Kumbaya was the theme of Ky. Chamber dinner

01/11/2013 12:22 AM

The record crowd of about 1,400 business and government leaders attending Thursday’s Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dinner got a heaping side of bipartisanship from top-ranking lawmakers and the governor.

After a clever joke at the governor’s expense, Jeff Hoover — the Republican House minority leader — then praised Beshear for having legislative leaders of both parties to the governor’s mansion on Wednesday, which he said was “an unprecedented gesture.”

“It was a great start to the session,” he said.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer touted the bipartisan lunch the 38 Republican and Democratic senators and their staff shared earlier this week.

“There certainly is a new day in Frankfort. I pledge to do my part,” Palmer said.

And Gov. Steve Beshear made a subtle reference to the absence of his former nemesis, David Williams, whom Beshear appointed to a judgeship last fall.

“I admit, this is the first legislative session in five years I’m looking forward to,” Beshear said.

Here are some highlights:

Senate President Robert Stivers

Stivers was this year’s new addition to the chamber’s speaking lineup having just been sworn in as president for the first time this week. He spent the first part of the speech introducing himself to the group, which included not one but two thank yous to Beshear for making that judicial appointment.

Stivers then serious, saying he was “optimistic about where we are and where we are going.”

Stivers said emphatically that lawmakers must “deal with the pensions.” And he said he wants to see the legislature foster a good business climate, which was as close as he came to talking about tax reform. He did say he hopes the General Assembly will address education and “deal with the drug issue.”

“It affects our competitiveness. It drives health care costs. It drives corrections costs.
We do have real problems. It will take people coming up with real solutions,” he said. “The day of gotcha politics has to be a thing of the past. That day starts. The dialogue starts.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo

As he has done in past Chamber dinners, Stumbo started with a series of jokes. But halfway through his speech he asked the audience to stand for a moment of silence to honor the four children and their father killed earlier this week in a fire in Pike County. From that point, his speech took a much different tone.

“It’s time to quit kidding ourselves in Kentucky. One in four kids live in poverty,” he said before listing other ills, such as the number of uninsured and the room for improvement in education attainment.

Stumbo then called on his colleagues to be “courageous” enough to tackle pension reform, tax reform and fund preschool for all.

Gov. Steve Beshear

“These leaders and this governor are committed to working together to solve the big problems we have in this state because Kentucky is poised to take off when we come out of this recession,” Beshear said.

He made a pitch for shoring up Kentucky’s public pension system and for finding more money through tax reform. Both issues were vetted by task forces in 2012. Beshear said Kentucky has cut so much from the budget and the tax structure doesn’t keep up with the economy, so Kentucky is looking at falling short on being able to pay its pension, employee health care, corrections and Medicaid bills let alone fund education.

Rep. Jeff Hoover

Hoover started by saying he first started speaking at the dinners as a freshly-elected House minority leader in 2001 making him the longest tenured speaker on the night’s roster.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. You be the judge. But if you’re not a judge, go up here and see the governor – he may appoint you,” Hoover said.

Later in his remarks, Hoover made a pitch for having “an open debate” on legalizing industrial hemp — an initiative being pushed by former state representative and current Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

“We should not let petty political jealousies and gubernatorial ambitions keep us from debating this issue,” he said.

Hoover told Pure Politics he wasn’t aware of anyone specifically opposed to the issue for personal political reasons. But he said he didn’t want to see the issue shelved “just because James Comer is a young Republican” on the rise.

Hoover then set the tone for the tone that was to carry throughout the rest of the speeches.

“My hope is that we can continue the bipartisan, cooperative spirit that we have seen this week,” Hoover said.

Many of those attending the dinner came away cautiously optimistic about what they heard in the speeches.

Former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton said he never remembered hearing so much about bipartisanship at the event. And former state Auditor Crit Luallen said she hoped it led to some policy achievements this session.

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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