Tag: Jack Conway

Reform for Senate Elections?

People inside the Beltway seem to think that the only things worth being said and written are said and written in Washington. John David Dyche’s column today makes a good case for the quality of commentary outside the all-knowing capital.

While most everyone in DC is calling the stretch run of the horse race, Dyche steps back and wonders whether the Kentucky Senate race would have been better for citizens if the U.S. Constitution had not been changed to direct election of senators. He thinks it would be.

I am not so certain. As Dyche notes, James Madison thought the representative or indirect aspects of American constitutional democracy would improve public choice. As times has passed, I wonder more and more about the quality of people drawn to all legislatures, including state bodies. Madison thought indirect election wold “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” Should we still rely on the wisdom of that medium? And yet, what is the alternative? (Todd Zywicki has an informative article on the origins and demise of indirect election of senators).

Dyche works as an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, and has written a nice biography of Mitch McConnell. His column is worth a regular read, especially if Rand Paul comes to Washington as a U.S. Senator. Dyche would be a good guide to how Paul’s libertarian tendencies are playing out politically back home.

That Conway Ad and Social Liberalism

The infamous Conway attack on Rand Paul may be found here. Most people have focused on religion and politics in talking about the ad. I want to examine a part that has been overlooked.

We often hear that contemporary liberalism comprises a big state role in economic regulation combined with a small state regarding social and civil liberties. Maybe not.

Look at the disclaimer at the beginning of the ad. Who is standing behind Jack Conway? Those two gentlemen would police officers, probably Kentucky state police. Why are they there? After all, Conway could have put his loving wife and dear children in the background. But he choose police officers. Conway is saying: “I stand with the forces of order.” Not a very socially liberal message.

Why are the police willing to be in Conway’s ad? After all, the forces of order usually endorse the Republican candidate. Not this time. The Fraternal Order of Police in Kentucky endorsed Jack Conway. Why? Rand Paul suggested the drug war in Kentucky might be paid for in Kentucky. This had two effects. First, it cast doubt on the holiness of the anti-drug crusade. By putting the police officers behind him, Jack Conway is saying: “I will fight the drug war no matter what.” Not good for social liberalism or civil liberties.

Of course, the police have a material interest in the drug war in Kentucky. They believed that Dr. Paul’s call for federalism would mean lower salaries and less resources for the drug war in Kentucky. Conway is saying here: no budget cuts for my friends, the forces of order.  Thus does the drug war bring the Kentucky State Police and the Daily Kos into a political alliance.

Like most politicians, Jack Conway is doing whatever is necessary to win a senate seat. He could end up as the pivotal vote for a Democratic Senate majority, at least in partisan matters.

If he votes as he ran, Conway will be a reliable vote for the policy status quo on the drug war, against civil and social liberties, and for a politics that always and everywhere covets victory “by any means necessary.” He should fit in well in Washington, especially with the more authoritarian parts of the GOP.

Jack Conway’s Ugly Campaign

Kentucky attorney general Jack Conway’s Senate campaign, previously chided here for a TV ad’s “dishonest twisting of [Rand] Paul’s statements,” has released another one that is so bigoted it caused even liberal partisan Jonathan Chait of the New Republic to blanch. Chait writes,

The trouble with Conway’s ad is that it comes perilously close to saying that non-belief in Christianity is a disqualification for public office. That’s a pretty sickening premise for a Democratic campaign. [Not that Rand Paul has in fact demonstrated any non-belief in Christianity, but Conway is dredging up allegations from Paul’s college days.]

Here’s the ad:

It puts one in mind of Bob Schieffer’s stunned question to David Axelrod: Is that the best you can do?

Rand Paul is not a perfect libertarian, as Cato colleagues and others have noted. And surely Jack Conway could engage him in robust debate on legitimate issues from Obamacare to the national debt and the Iraq war. But looking at the actual ads Conway has chosen to run, I’ll repeat what I said about the previous ad: “the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Kentucky should be embarrassed.”

