Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:
The Lexington Herald-Leader on a family court judge’s decision not to hear cases involving adoption by gay parents:
Family Court Judge W. Mitchell Nance’s decision not to hear any cases involving adoption by “a practicing homosexual,” while an admirable recognition of his own prejudice, raises serious red flags about his ability to do his job fairly.
Nance wrote that “as a matter of conscience,” he believes adoption by a gay person will never be in “the best interest of the child.”
But what about every other case involving a person Nance believes to be gay?
The Kentucky Court of Justice explains, family courts are “involved in the most intimate and complex aspects of human nature and social relations,” including divorce, custody, domestic violence, neglect and abuse, and termination of parental rights. The idea is a family remains before one judge rather than bouncing from court to court depending upon the issue.
What if a couple with children is divorcing because one party has come out of the closet, can that gay parent expect fair consideration? Take that example further: What if the straight parent becomes involved in an abusive relationship and the gay parent asks for full custody to remove his or her children from that damaging environment?
What if a child runs away because his parents, upon discovering he is gay, punished him and restricted his activities and access to friends?
Those defending Nance point out the other family court judge in his district, which serves Barren and Metcalfe counties, is willing to hear gay adoption cases.
But what about all these other intimate and complex cases, would Nance hand them off to the other judge, disrupting the intent of family court, or hear them with his prejudices intact?
Or would he slow-walk them, delaying resolution for stressed families while he struggled with his conscience?
That’s apparently what happened when a gay couple seeking to adopt a child they had been fostering came before him in 2004. Nance put off the case several times before finally stepping aside so another judge, who approved the adoption, could be appointed.
That couple, Dennis Curry and Jim Reed, fostered nine children, according to the Glasgow Daily Times. The kids were considered at-risk, had often lived in several homes and, in some cases, mental institutions and juvenile detention facilities. “They were the kids no other foster parents would take,” Curry told the Daily Times.
It is hard to understand how Nance’s conscience would find more ease in a child confined to a mental institution than a stable home. But, allowing that, why should he continue in his job when it conflicts with his conscience?
Fayette County’s Judge Tim Philpot, who called gay marriage, an “oxymoron,” like “jumbo shrimp,” still does his job. “My views … have never stopped me from following the law and being fair to all people, including those who identify themselves as LGBT,” he wrote. Attorneys who have represented gay clients before Philpot supported his statement.
The integrity of our judicial system is based on the assurance that everyone is equal before the law, regardless of sexuality or other characteristics that distinguish individuals.
Nance cannot make that promise, something voters should remember if he seeks reelection in 2022.
The Paducah Sun on opportunities surrounding Kentucky’s need for skilled labor:
We hope local schools are able to execute — and pretty quickly — on discussions here last week involving educators, labor unions and state Labor Cabinet officials. The conversation concerned in part adjusting high school curriculums to complement skilled trades and promote those opportunities for students less inclined to pursue college.
An article in Sunday’s Paducah Sun related Deputy Kentucky Labor Secretary Michael Nemes’ observation that, “Everybody who knows how to do anything with their hands is retiring. The governor wants to make Kentucky the manufacturing hub of the U.S. and we don’t have the skills to do it.”
He is correct, and it is not just a Kentucky problem. The reason this issue is important is not simply a matter of state competitiveness. It is because the opportunities for skilled workers in the current economy may be the best in our lifetime. Skilled welders can easily earn six figures in today’s market. Workers in housing construction are seeing wages double in some markets as builders with more orders than they can fill poach tradesmen from one another.
Nemes identifies the major driver of the issue: demographics. Many skilled laborers are leaving the workforce as Baby Boomers reach retirement age. Meanwhile, overall growth in the labor force of the United States has slowed, and unemployment has hit 4.5 percent.
Economists consider the “full employment” rate to be about 4 percent. The idea is that about 4 percent of the workforce will always be in transition, so the rate cannot go much lower. We are approaching that benchmark today.
Think there are no jobs left in American manufacturing? You could not be more wrong. The Wall Street Journal reported last September that the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is at its highest level in 15 years. The reason is that factories cannot find the skills they need in the workforce for advanced manufacturing.
The WSJ article specifically discusses the difficulty manufacturers are having filling “middle-skill positions” that “require education or training beyond high school, like an apprenticeship or a course at a community college.” Interestingly, that was a key element of the conversations in Paducah last week.
Specifically there was discussion of the need to expand the current 3,000 apprenticeships available at 1,100 participating employers in the state. Labor unions have long been at the forefront of apprenticeship programs. State officials have a goal of doubling participation in such programs within three years. State officials also observed that many of the skills in short supply require some advanced education, such as community college or technical courses, but not a four-year degree.
One local business leader says he believes educators need to break down what he views as a stigma associated with pursuing a career in skilled trades rather than the traditional four-year college path. We suspect any such stigma will dissolve pretty quickly if students realize people in skilled trades these days can outearn a lot of lawyers.
It is clear that people can be very successful in today’s workforce without a bachelor’s degree. But it is equally clear for all of today’s young people that the necessity for lifelong learning has become a fact of life.
The challenge for employers, unions and educators is to coordinate education and advanced training to keep pace with fast-changing technologies. Last week’s discussion here was just a start. But it is encouraging that the key players see the opportunities, and recognize what needs to be done.
Harlan Daily Enterprise on Western Kentucky University students’ call for racial equality:
Americans have short memories, which is a blessing when it saves us from being torn apart like some cultures by ancient grudges, but also a curse when we’re oblivious to injustices that have long and tangled roots.
The Student Government Association of Western Kentucky University earns an A-plus for its clear vision of how this country’s history of racial oppression still shackles and enslaves. The student leaders are calling on their university to make education even more of an equalizing force. We hope their plea is heard beyond the Hilltop and throughout higher education.
While national media have seized on the students’ call for racial reparations in the form of free tuition, the resolution, approved by a 19-10 vote earlier this month, addresses several trends that are pulling public universities away from their original democratizing mission and instead reinforcing race and class privilege.
For example, “the ‘arms race’ for merit aid” puts low-income and minority students at a disadvantage, according to the resolution, which asks for a task force to consider “test-optional admissions and geographically-weighted admissions.” Also, at a time when student financial aid no longer covers basic needs, “the marginalized student population” needs more help.
Many universities are rethinking the role of standardized tests in admissions and aid; after all, affluent families pay for expensive test prep courses to boost scores which many students can’t afford. The University of Kentucky is in the process of shifting its institutional financial aid from merit-based to need-based, in hopes more students will be able to afford to stay long enough to graduate. And New York recently approved free college tuition for students from middle-class families.
The WKU students say the underrepresentation of people of color in the tenured faculty and administration sends a message to black students that they are undervalued and teaches white students that people of color belong in the lowest levels of white-led organizations. Another good point. None of Kentucky’s public universities, other than the traditionally black Kentucky State, have ever been led by a black president.
Student leaders who backed the resolution say they knew free tuition would be a non-starter but they wanted to spark a conversation. In that they have succeeded. Here’s hoping that conversation sparks real change.
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