Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Rising Democratic Latino Stars: Who Are Joaquin and Julian Castro?

Twin brother Joachin introduced him and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gave the Democratic National Convention’s keynote address and knocked it out of the park. So, just who are these young, Latino political superstars? Julian’s speech told us some things: Their grandmother was forced by economic circumstances to emigrate to the San Antonio. She learned to read and write both Spanish and English before she died. They were raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic but enabled them to win scholarships to Stanford University.

Joaquin Castro:

Born 16 September 1974 (the younger twin by one minute), raised on San Antonio’s West Side and educated in the public school system. Like the majority of Mexican-Americans, the Castros are Catholic (there is also a large and growing minority of Pentecostals). Joaquin is still single.  Joachin graduated high school a year early at near the top of his class. He majored in Political Science at Stanford University, graduating with honors (B.A.) in 1996.  He then went to Harvard University Law School, earning his J.D. in 2000. He returned to San Antonio at age 28, he was elected to the Texas Legislature where he is completing his 5th term as a state representative for District 125 which includes most of San Antonio.  In the Texas House, Joachin has championed green energy (in TEXAS!), managed to restore millions of dollars in education and health care money for lower income people, and has pushed progressive programs in teen pregnancy prevention, mental health care, and juvenile justice—none of which are causes that lead to instant popularity in Texas politics, but Joachin has overcome and become Vice Chairman of the Higher Education Committee and Democratic Floor Leader of the Texas House.  I have said for some time that the far-right’s hold over Texas politics is living on borrowed time and young, dynamic leaders like Joachin Castro from the state’s fastest growing ethnic demographic (Latinos, mostly Mexican-Americans), are a major reason why the time is short for the continued far-right control over Texas politics.

Outside the legislature, Joachin raised his own money to start Trailblazers’ College Tour, which sends underprivileged high school students on college visits, exposing them to some of the nation’s best institutions of higher education, inside Texas and out, and giving these students the tools to realize that matriculation into such schools is not outside their grasp.  He has created San Antonio’s largest literacy program, SA READS which has distributed over 200,000 books to schools and shelters throughout the city.  He has a small private law firm with his twin brother and has taught law at St. Mary’s University and Trinity University, both in San Antonio.

Now, Joaquin is running for Congress in the Texas 20th District (most of San Antonio) and is well ahead. Barring something strange happening, he should win easily in November, bringing his clean energy, education, and other progressive concerns to the U.S. House–from Texas.  I predict at least a U.S. Senate seat in Joaquin’s future.


Born 16 September 1974, one minute before younger brother, Joaquin, Julian is married to Erica Lira Castro, an elementary school teacher, and they have one daughter, Carine, born in March of 2009.  Like his twin brother, Julian was raised on the West Side of San Antonio and educated in the public schools. He also graduated high school a year early and earned his B.A. with honors from Stanford University in 1996. He then matriculated at Harvard Law School and earned his J.D. in 2000.  In 2001, at the age of 26, Julian became the youngest (at the time) elected City Councilmember in San Antonio’s history.  He is on the board of the Family Services Association and has taught at St. Mary’s University, Trinity University, and the University of Texas–San Antonio.  In 2005, he opened his private law office with his brother, Joachin.  In 2009, Julian was elected Mayor of San Antonio at the age of 35. His reforms and work for economic growth have transformed San Antonio into one of the top 50 cities in the USA. (San Antonio is now the 7th largest city in the U.S. and has recovered from the Great Recession faster than the rest of the nation–and faster than Texas as a whole.)

Mayor Julian Castro has a passion for green energy: He used federal stimulus funds to help CPS, San Antonio’s utility company, to weatherize homes.  Before Castro’s tenure as mayor, CPS was known for relying on outdated coal and nuclear plants.  Now, they are retiring these plants slowly and are following the mayor’s New Energy Economy plan.  In 2010, CPS pledged to get 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020 and is on track to easily surpass that goal.  The mayor and CPS are bringing in new green energy plants, especially wind and solar and training people in installation.  The mayor has led several green tech companies to move their headquarters to San Antonio, with pledges to create hundreds of local jobs each time.  Julian Castro wants San Antonio to be the green energy center than Silicon Valley, CA is to software and Boston to biotech.

