Politics

Politics 2003Week of March 31

BLOW-UP IN BOURBON COUNTRY

With the election last fall of Sonny Perdue as Georgia ‘s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and Linda Lingle as the first GOP governor of Hawaii since 1962, Kentucky now holds the dubious distinction of being the state that has gone the longest without a Republican in the Governor’s office.

Indeed, it was back in 1967 that stalwart conservative Louie B. Nunn took the statehouse from the Democratic “Old Guard” in Frankfort after a hard-hitting race orchestrated by his brother Lee Nunn, a wily campaign manager. Since Nunn was “termed out” after one four-year stint as governor (by a law that has since been changed), the Democrats have taken the governorship in Kentucky in eight straight elections later.

This unhappy history of Bluegrass State Republicans, however, appeared to be ending in ’03. Lameduck Democratic Gov. Paul Patton was devastated by revelations by a former mistress, and a contentious primary was underway between his leading would-be Democratic heirs: House Speaker Jody Richards, former State Secretary of Commerce and Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford, and Attorney General Ben Chandler, grandson of the late Gov. (1935-39, 1955-59), Sen. (1939-45), and U.S. Commissioner of Baseball (1945-50) A.B. “Happy” Chandler. In contrast, the four Republican candidates were conducting a gentlemanly primary and all signs pointed to a united front in the fall once the nominee was selected.

All of that is in question now. Two weeks ago, the widely-assumed Republican front-runner, Rep. Ernie Fletcher, was rocked when two opponents supported a court suit questioning whether his running mate meets state residency requirements. Fletcher’s lieutenant governor choice, Hunter Bates, had worked as a top aide in Washington to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) for the past several years and, like many congressional staffers, has voted absentee in his home state while not owning a residence there. Whether that is in violation of state law requiring six years of residency to hold statewide office is unclear and needs to be settled in court, insist two of Fletcher’s primary foes-former Jefferson County (Louisville) Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson and State Rep. Steve Nunn, son of the still-revered Louie.

Specifically, lawyers for University of Louisville student Curtis Shain (who said he is paying for the suit with an inheritance) argue in Circuit Court that Bates lived in Alexandria, Virginia (outside Washington, D.C.) from August 1995 to February of 2002 while working, briefly, in the private sector, and then for McConnell and thus does not meet the residency requirement. Bates’ attorneys counter that he never gave up his Kentucky residency during that time, that his permanent residence was his mother’s home in Williamsburg (Ky.), and that he and his wife did not even take their china and dishes to their Alexandria apartment. They add that Bates worked on Kentucky-related issues while in Washington until he returned to the state to manage McConnell’s re-election. Opposing lawyers countered that Bates’ first job in Washington with a private firm and final job in the area as chief counsel to the Senate Rules Committee under Chairman McConnell were not Kentucky-related.

As we were going to press, Circuit Judge Paul Rosenblum announced that Bates had not met the residency requirements and was off the ballot. Although there were some fears that such a ruling would also strike Fletcher from the ballot (governor and lieutenant governor candidates run as a team in the primaries), he will apparently have an opportunity to find a replacement running mate before the May 20th primary.

The most recent WHAS-TV (Louisville) and WLEX-TV (Lexington) “Survey USA” poll showed Fletcher (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 84%) in the political driver’s seat among Republicans, with 36% of likely primary voters behind him. Jackson had 25%, and Nunn had 21%.

JOSEPH COORS, R.I.P.

Although among most Americans it immediately evokes the popular beer manufactured by his family, among conservatives the name of Joseph Coors also evokes other thoughts and sentiments. For at least two generations, complaints on the right have been loud and frequent that the business community would rather accommodate their enemies on the left-in effect, paying the equivalent of “protection money,” Mafia-style- than actually help their natural allies, the conservatives. Joe Coors, chief operating officer of the Adolph Coors Company from 1980-88, was perhaps the most notable exception. He contributed generously to a wide-range of conservative causes and candidates, using his wealth to advance the post-war conservative movement and conservative politicians. When he died on March 15 at age 85 that is how the beer baron was primarily recalled among those who had worked with him in such venues as the Heritage Foundation and in Ronald Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet.”

“Without Joe Coors, the Heritage Foundation wouldn’t exist-and the conservative movement it nurtures would be immeasurably poorer,” Foundation President Edwin Feulner said, recalling how Coors’ early donation of $250,000 in 1972 launched what is today the nation’s most influential conservative think tank.

Echoed Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress PAC, which Coors also helped to launch: “No matter what kind of trouble we got into, or how controversial we became, Joe Coors was always there for support.”

A native of Golden, Colorado and a graduate of Cornell University (N.Y.), the young Coors began working for the ceramics company founded by his grandfather. During the 1930’s, he worked in the clay pits of the Centennial State to mine raw material for the company. Moving up through the corporate ranks, he helped create one of the first large-scale recycling programs in 1959 by offering a one-cent return on aluminum beer cans and, in the 1970’s, he expanded the distribution of Coors beer from the Western states to the entire nation. Today, Coors is the third-largest brewer in the United States.

But politics was as much Joe Coors’ passion as business. In the 1960’s, he served a stint as regent of the University of Colorado, where he became a vigorous opponent of Vietnam-era campus radicalism. In 1967, while in California, he met then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and the two began a fast friendship. Coors, who spent part of the year in Rancho Mirage, Calif., became a part of Reagan’s “inner circle” known as the “kitchen Cabinet” that advised him in Sacramento and helped him raise the money for the campaigns that eventually put Reagan in the presidency in 1980.

Throughout Reagan’s White House years, Coors was a frequent visitor to Washington, where he strongly weighed in for conservatives on policy and personnel.

“Joe was a man who was blessed with a great fortune, who was willing to put that fortune behind the ideas for freedom in which he believed so passionately,” recalled former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese, who knew Coors well.

SIMON TO RADIO AMERICA

From 1977-80, the late Secretary of the Treasury William Simon was a private citizen, financier, and very much interested in running for President. As an avenue of advancing his unannounced ambitions, Simon also began a series of nationally syndicated radio commentaries known as “Simon Says.” The broadcasts became popular and helped make the former Nixon-Ford Cabinet member a more-in-demand fixture on the Republican speaking circuit-albeit not enough to make him a candidate. Simon, of course, did not run and eventually supported another conservative Republican featured on popular national radio commentaries, Ronald Reagan.

Now, less than five months after his closer-than-expected race for governor of California, William Simon, Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps with a series of weekly commentaries on politics and public affairs. Known as “The Bottom Line,” the 90-second broadcasts will be syndicated through the Radio America network and carried on more than 400 stations nationwide (between 30-to-40 of them in the Golden State). At first regarded as a bit stand-offish while on the campaign trail, Simon eventually warmed to the role of candidate and, even critical observers agree, grew substantially as both a speaker and campaigner.

“Bill Simon is an exceptionally fine commentator with an engaging personality,” Radio America President James Roberts told me. “He is a sharp analyst of people and problems and has an excellent delivery. In fact, Bill Simon reminds me of another Californian conservative politician who made a big hit on radio twenty-five years ago.”


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