- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:


Dec. 15

The Independent, Ashland, Kentucky, on Hoover facing challenge in House:

The Kentucky Republican Party failed miserably in achieving its top legislative goal for the 2014 General Election. Not only did the GOP fail to achieve a majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time since 1921, it did not gain a single seat toward achieving that goal.

That means that two area Democratic representatives - Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg and House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook - will retain their leadership positions in the House, giving this region considerable clout in Frankfort.

The GOP’s failure to gain control of the House also means the party top legislative goal - enacting a state right to work law - likely is dead for at least the next two years. While the state Senate will continue to easily approve a right to work law, the Senate-approved bill likely will die in the House without ever coming to a vote. The last thing the House Democratic majority is stomp on the toes of labor leaders by enacting a law that they adamantly oppose.

The question now is whether the failure of the GOP to gain control of the House will cost House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, the leadership role he has held for the past 14 years. Citing the inability of Hoover to engineer a Republican takeover of the House, Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, has announced he’ll challenge Hoover for Minority Leader when the General Assembly convenes in January.

“I’ve heard over and over from donors that ‘I went all in but I’m not doing it again,’” after Republicans failed to take over the House in last fall’s elections, said Koenig who won a fifth term in November. “I don’t know how you go back to them after the last two cycles. We need a new team; we need a new narrative.”

Whether House Republicans will replace Hoover with Koenig - or some as yet unannounced candidate - will be known by Jan. 9. That’s the final day of the scheduled four days scheduled for Democratic and Republican leaders in the House to choose their leaders and make committee assignments. Hoover said he does not believe key Republican donors have been demanding a change in leadership because of the failure to gain a GOP majority in the House. While he admits Republicans are by the 2014 results but believe the GOP will fare much better in 2016. The Kentucky House of Representatives is the only state legislative body in the South not controlled by the GOP.

After the election, David Osborne, R-Prospect, who some reportedly wanted to challenge Hoover, announced he would take on Caucus Chair Bob DeWeese of Louisville who then decided not to run again. Minority Whip John “Bam” Carney of Campbellsville faces three announced challengers: Ken Upchurch of Monticello; Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green; and Sal Santorum of Florence.

Thus, even if Hoover survives as minority leader, other GOP House leaders are being challenged. That adds a bit of interest to the four-day organization session that often generates little interest and few, if any, changes.

Once the organization session ends on Feb. 9, the General Assembly will be in recess until Feb. 3 when the final 26 days of the 2015 legislative session begins in earnest. The final day of the session is scheduled for March 30.




Dec. 14

State Journal, Frankfort, Kentucky, on tax money:

If ever there was a right decision, in our opinion, to come from state government, last week’s refusal to afford tax incentives to the group building the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky hit the target squarely in the bull’s eye.

Ark Encounter, featuring a 500-foot replica of the boat Noah built to escape an Earth-inundating flood as recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis, had received preliminary approval in July for up to $18 million in tax incentives. Answers in Genesis, the outfit funding the construction, claimed visitors would flock to Ark Encounter just as they have to the Creation Museum that Answers constructed a few years ago.

Likely as not they’re right about attendance estimates and, of course, those visitors would bring tourism dollars to Kentucky.

That said, even as bad as we need the revenue, we can’t turn our heads from the egregious church and state conflict raised by the tax incentive requests, and the request should have been denied long ago. We were incensed it was ever even considered!

What likely tipped the scales to disapproval was the requirement that potential employees sign something of a “statement of faith” including, among other things, an affirmation of the counter-evolution stance that the Earth is not billions of years old as scientists contend, but was rather created between 6 and 7,000 years ago.

That statement requirement was added after the preliminary approval in July and took the deal from a “tourist attraction” to “religious theme park.” Gov. Steve Beshear, who had been supportive of the initial request, withdrew his blessing. In a written statement, Beshear said leaders of the project had done an about face on a pledge not to discriminate in hiring.

The project, located in Grant County, construction is already under way. Perhaps Answers in Genesis must have assumed that since the venture had gotten the preliminary nod for tax incentives it was a “lock” in this typically theologically conservative state.

Now the group’s hubris could cost it millions since it becomes totally privately funded.

Admittedly, the idea is intriguing of touring a replica of a homemade boat that allegedly held a pair of every living creature on Earth at the time of the Great Flood, just as beguiling as dioramas featuring little children playing with dinosaurs over at the Creation Museum.

Answers in Genesis can go right on replicating all the Old Testament stories it wants in theme parks, it just can’t build them using taxpayer dimes when the people hired to run the places, all likely needing work, are required to sign a statement declaring their belief in the story behind the theme.

Thanks to state authorities for putting down their collective foot.




Dec. 15

Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader on property rights:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell should explain why the Office of Surface Mining is subverting the federal law that created it and trying to reinstate the pernicious broad form deed that Kentucky repealed in 1988.

OSM’s betrayal of its statutory origins comes in a Pike County case in which a federal judge found that the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 requires the consent of all landowners before a coal company can begin mining.

Five descendants of coal miner M.L. Johnson challenged the state-issued mining permit after a subsidiary of Tampa-based TECO Energy began blasting and bulldozing their inheritance - 400 acres of hills and hollow on Bob’s Branch near Virgie - without their consent.

The TECO subsidiary, Premier Elkhorn Coal Co., owns a quarter of the surface rights, which Kentucky says allows the mining to begin over the majority owners’ objections.

OSM says its mission is to enforce the surface mining law. Yet, rather than uphold that law, OSM is deferring to the state of Kentucky’s long-held practice of permitting mining with the consent of as little as 1 percent of the land’s owners - even though the state’s interpretation directly conflicts with the ruling U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar handed down in June.

Through a series of technicalities and procedural steps, OSM has moved the case to an administrative law judge in Salt Lake City. The governments and the coal company are seeking to dissolve an OSM order that has been blocking the mining, allowing the coal company to immediately resume stripping the Johnson family’s land.

To get around Tharpur’s clear meaning, OSM cites a provision in the 1977 surface mining law that referred to broad form deeds, which existed only in Kentucky and were ended in 1988 by a constitutional amendment.

The deeds separated the rights to the coal underground from the surface of the land and, according to court rulings of the time, made the coal owner’s claim superior to the rights of the surface owners.

The deeds, many from the 19th century, were signed long before anyone conceived of the huge mining machines that have stripped Kentuckians of the farms and forests that supported generations of families.

The notorious legal documents were still in effect when Congress passed the surface mining act in 1977, and the provision of the law on which OSM is now hanging its hat was clearly intended to protect Kentucky’s broad form deeds.

It’s appalling that OSM would try to revive this obviously unjust abuse of property rights, but also consistent with OSM’s historical subservience to the coal industry at the expense of coalfield residents.

Environmental groups recently expressed disappointment with the Obama administration’s failure to rein in coal industry environmental abuses in Appalachia. Add to that Interior’s apparent eagerness to join in trampling the property rights of the people who live and own land in Kentucky’s mountains.



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