In a state infamous for climate change denial, Mayor Castro declared September 2011 to be “Climate Change Awareness Month.”  He’s launched a bike-sharing and small-car sharing program to reduce gridlock and cut emissions in the city.  He has won support by pushing the (true) line that the city’s growth is tied to making it more livable and more modern and that greener policies are a part of that.

His advocacy of high speed comuter rail in central Texas has met more opposition in the Texas Legislature and the governor’s office, but Castro is gaining support.  He has also pushed for a strong water-conservation program in drought-prone Texas.  San Antonio was leading the state in water conservation years before Castro took office, but Castro has redoubled efforts: Thanks to his efforts, San Antonio now has a water-recycling system and a water-storage facility and is building a de-salination plant.

Is any of this popular in Texas? Well, last year (2011), Julian Castro was reelected Mayor of San Antonio with a resounding 83% of the vote!

Will he become the first Mexican-American Governor of Texas? Will either of the Castro brothers become the first Latino President of the USA? I don’t know, but I think the odds are good.  Texas will become the first state in the union with no ethnic majority. Whites will long remain the largest minority, but Latinos and African-Americans together will outnumber them and they are voting Democratic in large numbers.  The Asian population, especially Vietnamese, is also growing in Texas. The Republican Party’s insistence on remaining the party of white people, with anti-immigration policies, will hasten its downfall.  Red State Texas is quickly becoming Purple Texas and Blue Texas is not far behind.  The Castro brothers will be a large part of that transformation.




September 5, 2012 Posted by | politics | Leave a comment

My Progressive/Liberal Agenda, I: FDR’s Four Freedoms

As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress  called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside.  I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.

Let me be clear:  I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.”  What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order.  I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.

I reproduce relevant excerpts of  FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform.  Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.


The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America.  Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  1. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  2. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  3. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.  [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
  4. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.


Freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of religious belief and practice.

Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).

Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).

I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C.  But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.

In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”

February 25, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, politics, religious liberty, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

Independence Day Meditation: Can a Christian Be a Patriot?

Can a Christian be a patriot? I suppose that depends on the definitions of “Christian” and “patriot.”  If “Christian” refers to Constantinian Christians, that is, those who, since the Emperor Constantine conquered the Roman Empire “in the sign of the cross,” have assumed that there can be Christian rulers, then there appears to be no problem. Constantinian Christians show their patriotism by supporting the Christian emperor or king or queen or the “Christian nation” with the elected “Christian leaders” of the “correct” political party that God has chosen.  But this perspective took the way of Jesus Christ, a way of nonviolence, economic sharing, mutual servanthood and equality, and love of enemies which spread by evangelism and martyrdom and turned it into a religion of domination, economic competition, hoarding, hatred and killing of the enemies of the state–which spreads by military conquest and coerced conversions.  After the break-up of Medieval “Christendom” into modern nation states, Constantinian Christians were often drafted into wars with other “Christian nations.” Thus, they showed their patriotism by placing loyalty to the state above loyalty to Christ or to the Body of Christ and killed fellow believers in the name of God.

I am not a Constantinian Christian. I consider Constantine’s distortion to be a heresy that has haunted Christianity for over 16 centuries, now. I belong to that strand of nonviolent Christianity that was there from the beginnings of the Jesus movement and dominated for the first 3 & 1/2 centuries of church history, was recovered by some monastic movements (e.g., the Franciscans) and some Medieval sects (e.g., the Unitas Fratrum) and the Anabaptists, Quakers, Dunkers/Brethren, some Baptists, many early Pentecostals.  For this kind of Christian, the question of “patriotism” is far more problematic.

For the nonviolent Christian, one’s primary loyalty is to God in Christ; one’s “national loyalty” is to the Kingdom or Rule of God.  One sees God’s redeeming work in history as primarily working through the Church, scattered among ALL nations.  There are NO “Christian nations,” although there may be nations with large numbers of Christians whose history and culture has been influenced by Christian values.

Having “pledged allegiance” to the Kingdom/Rule of God in baptism, the non-Constantinian Christian cannot give ultimate loyalty to any earthly flag, republic, or government.  But is the Christian forbidden to have any feelings of affection for her homeland? I don’t think this necessarily follows.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem for killing the prophets and not knowing the “things which make for peace.” Matt. 23:36-38; Luke 13:33-35.  Although well aware of Rome’s injustices (crucifying Christ and eventually executing many of the apostles), the Apostle Paul seemed proud of his Roman citizenship and did not hesitate to make use of it in getting a hearing for the gospel.

