Fletcher as of early August.

UK political science professor Donald Gross said the AMA gave Fletcher a tremendous boost in 1998.

"The American Medical Association spent over $43,000 on television advertisement, over $6,000 on radio ads, and additional monies on first class direct mailings encouraging individuals to vote for Fletcher," Gross wrote in a report with associate UK professor Penny Miller.

"Its advertisements were well-done and very positive in their tone," Gross wrote. "The ads portrayed Fletcher as a caring physician who helped the less fortunate and an individual who had personal expertise in health care issues."

Fletcher's 1998 opponent, state Senator Ernesto Scorsone, points to AMA's jilting as evidence of Fletcher as a "deceitful" person and a "pawn of the insurance industry."

"The AMA spent so much money to get him elected and the first real test, he fails big time," Scorsone said.

Scorsone praised Baesler's campaign for "exposing Fletcher for what he is."

"People will tolerate a difference of opinion, but not when you lie to them," Scorsone said, predicting the voters will throw Fletcher out.

Gross isn't as ready to call the race yet. And while he thought Fletcher might miss the financial assistance of the AMA, Gross downplays the political significance.

"When the AMA supported him, they said the patients would get screwed," Gross said. "Now the AMA doesn't support him so they say he's a tool of the insurance companies. It's damned if you do; damned if you don't."

Gross agreed with Scorsone on one point: Baesler's chances were enhanced without a primary.

In 1998, Gross said, Scorsone had to beat back six other candidates in the most expensive Democratic primary of the district's history. In the meantime, Fletcher faced only token opposition in the primary and was able to save all his money for the fall.

Scorsone complained he lost because Fletcher outspent him.

While Gross agreed Fletcher had more money, he doesn't think that cost Scorsone the election.

"Scorsone was too liberal than he presented himself," Gross said, adding Fletcher was able to successfully convince voters of that.

Gross said Fletcher may be more conservative than his electorate, but Scorsone was probably further away from the median voter than Fletcher. (For his part, Scorsone disputes Gross' conclusion.)

Scorsone estimates the district has a solid Republican base of about 40 percent and an equal number of committed Democrats, leaving 20 percent up for grabs.

Gross noted that Democrats enjoy a voter registration advantage of about 2 to 1, but that doesn't mean a lot in federal races.

Republican presidential candidates Reagan and Bush got a majority of the district's votes just as Clinton found success in the district.

Baesler represented the district in Congress in 1992, 1994 and 1996 before Fletcher took the seat. Prior to Baesler, a Republican held the seat.

Winning in the sixth congressional district - which sprawls ideologically from the liberal pocket around UK to the conservative rural areas of Montgomery County - depends on appearing moderate, Gross said.

And lest we forget...

There's always Gatewood Galbraith whom some observers see as a potential spoiler and a few predict will be the biggest surprise winner ever.

The famous local personality and Reform Party's congressional candidate is running a low-budget, hand-shakin' blitz of the district.

Galbraith boasts he took about 15 percent of the vote statewide when he ran for governor last year and reported sizable success in the sixth district.

A world of choices

The sixth district is a battleground for the two national parties.

Democrats sense a huge opportunity now that Republicans control the House of Representatives by just a few seats.

In that kind of atmosphere, maybe it is hard to stay mad forever.

But maybe it isn't.

So don't say there isn't anyone to vote for... or against.

Go on out there and do your civic duty.

. The geography of giving

Wonder what your neighbor is up to in this congressional campaign? Take a look at the Center for Responsive Politics webpage -

With all the voyeuristic pleasures of anything CBS can dish up, you can find patterns of giving by area codes and large individual contributors.

Apparently the neighborhood barbecues in Chevy Chase could get testy: Both Ernie Fletcher and Scotty Baesler put the 40502 area code at the top of their donor lists.

As of early August, Fletcher was pulling in $92,465 compared to Baesler's $71,940 from that zip code. Attention Baesler fans: Get out of Cosmo's and write another check to this man!

Look worldly and wise without even stepping foot inside a charm school when you can name drop like some highfalutin' socialite:

"My goodness, Buffy! Did you know Christopher D. Hillenmeyer of Hillenmeyer Nurseries gave $500 to Fletcher?"

"No! Well, I heard James W. Host of Host Communications gave $2,000 to Fletcher and Joseph P. Kennedy of Kennedy Bookstore contributed $2,000 to Fletcher!"

With a knowing wink over a glass of whatever it is the upper crust drinks these days, you can give a sly smile and a teasing suggestion everyone look the page up themselves to find out who's giving to the Democrats.

"Oh, I don't know who you'll find," you say coyly. "Perhaps Wendell Berry is listed giving $500 to Baesler. There is this auto dealer – Don Jacobs - whose given $250 to Baesler which just so happens to be the same amount from Ernesto Scorsone!"

With dinner conversation like this, you'll be invited back for sure.