- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:


Nov. 7

Lexington Herald-Leader on state lawmakers and sexual harassment settlements:

When people in positions of power put themselves above the law, or even above the rules that apply to everyone else, they’re inviting a fall.

Just ask Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who resigned under pressure as Kentucky House speaker after his confidential settlement of a sexual harassment claim became public.

Hoover showed terrible judgment by exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a female staffer, who later threatened him with a lawsuit.

It’s impossible to say whether anything would be different if Republican leaders had afforded their partisan staff the same recourse from sexual harassment as the legislature’s non-partisan employees.

But, certainly, lawmakers of both parties should now insist that the same rules apply to partisan and non-partisan staff alike. The rules should immediately be made uniform, no exceptions.

Only 23 of the 138 legislative seats are held by women. That’s 17 percent which is less even than the 25 percent nationally. It’s hardly a secret that, freed from the constraints of their hometowns, some male lawmakers behave toward women in ways they wouldn’t want their constituents (or spouses) to see.

Only a few years ago, when Democrats controlled the House, they had their own sexual harassment scandal. In response, new protections were put in place for the legislature’s employees. But legislative leaders exempted their own offices, so the employees they hire directly to work as partisan appointees lack the same recourse and protections as non-partisan employees.

Non-partisan employees can lodge sexual harassment complaints with their supervisor or second-in-command, and then, if they’re unsatisfied, with the director of the Legislative Research Commission who oversees legislative staff. The LRC director is hired directly by legislative leaders. So there is another process when a sexual harassment complaint is against a lawmaker: It goes to the LRC’s assistant director for human resources and professional development, which better insulates the process from political pressures.

The partisan staffer who accused Hoover also accused three other Republican lawmakers and Hoover’s chief of staff, Ginger Wills, of sexual harassment or creating a hostile work environment.

If House Republican leaders had not exempted themselves from the rule, the staffer’s complaint could have been heard by someone other than those she was accusing. The responses of those she accused would have been heard and considered. Instead, the employee went to a lawyer and Hoover entered into a settlement last month. The amount and source of any payment have not been revealed.

After Republican Gov. Matt Bevin called for anyone who has settled a sexual harassment claim to resign, Hoover said he would step down as speaker but stay in the legislature. Hoover has challenged Bevin on occasion, most recently over overhauling public pensions. Without being specific, Hoover said some had been “working and conspiring” for months to achieve his downfall. That may be true, but Hoover has only himself to blame for giving his rivals this failure to exploit.

Online: http://www.kentucky.com/


Nov. 5

Daily News of Bowling Green on the relocating historical markers, including a Civil War one:

The Civil War happened in this country. That is a fact.

Bowling Green was in a unique position during the Civil War, because both Confederate and Union forces wanted to control it for a number of reasons - mainly because it was a main railroad artery and the city had a number of elevated heights that made it defensible. While Kentucky was a border state and never officially seceded from the Union, Kentuckians fought on both sides. In September 1861, the Confederate Army, under the command of General Simon Bolivar Buckner, occupied Bowling Green and encamped here until the Union Army ran it out of town after firing artillery shells from across the Barren River in February 1862. During the time the Confederate Army occupied Bowling Green, a provisional Confederate government was formed and declared Bowling Green the Confederate capital of Kentucky.

We all know how the war ended and who was victorious. But to put things in historical context, it is important to tell the story of both the Confederate and Union armies. Bowling Green has done a very good job of telling its Civil War history. We are fortunate to have former Civil War forts and remnants of them, such as Fort Webb; Fort Lytle, formerly Fort Albert Sydney Johnson where Western Kentucky University currently stands; and Hospital Hill, which was another Civil War fortification. People can often be seen at these former forts, learning about the Confederate and Union occupations. We are fortunate to have Lost River Cave, the L&N; Train Depot and the Hobson House, which have done fine jobs of telling and promoting the story of the roles these sites played in Bowling Green’s Civil War history. A Union officer who commanded troops on Hospital Hill - Benjamin Harrison - would later become president. Buckner, some years after the war, would become governor of Kentucky. We are fortunate also to see re-enactments in the region that show the lives of soldiers on both sides. A lot of groups have worked tirelessly to preserve our history and to promote and capitalize on it. They should be commended for doing so.

But while they are busy trying to promote and capitalize on the story of Bowling Green’s role in the Civil War, it appears that our local elected officials, mainly Mayor Bruce Wilkerson and the Bowling Green City Commission, are going in the opposite direction.

In July, a historical marker at Fountain Square Park that simply notes that Bowling Green was declared the Confederate capital of Kentucky was moved during renovations at the park. At the time, city officials said it was moved to prevent it from getting damaged. But on Tuesday, Wilkerson informed this newspaper - not the public directly - that the marker would not return to Fountain Square Park, where it had stood since Dec. 10, 1949.

Without any notice to the public whatsoever, without providing an opportunity for citizens to express their feelings about the move, and without even a vote by the city commission, officials acted under a cloak of secrecy to their constituents. They did this quietly, hoping no one would notice. Well, we noticed, and we are calling them out for their lack of transparency on this issue.

Clearly, this marker does not glorify the Confederacy. It simply states the historical fact that Bowling Green was declared the Confederate capital of Kentucky.