I sincerely doubt that Christians are forbidden from cheering on their national teams in the Olympic games or from being proud of the best of their nation’s history and accomplishments.  I love the U.S.A. and cherish my citizenship and the best of our history, legal system, struggles for justice, our accomplishments in many areas. But no Christian (that is, no non-Constantinian Christian) can have an uncritical love of country or any form of national chauvenism, much less any jingoistic nationalism.  One has to acknowledge that every nation (most definitely including the U.S.A.) also has its national sins and many shortcomings.  The U.S., for instance, began as a contradiction in terms–a group of English colonies protesting unjust treatment by the mother country while simultaneously practicing far worse injustices against the indigenous peoples (so-called “Indians”) and slaves brought over from Africa.  Our beloved Constitution which set us up as a democratic republic, simultaneously engraved race-based slavery into the heart of the nation’s laws–and it took a terrible civil war and occupation of the rebellious Southern states before the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution could dissolve our slaveocracy and rebuild the republic on a more moral basis.  Even then, women were denied the right to vote until 1920 and, to this day, there is no guarantee of equal rights for women.  We all-but-exterminated the Native Americans in expanding the nation Westward and most of what we call the Southwest was land stolen from Mexico in an illegal war never approved by Congress.  It wasn’t until the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that the legal basis for segregation (approved by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896) was overturned and it took the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, especially the victories resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the U.S. version of legal apartheid was dissolved.

The U.S. has also committed crimes against other nations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia–often backing tyrannies and dictatorships instead of democratic movements because of a narrowly perceived national interest. The U.S. lags behind many nations in legal protections for the accused, in abolishing the death penalty, in prison reform, in universal healthcare, in education of all citizens, and many other areas. We have much to learn from the mistakes and the successes of others.

If one’s definition of patriotism includes this kind of critical love which hopes for the best for one’s nation and wants to see it repent and do better, then, in this limited sense, I think even a non-Constantinian Christian may be a patriot.  But if by patriotism one means that one must always think one’s nation is “number one,” and “exceptional,” and that international law is only for other nations, or that one’s nation is justified in hurting other nations–either economically or militarily, then no non-Constantinian Christian may be a that kind of “patriot.” Nor may a Christian believe that “our freedoms” are given to us by military might–because freedom in the gospel has a different meaning than the individualistic egoism of our national self-centeredness and because as Christians we reject the way of the sword for the way of suffering love. Military service to a nation state is forbidden for those who part of the “army that sheds no blood” as the Church Father Clement of Alexandria described the universal Church.  We lay down arms and take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  As Lee Camp suggests in Mere Discipleship, Christian disciples do not make for “good Americans” (or good Britishers, good Germans, good Brazilians, good Zimbabweans, good New Zealanders, good Japanese, etc.).  Doubtless the Sarah Palins and Michelle Bachmans would call this perspective treason. So be it.

Christians need a cosmopolitan viewpoint and need to be in solidarity with the oppressed all over the world.  If the gospel is true, then those of us united in Christ have more in common with fellow Christians in nations designated as “enemy” by our respective governments than we do with the non-Christian fellow citizens of our nation.  That’s not to mean that we should see those non-Christians as enemies, either. They, too, are created in God’s image and Christ died for them, too. All people are either fellow disciples or potential fellow disciples–so we may neither hate nor kill anyone.

I’ll cheer on the U.S. in the Olympic games. I’ll celebrate what is good in our nation’s history and laws–and that we gave the world baseball, of course. But if “patriotism” means celebrating war or defying international law or putting down other peoples so as to feel good about ourselves–or if “patriotism” means putting loyalty to one’s nation above loyalty to God’s in-breaking Rule (with its VERY different value system), then count me out. My religion forbids it.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Church, ecclesiology, nationalism, pacifism, politics, theology | Leave a comment