New Campaign Finance Horrors

In the Kentucky Senate race between Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway, new revelations have appeared about the financing of the campaigns. Apparently something called “outside groups” — it’s not clear whether they are from outside Kentucky or outside the parties — have been spending money.

Listen to what one group is doing: “Groups that want lower taxes and less federal regulation are helping Paul … [and] pushing a message that federal spending and the size of government must be reined in.”

Shocking no? You have not heard the worst.

In Kentucky, “The health care law has been a key difference in the Senate race, with Conway supporting it and Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor, strongly opposing it. Supporters say the law will bring insurance coverage for millions more Americans, but opponents have argued, among other things, that it will add costs to businesses.” And both supporters and opponents have the gaul to spend lots of money pushing their point of view!

For Paul, new troubles have appeared. A shadowy corporation has funded attack ads directed at the Republican, see here, here, and here. The corporation in question has not disclosed the source of its funding for the ads to the Federal Election Commission. It is possible that the money for the ads came from commercial transactions and thus has no relationship to the relative strength of public opinion in Kentucky. Prior to Citizens United such spending by corporations was illegal, right? It will be a great day for democracy when shadowy corporations like this one can no longer fund attack ads directed at American voters.

Except…

Attacking Rand Paul

Kentucky attorney general Jack Conway went on TV Tuesday with an ad attacking Rand Paul for … endorsing freedom. The ad shows a clip from a 2008 panel show in which, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, there was a “wide-ranging discussion that involved such things as the wisdom of motorcycle helmet laws, the lottery and expanding gambling. In response to a question about whether he favors more gambling, Paul said he opposes ‘legislating morality’ and then added: ‘I’m for having … laws against things that are violent crimes, but things that are non-violent shouldn’t be against the law.’”

The ad features that last sentence and then cuts rapidly to uniformed sheriffs criticizing Paul’s position. But note that they never really criticize what Paul actually said. His comment came in the context of a discussion of motorcyle helmet laws, gambling, and the state lottery. The sheriffs suggest that Paul wants to legalize selling drugs to a minor, mortgage fraud, burglary, theft, and promoting prostitution – and they say that we should “treat criminals like criminals.” But of course, of the activities mentioned, “promoting prostitution” is the only one that a libertarian would be likely to legalize. (Paul has never said he would do that.) Burglary, theft, fraud, and selling drugs to children are clearly crimes, and it’s dishonest to suggest that Rand Paul would change those laws. Conway may be a slick Louisville lawyer, but he may find that Kentucky voters won’t find such claims credible.

Paul might have been been wiser to use a term like “victimless crimes” or “actions that don’t violate anyone’s rights” in discussing “things that … shouldn’t be against the law.” Obviously burglary and theft violate rights and have victims, while gambling and riding a motorcycle without a helmet don’t. And libertarian legal theorists might question the wisdom of putting nonviolent offenders in jail; it would often make more sense to demand restitution and fines for economic crimes, for instance, rather than putting the offenders in expensive and overcrowded prisons.

But Rand Paul was making sense in 2008 when he said that a free society shouldn’t punish people who aren’t harming other people. And the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Kentucky should be embarrassed to broadcast such a dishonest twisting of Paul’s statements. If Conway thinks people should be imprisoned for gambling and riding a motorcycle without a helmet – the issues Paul was discussing – let him put up an ad saying so. And then see whose side the people are on in an honest debate.

It’s actually striking that in a conservative state, Conway did not mention any of the normal “victimless crimes” – not gambling or helmetless riding, not pot smoking, not even pornography. He apparently thought he could only win this issue by claiming that Rand Paul held the ridiculous position that burglary, theft, and fraud shouldn’t be illegal. Let’s give two cheers for the social progress that his decision reveals.

More Surprises from the Kentucky Senate Survey

You may have heard about the new survey in the Kentucky Senate race that shows Rand Paul up by 15 points. The disaggregated data from the survey are almost as surprising as the overall result.