City government, in all its wisdom, has announced that it will move the Confederate marker and a Spanish-American War marker that was also on Fountain Square to the Veterans Memorial Courtyard at the old Warren County Courthouse, where Wilkerson and the entire city commission believe is a more appropriate location. The city worked behind the scenes with Warren County Fiscal Court to have these markers moved to the courtyard. Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said he was approached by the city about moving the markers to the courtyard. Buchanon says he wasn’t in on the decision to move it, nor did he receive a full explanation about why they decided to move it. It is now known that Buchanon talked to Warren County magistrates about moving the markers to the courtyard and, like the majority of the city commission, they had no objection to them being moved there.

Like the city commission, shouldn’t Buchanon and magistrates have been more forthcoming with their constituents about this move? Shouldn’t they have also asked the voters for their opinions before agreeing to let the city place the markers on county property at the courthouse? Shouldn’t they have taken a vote on whether to allow the markers to be moved to another piece of tax-funded property?

Our question is: Why are these markers being moved?

For nearly 70 years, the Confederate marker has sat peacefully on the square. To our knowledge, no one has made an issue about it in all that time. We’ve heard no mention of planned protests in Bowling Green related to this marker, and a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the city this week revealed that no group has sought permission to demonstrate or gather at the marker within the past month. No one has ever vandalized this marker. Did elected city officials let the winds of political correctness sway their decision to move these markers?

These elected officials owe the citizens of this community answers to these questions.

Some have said these markers will get more traffic in the Veterans Memorial Courtyard. We couldn’t disagree more. When people think of the center of town, they immediately think of Fountain Square, not the old Warren County Courthouse. Fountain Square is a much more appropriate place for these markers, since it is surrounded by many businesses and receives much more foot and car traffic than the old county courthouse does. It is also more historically accurate to have these markers on Fountain Square, because the square is where much of the Confederate and Union activity was during the occupations by both armies.

Wilkerson - who announced the plan to move the markers to this newspaper through a prepared statement - campaigned on platforms of transparency and open government, but the secrecy in which they planned to move these markers demonstrates anything but transparency. It shows secretiveness. One of the many tasks of elected officials is to be open with constituents, but sadly that wasn’t done here.

One really has to wonder: If our elected officials work behind the scenes as they did in this case without notifying the public until this newspaper exposed them, what else might they hide from us?

The relocation of these markers is a sad moment for Bowling Green because of the way it was handled. Those who ordered the markers’ movement should be focused on attracting more visitors to our city by promoting our rich Civil War history, perhaps with a driving trail to various sites and markers.

When government acts in secrecy with no regard for input from the citizenry, these are the types of things that can happen. Shame on them.

Online: http://www.bgdailynews.com/


Nov. 3

Lexington Herald-Leader on Gov. Matt Bevin’s pension plan and tax reform:

It’s not surprising that Gov. Matt Bevin’s pension plan has run aground in the House because without a new revenue stream it had little chance of sailing.

Lawmakers and Bevin should return to the governor’s original timetable which combined tax and pension reform. And they should tackle both challenges in the open.

The General Assembly convenes in regular session Jan. 2. Putting together a tax proposal by then that provides desperately needed new revenue would not be difficult. The tax code has been studied and restudied. Its weaknesses and opportunities are well known.

What would be hard is summoning the political will and leadership to close the loopholes and fix the inequities - the sacred cows that just nine months ago Bevin vowed to slay.

The Republican governor’s pension plan, in its current form, lacks the votes to clear the Republican-controlled House.

The politics have been complicated by the revelation of a sexual harassment settlement reached last month by House Speaker Jeff Hoover with a female staffer.

But even without Hoover’s problem, Bevin’s plan was running into trouble as lawmakers dig into the details and hear from alarmed constituents.

Without money to pay public employees what they’re already owed, teachers and other stakeholders would be crazy to agree to the sacrifices demanded of them in the 505-page draft pension bill that was concocted in secrecy and released to lawmakers Oct. 27.

In the week that the draft has been available for inspection, a bevy of hard-to-explain surprises - such as a $243 million “tax” on public employees’ paychecks and loss of line-of-duty death benefits for many police and firefighters - have been discovered, further dashing trust in the plan and the secret process that produced it.

Squeezing in a special session on pensions before the regular session in January would be seen as an attempt to railroad through one-sided sacrifices without any guarantee that the state’s debt to its public employees will be paid. Until a plan gains enough Republican supporters in the House, there’s no point in calling a special session anyway.

In his State of the Commonwealth speech in February, Bevin called on lawmakers to “think big, be bold” in overhauling the state’s antiquated tax code. Bevin said he would call a special session to do away with “sacred cow” exemptions. He made clear that revenue-neutral reform, in which there would be no net increase in tax collections, would not do.

In August, Bevin changed course, saying he wanted to deal with taxes and pensions separately and take up pensions first. Bevin has never explained the change of strategy but it seems not to be working.

Lawmakers have known for a long time that the tax code needs reforming. Tax breaks ($13 billion a year) drain more support from education, public safety and other state commitments than the state collects ($11 billion) in taxes for the General Fund. And Kentucky’s failure to tax services makes no sense. If you pay someone to groom your dog, you pay no state tax. If you buy shampoo, clippers and brushes for Fido, you pay a 6 percent sales tax.

Bevin has succeeded in putting an intense focus on pension underfunding.

Now he and lawmakers must do the hard, politically risky work. Bevin’s words to lawmakers from last February have never rung truer: “This is what you were elected to do, this is what the people want of us.”

Online: http://www.kentucky.com/

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