Snapshot of Local (Kentucky) Politics

I first arrived in Kentucky in January of ’86.  The state as I found it then was culturally conservative, but politically moderate.  Like much of the South, it had a tradition of voting Democratic, but most KY Dems tended to be on the conservative side.  Sitting at the intersection of the upper South and the Midwest, KY’s history MOSTLY reflects the Southern story, but with interesting twists: Catholic missionaries came in with Daniel Boone in the 18th C., so, whereas a large Catholic presence is a recent development in much of the South, it has been a dimension of KY life since we were a large western county of Virginia!  As Louisville became a major port city with massive riverboat traffic in the 19th C., we attracted numerous Jewish merchants.  In much of the South, Jews are still a tiny minority, but in Louisville, KY’s largest and most prosperous city, there has been a significant Jewish presence (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform) since the 19th C.  I was raised in FL, but most of the Jews I knew there were secularized. I had to come to KY to meet numerous practicing Jews.

Other historical features:  Slavery existed in Antebellum KY, but on a much smaller scale than in the Deep South–and there was a prominent abolitionist movement as well.  Because of this, KY didn’t secede from the Union–until the South had already lost the Civil War.  KY was a site of many prominent Civil War battles, but it was truly conflicted.  Later, it did become wholeheartedly segregationist–but there was a strong resistance movement, too. Numerous Civil Rights campaigns of the ’60s took place in KY. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s younger brother, Rev. A.D. King, was a Louisville pastor and leader of the Louisville chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)  Kentucky ratified the Equal Rights Amendment–and then tried to take it back even though the U.S. Constitution doesn’t provide for states UN-ratifying amendments.

Like Ohio, our neighbor to the North, Kentucky has been the destination of many refugees from global wars settled in the U.S.–which has given us a larger immigrant population than most Southern or Midwestern states.  It’s still relatively small, but at least in Louisville and Lexington, it makes us more diverse than many assume.

When I came here in ’86, this meant that registered Democrats FAR outnumbered registered Republicans, but that the state was beginning to vote Republican nationally.  We had a woman Gov., Martha Lane Collins (D-KY), one Democratic Senator (the late Wendell Ford) and one Republican Senator (Mitch McConnell, now the Minority Leader) and Democrats held 4 of the 6 U.S. House seats.  But that was beginning to change.  By the end of the ’80s, Republicans held 3 of the 6 U.S. House seats and KY had voted for Reagan as Pres. twice and then voted for Bush I.  Bill Clinton only partly stemmed that tide: KY voted for Clinton twice (’92 and ’96), but there was a large indep. Ross Perot vote each time–and in the GOP wave of ’94, Republicans held 4 of 6 House seats–and captured the state senate which they’ve held ever since.  In ’96, McConnell protegé Ann Northup (R-KY-03) captured the Democratic stronghold of Louisville, leaving KY only 1 Democratic House seat.  When Wendell Ford retired in ’98, McConnell helped former baseball all-star Jim Bunning (R-KY) pick up KY’s other U.S. Senate seat. And when popular KY Gov. Paul Patton (D-KY) left office in a sex scandal in ’03, Republicans even voted in a GOP Gov in Ernie Fletcher (R-KY)–another McConnell protege. And KY voted overwhelmingly for Bush II twice.

So, by 2005, KY seemed to be moving solidly in a Republican direction.  Voter registration was still more Democratic than Republican, but voting patterns were Democratic only in local elections.  The KY Democratic Party seemed old and worn and in-bred.  If you were a KY Democrat, much less a KY progressive or liberal, things looked increasingly grim.

The slow road back began with VT Gov. Howard Dean’s tenure as Chair of the Democratic National Convention (Jan. 2005-Jan. 2009). Dean’s 50 state strategy to rejuvenate the Democratic party nationally, and think beyond single election cycles, didn’t pay the immediate dividends in KY that it did elsewhere, but it did inject some new life. Also, the entire 2nd term of the Bush presidency hurt the Republican Party and created new young, progressive activists in KY just as elsewhere. These young turks weren’t immediately welcomed by the KY Dem Party machine, much less listened to, but they refused to go away.  In the banner Democratic year of ’06, KY Dems reclaimed a House seat: former alternative newspaper publisher John Yarmuth, a man the pundits said was too liberal for the district, knocked off Ann Northup for 3rd district.  Yarmuth has been a true progressive champion, too. We had 2 Dem. House seats again. In ’07, Dems took back the governor’s mansion–as Ernie Fletcher was found to be involved in several ethics scandals (and possibly even crimes).

