By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – One of the first things a political junkie notices when visiting a red state like Kentucky is how many Democrats hold top elective offices. President Obama took note of this phenomenon when he put the spotlight on Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear during the State of the Union address Tuesday evening. At the White House’s invitation, Beshear, a Democrat, and his wife, Jane, were seated with First Lady Michelle Obama in the House chamber for the speech.
Obama noted that Kentucky is “not the most liberal part of the country. That’s not where I got my highest vote totals. But he is like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families.” The state exchange that implements the Affordable Care Act is known as “Kentucky Kynect,” and it has signed up more than 182,000 Kentuckians so far.
It gets rave reviews, and is widely seen as a model for other states. Obama likes to tell the story of a man scanning different “Kynect” plans and remarking how much better they are than Obamacare. Beshear is the only Southern governor who put in place a state exchange instead of relying on Washington to do it.
That proved a wise choice as the feds were overwhelmed and underprepared to handle the higher than expected number of states that opted out of crafting their own exchanges. The Obama administration wrongly presumed that more states would prefer putting their own exchanges in place like Beshear did.
Republican Mitt Romney carried Kentucky in 2012 with some 61 percent of the vote, and the state routinely votes Republican in presidential races. But Beshear is not unique as a Democrat elected in this deeply red state. The voters correctly perceive Democrats as the party that likes government, and when it comes to local needs, voters like government too.
Voters look to local officials to take care of their roads and schools, keep the libraries open and traffic flowing and enough cops on the street to ensure public safety. They can see tangible benefits, and their mayors and governor are not distant figures off in Washington, a city they don’t have much use for anymore.
The aversion to Democrats as a national party in a state like Kentucky is based in large part on the myth that the federal government is profligate in spending the hard-earned taxpayer money that voters send to Washington. The reality is that in an economically challenged state like Kentucky, far more comes back to the state from federal coffers than taxpayers chip in.
That is especially true when you take into account the long career of Kentucky’s senior senator, Republican Mitch McConnell, and the projects and funding that he has secured for his state. McConnell faces a primary challenge from a Tea Party favored candidate, businessman Matt Bevins, who is trying to portray the federal goodies that McConnell brings home to Kentucky as somehow a bad thing, which is why Bevins is considered a long shot to overtake McConnell.
Reminding voters how much he has done for them is tricky business in today’s political climate when so many voters hate Washington. But the truth is that even the most far-to-the-right conservatives don’t want to jeopardize government benefits they receive. The classic inane line uttered by a Tea Party activist, “Get government’s hands off my Medicare,” sums up the dilemma.
Everyone’s a libertarian in favor of little or no government as long as they get the government they want, and have their needs handled. Kentuckians faithfully follow this model, supporting Republicans for president while voting in plenty of Democrats to deliver the services they’ve come to rely on, the most recent being health care coverage.
© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
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