Liberty boosters and busters: Something new, something bold

By Jim Waters - Bluegrass Beacon

‘Tis the season for another edition of “Liberty Boosters and Busters.”

My goal is to make these awards more about ideas than personalities. But alas, policymakers’ personal behavior occasionally is so egregious they themselves demand a spot on the “Liberty Busters” wall.

Liberty Buster: Take, for example, Speaker Greg Stumbo’s cheap shots fired at fellow House Democrats who switch parties or accept positions in Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration.

After Hopkinsville Rep. John Tilley joined the governor’s offer as justice secretary, Stumbo bared his teeth, impugning Tilley’s character and those of fellow Democrats who make similar decisions by claiming they were “for sale.”

The speaker – lacking any modicum of class or decorum since voters rebuffed his party in November’s election – failed to meaningfully recognize Tilley’s reform-filled tenure as House Judiciary Committee chairman or that he’s received national recognition for crossing Frankfort’s political aisle to advance solid criminal-justice and substance-abuse policies.

Like the lead jockey hearing thundering hoof beats of competing horses closing ground and ready to overtake him down the stretch during May’s first weekend, Stumbo knows his horse is faltering as the margin by which he holds his speakership in the House fades.

Could Stumbo find himself in an office without “Speaker” on the door by the time those horses rumble down the Churchill Downs track at this year’s Derby?

Liberty Booster: Former Louisville Metro Council member and GOP gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner offers a complete contrast to Stumbo.

Heiner hasn’t only accepted – with absolute class – former political rival Bevin’s offer to join his cabinet as its education and workforce development secretary, he’s talking about “bold moves” to address stagnant education and workforce systems by advancing an agenda driven by everything from parental choice in where and how children are educated to updating the unemployment insurance system’s antediluvian computer-programming code.

While Heiner’s built a prosperous career as a real-estate developer and doesn’t need the job, Kentucky needs his voice.

Kentucky Youth Advocates’ executive director Terry Brooks got it right when, speaking of Heiner, he told “You cannot possibly minimize the power of a strong public voice.”

The voice of Heiner, who’s invested a considerable amount of personal resources and political capital in efforts to bring public charter schools to Kentucky, will certainly sound different than the drivel we’ve heard spilling out of Frankfort for decades.

Something different is indeed needed – especially considering that, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 36 percent of Kentucky’s eighth-grade students are proficient in reading; less than 30 percent reached proficiency in math.

While progress has been made since these scores first were recorded in the 1990s, it’s been very slow and too small.

Considering the rate of academic progress in our public schools as tracked by the NAEP, education analyst Richard Innes claims it will take another 126 years before eighth-grade students in Kentucky’s public schools reach even an 80-percent proficiency rate in reading and more than 70 additional years before they make that grade in math.

Space doesn’t permit full treatment here of other candidates for a “Liberty Booster” award, such as Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, who in November became the first black Kentuckian elected to a statewide office and whose personal story will spark a spirit of entrepreneurship statewide.

We’ll tell that story soon, just as we’ll highlight foolish legislation sponsored by Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, who proposes using government power to require contractors on public projects to field a workforce comprised of 51 percent Kentuckians and 15 percent apprentices.

Yet Nelson staunchly opposes economically inclusive policies like getting rid of the prevailing-wage requirements on these same public projects, which would actually result in more Kentucky companies with a workforce made up of Kentuckians building schools and government buildings.

No wonder he was so easily defeated by Republican Alison Ball in the race for state treasurer in November.

By Jim Waters

Bluegrass Beacon

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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