This wasn’t a perfect comeback: People weren’t thrilled with Gov. Steve Beshear (D-KY) who campaigned only on one issue–putting casinos across the state. (Quick, think of the fastest way to unite 2 traditional political enemies: KY’s horseracing industry and the Kentucky Council of Churches. You guessed it. They teamed up to squash Beshear’s gambling bill FLAT!) Kentuckians, including myself, voted for Beshear only because he wasn’t Fletcher. And those ’06 and ’07 victories were not to last:

’08 was an amazing year for Democrats and KY could’ve caught that wave.  Had Hillary Clinton been the Democratic nominee, I believe KY would’ve been colored Democratic blue on election night ‘o8. But Barack Obama was culturally too distant from the state–and still is. Had his name been “Frank Jones,” and he been born in the South, KY MIGHT have overcome its racism and cultural conservatism to vote for him, but not with his name and birth in Hawai’i, time spent in Indonesia, education at Columbia and Harvard Law, and political home in Chicago.  Even apart from the rightwing smears about Obama as a “secret Muslim,” “born in Kenya,” etc., he was simply too “other” for the rural parts of this state–which is most of it.  So, most Democrats in KY didn’t really hope for Obama to win this state–we just wanted him to get close enough to help downticket races.  Our big target was Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose polls had never been lower, and who was in line to be Minority Leader–and obstructionist in chief to the agenda that Obama and the Democrats were elected on in ’08.  We had a very real chance of knocking McConnell off, too–Lt. Col. Andrew Horne (D-KY), a Louisville attorney and U.S. Army reservist was an Iraq War Vet against the war and he was running a grassroots campaign that could’ve destroyed McConnell. Louisville businessman Greg Fischer (D-KY), now our mayor, was also running a credible campaign.  But the KY Dem machine forced both of them out and annointed the wealthy Bruce Lunsford (D), who had run and lost many, MANY, state races simply because Lunsford could self-finance.

Even then, Lunsford started out ahead of McConnell in the polls, but McConnell outspent him, ran ads touting McConnell’s many earmarks (no friend of John McCain) and pork for KY and ran other ads painting Lunsford as a carpetbagger (he has homes in several states) and linking him to Obama and the dreaded liberal Speaker (now House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Lunsford’s responses were slow and clumsy and even with Bill and Hillary Clinton stumping for him, Obama at the top of the ticket did him no favors and McConnell won re-election again. And used his “leadership” with Senate Republicans to block most efforts to reverse the Bush-Recession.

In 2010, a terrible year for Democrats, Democrats failed to take the open Senate seat of retiring Jim Bunning–with Atty. Gen. Jack Conway (D-KY) losing to Tea Party nutcase Rand Paul (R-KY).  John Yarmuth (D-KY-03) and Ben Chandler (D-KY-06) barely kept their House seats and Dems make no gains elsewhere in the state.  It looked like KY was moving back in a Republican direction.

But grassroots activism and Republican overreach seems to be reversing this in 2011. Gov. Steve Beshear is no progressive. He frustrates the hell out of us–letting coal companies continue to rape our mountains, spending no political capital to stop the legalized loansharking of payday lenders, lending no hand to gay rights efforts which have paid off in Louisville, Lexington, and Bowling Green (and soon in Berea?) to go statewide with protections against bullying, hate crimes, and employment and housing discrimination. Plus, Beshear has violated the separation of church and state by spending tax money to help fundamentalists build a Creationist Museum, and now theme park–which will be a waste of money as well as make the state the laughingstock of the nation.  But for all his flaws, Beshear has grown with his job–Upon election he found that Fletcher had embezzled billions and drained the state’s coffers. With the legislature killing his plan for casinos, Beshear had to find some way to raise revenue–and pulled off the minor miracle in this state of getting a tax hike on alcohol AND TOBACCO. Because of that, and because most of the budget cuts came BEFORE the national recession, KY has weathered the storm better than most states–without cutting teachers, cops, firefighters, or social services too grimly.  (He doesn’t want to admit it, but Beshear also used every bit of Obama stimulus money he could, too.) He’s successfully kept some major employers from leaving (and some are actually expanding) and is slowly attracting new business.

