Think there's "no difference" between the parties? You're really, really wrong. Skip to content

Think there's "no difference" between the parties? You're really, really wrong.

5 min read

Going on four years ago, fewer than 31 percent of Kentucky’s eligible voters cast ballots for governor. Who knows what the turnout will be this coming Nov. 5 – but I wish I had a dollar for every excuse I’ve heard for not voting.

“There’s not much difference between the two parties,” is maybe the lamest excuse.

The disparity between Republicans and Democrats is nowhere more apparent than on unions, civil rights, public education, and environmental issues. And then, there was the Trump shutdown.

On the federal shutdown

The Democratic-majority House of Representatives passed bills to reopen parts of the federal government. Only a handful of Republicans supported the legislation; Kentucky’s five GOP congressmen weren’t among them.

Of course, none of the measures would have gone anywhere in Mitch McConnell’s Republican Senate. Because the bills didn’t have funding for the president’s border wall, Trump would have vetoed them anyway.

On unions and working families

Thousands of the furloughed federal workers belong to unions; many pack American Federation of Government Employees cards.

I’m a union retiree. I spent most of my working career teaching history in a community college.

“History will tell you that the Democrats ramrodded every meaningful piece of legislation for the benefit of working people,” said my fellow western Kentuckian J.R. Gray, a former Democratic state representative, International Association of Machinists union official, and Kentucky labor secretary.

He’s right. History also instructs that most Republicans have fought, and are still fighting  tooth-and-nail, against federal and state legislation to protect working people and the environment from the inevitably greedy excesses of unfettered, red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism.

We in unions endorse a lot more Democrats than Republicans for public office, but not because they’re Democrats. It’s because most Democrats are significantly more likely to support our issues than most Republicans.

There’s evidence aplenty.

Attacks on working people at the state level

In the 2017 GOP-majority General Assembly, Republican lawmakers, egged on by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, aimed a double-barreled blast at unions: a “right to work” law and a measure to repeal the prevailing wage.

Not a single House or Senate Democrat voted for RTW. Every Democratic lawmaker voted against abolishing PW, except one House member.

Only a handful of Republican legislators joined the Democrats in opposing the tandem union-busting bills, which passed at warp-speed and which Bevin quickly and giddily signed.

Attacks on working people in Washington

There’s also a chasm between Republicans and Democrats on union issues in Washington.

Need proof? The national AFL-CIO posts an online Legislative Scorecard based on a 0-100 scale. It rates members of the U.S. House and Senate on how they “stand on issues important to working families, including strengthening Social Security and Medicare, freedom to join a union, improving workplace safety, and more.”

In the latest tally (for a lawmaker’s career through 2017), Democrats across the board score considerably higher than Republicans, as they have for years.

Here’s how Kentucky’s six congressman scored:

  • James Comer (R) — 5 percent
  • Andy Barr (R) — 6
  • Brett Guthrie (R) — 10
  • Hal Rogers (R) — 14
  • Thomas Massie (R) — 20
  • John Yarmuth (D)— 98

And our senators? Mitch McConnell (R) rates an 11, while Rand Paul (R) gets a 15.

On pensions

In last year’s Kentucky General Assembly session—with the Republicans still commanding super-majorities in the House and Senate—the disparity between the two parties was again crystal clear. That time, the big issue was our woefully-underfunded public pensions.

Democrats stood united against GOP “pension reform,” which culminated in a bill that would have cut some benefits for current employees and retirees while forcing most new hires into a risky 401(K)-style “cash hybrid” plan instead of a traditional defined-benefits plan.

The minority Democrats, but precious few legislators from the GOP majority, voted against the bill, which naturally passed. Even so, Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, brought suit against the measure in circuit court.

He won and, as expected, the Bevin administration appealed. In the end, the Supreme Court unanimously declared the measure unconstitutional, based on the illegal process the Republicans used to pass it.

(In the May Democratic primary, Beshear, House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, former state auditor Adam Edelen, and perennial candidate Geoff Young are seeking their party’s nomination for governor and a chance to challenge Bevin. He vows he’s down for a second term, but state Rep. Robert Goforth and William Woods aim to oust him in the GOP primary.)

In last November’s elections, the Democrats managed to trim the GOP House edge by only two, and they dropped a Senate seat. Hence, they’ll have a hard time stopping another GOP juggernaut on pensions or any other legislation.

On civil rights and public education

There’s also a big gap between R’s and D’s on civil rights and public education.

Check out the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s “Civil Rights Legislative Report Card.” Like the AFL-CIO, the NAACP (I’m a member) grades senators and representatives from 0 to 100 percent. The latest grade card is for 2017 votes.

NAACP ratings in the U.S. Senate

  • McConnell, Paul, and every other Republican senator got an “F” (below 60) except for Jeff Sessions and Luther Strange who received “I’s” for incomplete.
  • McConnell and Paul each scored 11.
  • All but four Democratic senators earned an “A” (90-100) and the quartet made “B’s” (80-89).

NAACP ratings in the U.S. House

  • Every Republican House member notched an F. Most Democrats received A’s, but 18 got B’s, six got C’s (70-79) and five Ds (60-90).
  • (Six Republicans and two Democrats were graded “I” for incomplete. Because he was speaker, Paul Ryan was not graded.)
  • The Bluegrass State’s Barr, Comer, and Guthrie rated zeroes. Massey got a 25, and Rodgers a 5. Yarmuth earned an “A” with a 100 score.

Public education

At the same time, Democrats do a lot better than Republicans on the National Education Association’s Legislative Report Card, which assesses senators and representatives’ “overall support for public education and educators.”

The current report card goes through 2017, when the GOP commanded House and Senate majorities. It shows:

  • Forty-five House Republicans made passing grades, down 59 from last year.
  • Only 11 Republicans made “As;” 193 Democrats did.
  • Fifty GOP Senators flunked; one got a “B;” 46 Democrats, 2 independents and 1 Republican earned “A’s.”
  • Kentucky House Republicans Barr, Comer, Guthrie, and Rogers rated “F’s;” Massie got a D.
  • Senators McConnell and Paul failed.
  • Congressman Yarmuth, the lone Bluegrass State Democrat in Washington, made an “A.”

On the environment

Too, Republicans do a lot worse than Democrats on the League of Conservation Voters 0-100 National Environmental Scorecard. Kentucky’s capitol contingent is pretty typical. Through 2017, McConnell rated a 7; Paul, a 9. Barr earned a 2, Comer  6, Guthrie 5, Massie 11, and Rogers 8. Yarmuth tallied 94.

Combined scores of Rs and Ds

Party AFL-CIO Scorecard
(out of 100)
NAACP Scorecard
(out of 100)
NEA Scorecard
(A to F)
Environmental Scorecard
(out of 100)
Comer R 5 0 F 6 F
Barr R 6 0 F 2 F
Guthrie R 10 0 F 5 F
Rogers R 14 5 F 8 F
Massie R 20 25 D 11 F
Yarmuth D 98 100 A 94 A
McConnell R 11 11 F 7 F
Paul R 15 11 F 9 F

This fall’s elections

This fall, you can bet there will also be a chalk-and-cheese difference between Republicans and Democrats running for governor, lieutenant governor, and the constitutional offices this year.

But don’t take my word for it. Research the candidates’ records.

To be sure, it also your right not to vote. But if you go fishing on Nov. 5, spare me the “there’s no real difference” plea.


Caricatures of the GOP elephant and the Dem donkey (by DonkeyHotey [CC 2.0] via Flickr)

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY