Kenton Democratic Leader: Kentucky Joined the South in Last Election
This column is written by Col Owens, Chairman of the Kenton County Democratic Party. It first appeared at KY Forward and is republished with permission.
Last week my wife Milly and I had a wonderful opportunity to spend an evening with several hundred of Kentucky’s leading Democrats in helping former U.S. Senator Wendell Ford open his Government Education Center in Owensboro. Milly had worked for Sen. Ford for much of her early life, both in Washington and in Kentucky, and was involved in putting the event together.
The keynote speaker and guest of honor for the evening was former President Bill Clinton. The “big dog” was at his best – he looked good, he sounded good, and he said things that resonated well with this crowd, which included everyone from the governor on down. President Clinton talked about a time when government worked – even during the dark days of impeachment, when he and those voting against him could still talk about and deal with other issues.
Sen. Ford served as Senate Democratic Whip during much of that period, and worked closely with the president to insure that votes were secured to support his initiatives. Some were very controversial, such as welfare reform, which had to be passed three times because of two vetoed versions. To those of us mired in the present era of gridlock, such an accomplishment sounded almost impossible. All in all, it was a wonderful evening of nostalgia.
However, there was for me an element of sadness and almost shame about the evening. Not once was the name of President Barack Obama mentioned. As the Democratic Party chair in Kenton County I well know about the election, and Kentucky’s antipathy toward the president. Yet it is more than sad that his well-deserved victory, in the face of overwhelming odds and obstacles, cannot even be acknowledged here, even among such a robust company of Democrats.
Our silence betrays our acquiescence in Kentucky’s dirty secret, that despite the passage of time we have not exorcised from our midst the last vestiges of racism. Having been a border state for a century and a half, we finally in this last election seem to have joined the South, in our refusal to move forward together with the rest of the nation into the brave new world of the 21st century. For this – as an eighth-generation Kentuckian – I am ashamed.
Yet notwithstanding this reality, and in fact in the face of it, there was hope. Hope provided by the Ford Scholars program that will be operated through the Ford Government Education Center. For this was the true focus of the evening, aside from the attention showered – quite appropriately – on the two living legends with us whose accomplishments were so important in an earlier period. The good new news was of the new opportunities for future young Kentuckians to study how to engage in civic life and how to practice the arts of the democratic political process.
The hope is that with these new opportunities, future generations will prove more adept than ours at the art of collaboration so necessary to achievement, and thereby will secure a better standard of living and quality of life for all Kentuckians.
From our lips to God’s ear.
Col Owens is an attorney in Ft. Mitchell and chairman of the Kenton County Democratic Party.