For all these reasons, Beshear appears poised to completely wallop his GOP challenger, state senate majority leader David Williams (R-KY) this November. See the poll here. Sure, November is months away, but 21 points is a CRUSHING lead! Williams is the least liked elected official in the state.  And he has praised the GOP plan to kill Medicare–something Beshear will hang around his neck like an anchor!

More than this, KY Dems look in a position to win EVERY statewide race this year. See here.  Fresh off his 2010 defeat to nutcase Rand Paul (R-KY), I was afraid that Atty. Gen. Jack Conway (D-KY) might have trouble come re-election time. But he is leading McConnell pawn Todd P’Pool by 26 points! (That’ll close because McConnell will spend tons of money on P’Pool in an attempt to end Conway’s political career.) Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY), a proud progressive who isn’t afraid to call herself “liberal and progressive” and to push progressive policies, is running for Secretary of State and is ahead of some dude named Bill Johnson (R-KY) by 11 points.  Incumbent state treasurer Todd Hollenbach (D-KY) has a 17 point lead over his closest competitor in a 3 way race.  Bob Farmer (D-KY) running for Ag Commissioner, has a 25 point lead over his competitor. The only race which is close is that of state auditor.  Incumbent State Auditor Crit Luallen (D-KY), the most popular statewide elected official, is term limited and neither of her would-be replacements is well known. Still, Democrat Adam Edelen (D-KY) has a slight lead over Republican John Kemper (R-KY), 38-35% with the rest undecided.  Luallen and other KY Dems need to campaign hard for Edelen.

No one has polled state legislators, but I hope if KY Dems do this well in November, we can also take over the state senate while keeping the state general assembly.

This puts KY Dems in better shape than we have been in a long time.  If Conway wins big, he could be in a position either to challenge McConnell in ’14 or to wait and try for governor. (Beshear’s Lt. Gov., Dan Mongiardo, resigned to run against Conway in the primary in ’10 for the open U.S. senate seat eventually claimed by Tea Partier Rand Paul.  His new Lt. Gov., is former Louisville mayor, Jerry Abrahamson, who spent way too many years as mayor and whom NO ONE sees as a potential governor.) Or, if Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY-06) wins reelection in ’12 easily with a large campaign chest left over (and Chandler plans to tie his opponent firmly to Republican plans to kill Medicare), then he might take on McConnell in ’14.  Outgoing State Auditor Crit Luallen (D-KY) needs to be kept in the public eye. She’s hugely popular and could be a future governor or senator.  Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) is also a future governor or senator–and maybe the best hope of KY Democrats for a viable future candidate for U.S. President.

KY Dems cannot take anything for granted. Even if we win big in ’11, as we did in ’07, Obama will be on the top of the ticket in ’12.  Elsewhere, that’s a downticket advantage for Democrats–but not in KY. Still, in ’12, KY has no U.S. senate seats up for grabs.  But every KY Republican House member voted to kill Medicare while both our Democratic Reps voted to keep it. I figure that means, with the right candidate recruiting and campaigns, KY Dems should keep both our incumbent House members and pick up 1-3 more.  And, although not across the board, we are starting to grow and elect BETTER Democrats and not just more of them.  We may even push enough electoral reform to allow the KY Green Party to become a viable force.

There is also a strong spirit among KY progressives–environmentalists taking on King Coal for the sake of the remaining Appalachian Mountains; alternative energy entrepeneurs attracting green businesses; organized labor resisting attempts to strip collective bargaining rights (which would surely be in trouble if Williams were to become governor!); gay rights activists–blocked by the ’04 state constitutional amendment from seeking marriage equality, but still working strong on other fronts and making progress, city by city, town by town; community organizers against pay day lenders, for drug courts; advocates for the homeless; public transportation and light rail advocates;–and many more.  We have many setbacks, but we are here and getting stronger.  I wouldn’t have bet that the shape of things would look like this when I looked around after election day ’04 or election day ’11.

If only we can keep thinking longterm and not just to the next election cycle.  Growing progressive power for the purposes of progressive causes takes time and effort–youthful energy and older wisdom.  I can’t predict the future–but I like the current political snapshot of the Bluegrass State.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | politics | Leave a comment