Democratic leaders in the Kentucky House of Representatives are poised to make one of their most significant decisions in recent years, a decision that will tell us where they want to take the state politically and socially.
The chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee will be decided this week when lawmakers return to Frankfort for a short organization session. The seat opened up when former chairman Gross Lindsey (D-Henderson) was unseated in last year's primary election. Now the spot seems to be a contest between Rep. Brent Yonts (D-Greenville) and Kathy Stein (D-Lexington).
Neither legislator will be particularly well-received by conservatives, but, although there is not a great deal of difference in kind between the two, there is definitely a difference in degree. Stein is perhaps the House's most outspoken and ardent liberal. Pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, pro-big government, Stein is everything Democrats in Kentucky have said in recent years that they are not: San Francisco Democrats.
The fact that Democrats are even thinking of placing Stein at the head of a committee that controls so much legislation dealing with social issues is itself a commentary on where the party is. This, of course, is why the state's most liberal newspaper, The Louisville Courier-Journal, said yesterday that Democrats should put her in charge of the committee: to further a radically liberal policy agenda.
Although the Democrats gained seats in the State House, that feat was accomplished in an issueless election on an off-year in the midst of an anti-war, anti-Bush backlash. No reasonable political mind would consider this a mandate from voters for anything. And Democrats have to be concerned that this fall's results may be nothing more than a bump on the road to an eventual Republican majority in both chambers.
On social issues in particular, Kentucky is a conservative state. For Democrats to select Stein for the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee would have to be the result of some sort of political death wish.
There has always been some hope, albeit dim, for the Democratic Party in Kentucky because they still harbor a number of fairly conservative legislators in their ranks. Indeed, the makeup of their leadership is not terribly immoderate, with legislators such as Jody Richards and Bob Damron in the seats of power. These are legislators who, however conservative their own political philosophies, cannot afford to stray far from the conservative line because of their fairly conservative districts.
But a selection of Stein for Judiciary this week would pull the plug on any pretensions that the Kentucky Democrat Party is anything other than the state branch of a liberal national party, and would, in one fell swoop, eliminate what little hope now exists for the passage of prolife and pro-family legislation in the House.
The appointment would be a message to Kentucky voters that they have arrived as a liberal party and are burning the ships.
Kentucky Democrats really Kentucky Democrats? This week will give us the answer.