About one-third of likely African-American and Democratic voters support Paul. He attracts solid majorities of young people, of college graduates, and of people who “almost never” attend religious services. Among the one-quarter of voters neutral toward the Tea Party movement, Paul receives 60 percent of the vote. He gets majority support from every region of the state. Paul’s support is the same from voters who make more or less than $50,000 a year. Paul’s weaknesses? People over 65 and women, both coming in around 45 percent.

Pretty amazing stuff, but there’s a caveat (there’s always a caveat).

One time in twenty, a well-done poll will return a misleading result. The 15 percent number may be wrong because of sampling error.

If not, Rand Paul might want to think about whether he really wants to keep his practice open on Mondays considering all that stuff he will be doing in DC. But maybe he’s not looking to make a career in the capital.

Live from the Fancy Farm Picnic

I went back home to Kentucky to attend the Fancy Farm Picnic last Saturday. It may be the biggest political event in the state; it takes place every August, 10 miles from where I grew up, and somehow I’d never attended before. It was time. I got there just in time to hear Senate candidates Jack Conway and Rand Paul give their 7-minute speeches. (There are lots of speakers, and timekeepers are strict.) There were plenty of advocates for both candidates among the 2000 or so people watching. It’s an old Democratic area, but they’re conservative Democrats who now mostly vote Republican in federal races.

It was well over 90 degrees and humid, so both candidates handed out fans:

As I listened to the candidates, my main impression was this: Conway accused Rand Paul of being an extremist, and Paul accused Conway of being a Democrat. The question for November is which charge will stick.

Gov. Steve Beshear, introducing Conway, warmed up the attack: “[Paul] is going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our school children. He’s going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our coal miners. On the backs of our farmers. On the backs of our law enforcement officials,” he shouted. “The entire commonwealth of Kentucky — Republicans, Democrats and independents — ought to be scared to death about Rand Paul!” Referring to last year’s controversy over Conway’s calling himself a “tough son of a bitch” – it’s a church picnic, after all – and the “seven words you can’t say on television,” Paul said, “There are six more words you won’t hear Jack Conway say [on the campaign trail]: President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.”

So which do Kentucky voters dislike more: the national Democratic party’s big-government agenda or the prospect that Rand Paul might actually try to cut the size of government? In a world where everyone gets something from government, it’s not obvious. But so far Paul is holding on to a lead in the polls. In Fancy Farm, I noticed that all the Conway supporters had the campaign’s official signs and buttons, plus hand-lettered signs that had clearly been produced in campaign offices, such as this “NeanderPaul” sign that I picked up after the shouting was over:

Paul’s supporters, on the other hand, brought a lot of their own homemade signs. Conway’s supporters were more disciplined. You didn’t see any Conway supporters showing up dressed as Abraham Lincoln or a colonial soldier (though news reports say there was a guy dressed as a “neanderthal” holding the above sign), or wearing T-shirts reading “Who is John Galt?” The greater grass-roots enthusiasm for Paul has both pluses and minuses. Clearly he’s appealing to stronger currents than mere partisan politics and generating more enthusiasm. But that means he’s more at risk of supporters doing things that might embarrass the campaign.

Both candidates accused the other of “flip-flopping.” Conway’s team erected a “Rand Paul’s Waffle House” in the familiar yellow-and-black design and claimed he was waffling and flip-flopping on a number of issues. (Are waffling and flip-flopping the same thing? Not really.) Paul’s campaign handed out flip-flops labeled “cap” and “trade” to draw attention to Conway’s alleged backing away from his previous support for the “cap and trade” energy legislation.

One thing you can say about the Fancy Farm Picnic, it’s the best $10 meal you’ll ever eat – Kentucky pork and mutton, fresh-picked tomatoes and corn, and homemade pies and cakes.

And one final thought: They estimate that 15,000 people attend the picnic but that only 2,000 listen to the political speeches, which is a good reminder of reality for us political junkies. And that estimate would seem to be confirmed by my reflection after the weekend that, except for the drive from Mayfield to Fancy Farm, I drove about 500 miles in Kentucky this weekend and I’m not sure I ever saw a campaign sign or bumper sticker. The election is still almost three months away, and politics just isn’t life for most people.