It has been a quite unsettling week, listening to our governor ramble on about the potential need to redeem something in blood if Hillary Clinton wins the upcoming election. Many people are justifiably alarmed, even leading some to call for Governor Bevin’s impeachment. I strongly advise that the governor’s opponents need to act as Christ advised his disciples at one critical point, “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Governor Bevin may be pushing a failed agenda and acting out of control, but we have to figure out how to deal with him effectively over the next three years.
At the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln said in the wake of that battle that the living must dedicate themselves to “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” He did not say government of some of the people, or the best people, or for people who share our values. He meant that governmental power was exercised on behalf of all citizens as a sacred trust. This leaves the $1000 question of HOW this is to be done.
We Need the Clash of Ideas in Frankfort
As a professor of communication, I have dedicated my professional life to studying how we make appeal to each other, how we debate, how we make collective decisions, and how we can best manage conflict. I can report that it is absolutely clear that we as humans need the clash of ideas in spirited debate to discover the truth of a matter and to make the best decision in the face of complexity and uncertainty. Good decision-making requires the clash of the best available information and the best ideas expressed by excellent well-prepared advocates. Without such a clash we settle for merely mediocre solutions, we fail to recognize important blind spots, and we embrace the partial with much more conviction and certainty than it deserves. Indeed, colossal American military ventures in the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in the early 1960s, and our military adventure in Iraq a decade ago, both emerged in a context where smart people held their misgivings because they did not want to rock the boat, or disturb what seemed to be the predominant opinion of the group.
Our most pressing problem in Kentucky government right now is that we may lose the mechanisms that require the clash of ideas, of negotiation and compromise in our legislature. The most consequential elections this fall for Kentucky are not the Senate race, or the congressional races, but the General Assembly races for the Kentucky House. As you know, the Kentucky House is currently controlled by the Democrats and the Kentucky Senate is controlled by the Republicans. Our governor is raising prodigious amounts of money and expending great energy to “Flip the House” from Democratic control to Republican control. This will allow the governor to dominate Kentucky governance and to have his way on virtually every matter.
To date, GOP legislators have shown very little evidence that they can or will oppose the worst of his ideas. He smashed the UofL Board of Trustees and gravely endangered the accreditation of UofL and all of the state supported universities. And yet, I have only heard commendations for this action from GOP legislators, and not one peep of protest from any of them.
How Do We Convince Others, Especially Bevin Supporters, To Vote Dem?
We have some 50 days left in this election campaign to make sure that the Governor does not get the monopoly on power he so evidently craves. We need to talk to our friends, our neighbors, and our families about our Bevin problem. Governor Bevin is the issue in this campaign, but we need to think carefully as to how we frame the issue. We are going to need to talk to many people that have at least a mildly positive attitude towards him. Many of these people have some reservations about his behavior, though, and this is where we must focus.
So HOW can be best talk to these partial Bevin supporters? Should we confront these people with the facts or the likely disastrous consequences of some of the Governor’s actions and proposals? I would suggest that the better approach is to ask questions that unearth the person’s areas of doubt about the governor, his actions, and his plans.
STEP 1: Ask what they like about Bevin’s actions and proposals. This may be difficult to do, but IF you listen to them first, it is usually appreciated and will set up a window for them to listen to your reasoning later. Don’t dispute their reasoning and don’t argue; just listen before you begin probing and asking your line of questions.
STEP 2: See if they have any reservations, and begin probing there. For example, if you know the person supports higher education, you can ask questions like:
- Do you think Governor Bevin’s proposed 9% cut for higher education would have led to better results than the 4.5% cut he had to negotiate with the House Democrats?
- His actions in disbanding the University of Louisville Board of Trustees have led to questions about the University of Louisville’s accreditation. Do you think he followed the wisest course of action here?
If you know that the person is on Medicaid or has relatives on Medicaid you might ask something like the following:
- The governor’s Medicaid waiver proposal is going to remove at least 100,000 people from coverage if the plan is approved by the Federal government. It does this by setting up a complex set of hurdles that people will have to maneuver to in order to qualify and keep their coverage. Do you support this?
- Governor Bevin is shutting down KYNECT, the Kentucky exchange for the Affordable Care Act. It has been rated as the most successful state exchange in the nation? Do you think this is wise?
Similar questions can be asked about so-called “right-to-work” legislation for union members, or charter schools for school teachers who are concerned about maintaining public funding, or some of his frequent inflammatory comments.
If you don’t know the person’s specific points of ambivalence or disagreements with Governor Bevin, then try the following: “You have told me what you like about the Governor’s actions and proposals, tell me about some reservations that you have about the Governor’s actions to this point.”
STEP 3: Finally, given the reservations they have shared, ask it they think it wise to give the Governor unlimited power. Here are some questions you can use:
- Do you think that Republican legislators in either chamber will check actions or proposals of the governor that are unsound?
- At this point, do you trust him enough to give him unopposed power for the next two years? Do you think that Governor Bevin at this point deserves unchecked power? Does he deserve more power than Governor Fletcher or Beshear ever had?
- Given that you have some reservations, don’t you think it would be a good idea for the House Democrats to remain in power to closely examine Governor Bevin’s proposals over the next two years?
Then be ready to recommend that the person vote for the Democratic House candidate running in his or her district, in order to act as a balance to the Senate and Governor. You can get the names of the Democratic candidates in each district at the Kentucky Secretary of State site (here).
We have a few weeks for these conversations. The time has come to act by listening and asking good questions. May we all be successful in this quest.
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