Edelen: 'Kentucky needs to reject the politics of incrementalism'

01/15/2014 08:16 PM

Being bold, state Auditor Adam Edelen said, means acting on some of the changes state leaders have debated but repeatedly shelved over the years, such as revamping an antiquated tax code and adding innovation to Kentucky schools.

Edelen, a Democrat who is halfway through a first term as auditor, sounded every bit a candidate for higher office as he outlined his strategy for getting a priority through a politically divided General Assembly. In the 2014 session, Edelen has embraced a package of cyber security measures.

“I am a strong believer that you have to build a case for reform, you have to sell that case for reform and you have got to engage people that you may not normally agree with in the process of getting the reform instituted,” Edelen said.

It’s one thing to gather up that kind of support for a bill that, as Edelen says, is common sense and shouldn’t attract opposition. It’s quite another to get that kind of bipartisan consensus around something complex and controversial like a tax reform package, as Gov. Steve Beshear plans to propose later this session.

“Had I been governor, pushing this important initiative, it is something I would have taken to every corner of the state,” Edelen said (at 2:40). “Different approaches work for different political leaders. But the one that I will always institute is a direct line of communication between the people of Kentucky and their elected officials.”

And Edelen offered a subtle contrast to Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, whose top priority last year was a bill laying the groundwork for the regulation of industrial hemp if the federal government legalizes the crop. Both Comer and Edelen are potential candidates in the 2015 governor’s race.

“In Kentucky, we continue having arguments about yesterday. And nobody wins yesterday’s argument,” Edelen said. “The most significant economic development conversation we have had in the last couple years has been hemp. Now listen, I am a supporter of industrial hemp. I think any little thing helps particularly in diversifying our rural economy. But hemp is not a 21st century economic development strategy, it is an economic development strategy for the 1840s. This is yesterday’s argument.”

Edelen told business leaders last week that it’s one thing to talk about being bold, but it’s another thing to act, as Al Cross mentioned in his Sunday column in the Courier-Journal.

So what would Edelen do beyond pushing for revamping the tax code and casino gambling? A re-commitment to innovative education, Edelen said.

“If we can provide a young person with an opportunity in Kentucky to get a great job training program to transition out of their high school where they are not doing much—they call it senior slide for a reason—and get them in a place where they are making $55,000 or $60,000 a year within a year of graduating high school, that is a very big deal,” Edelen said (at 2:15).


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