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The Promoted Vagaries of Not Seeing Eye to Eye in the Bluegrass State

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Upfront, the intent of this article is not an endorsement (by the author or USA Really) of the Republican State Senator for the 14th District, Jimmy Higdon, but to observe how certain of his policy initiatives starkly contrast the status quo of his party's most recent ideologies. And also to suggest how even by standing apart, for wrong or right, he is actually just the latest in a steady line of Kentucky politicians who would make national names for themselves. Again, for wrong or right.

To put it moderately, the Kentucky politicians whose names can be recognized at the national level run the gamut from embarrassing to incriminating, from US Senate Republican Rand Paul (who once explained to the senate floor in a video YouTube loves taking down how air pollution actually lowers cases of asthma) to US Senate Republican and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who despite the costly drug war has personally invested in drug-smuggling cross-border operations, and who once sent local journalist Carl Brown to prison over a landline answering machine message).

Actually, in researching for this piece I only now learned of the passing of Carl Brown, whose "Plain Brown Wrapper" column provoked lots of conversation in my social circles of the day. On the side he'd founded a support group for manic-depressives and bi-polars, called the Mad Dog Army, which met mostly at the main branch of the public library, the same one where Hunter Thompson's mom worked at for a few decades. Brown's support network structure was close enough to the buzz-worthy 12-step outfits, but without the god stuff. He was a fierce advocate for marijuana decriminalization though, I also remember that from our random encounters over the years. Brown could have been a politician himself, as he was certainly well-read and sharp-minded enough, but, unfortunately, he was also a schizophrenic, one with a drinking problem.

Another regional politician whose ambition leads the way is Jerry Abramson, the long-running "mayor for life" of Louisville turned 55th Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, a position he stepped down from prematurely to accept then-President Obama's recruitment of him to serve as WH Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Which decades of the Kentucky Derby unarguably prepared him for. Nothing from his professional background would warrant a White House gig. He probably helped make millions of tax-payer dollars vanish in the early years of the ongoing bridges project back in Louisville. His time as mayor saw the unreasonable destruction of the popular galleria downtown, a multi-level assortment of cafes and bakeries and arcades, etc, to be replaced by a chain of meat market sports bars. It went from very family-oriented to becoming the beer-vomit setting for narcotics deals and attempted rapes and gang-fights every weekend, all conveniently in the heart of downtown, metro Louisville. He is a clown with an outstanding publicist.

A personal favorite story, of a different Kentuckian politico, happened in 2004 when then-Governor Ernie Fletcher, also a Republican, was flying into Washington, DC to attend former President Ronald Reagan's memorial service. They were almost shot down in midair as a terrorist attack, causing panic on the streets below, because evidently none on Fletcher's staff had thought to radio in to DC's air control of their destination or approach. When there was a huge uptick in traffic that week, because of the funeral and surrounding carnival. The actions of his flight crew led to two separate hearings on Capitol Hill, and the regional establishment has been eager to forget the ordeal ever since.

Kentucky has always had a way of idealizing the past, with families today proudly tracing their own roots to both Confederate and Union soldiers of the Civil War. Indeed, Civil War reenactments and a tourist trade driven as much by heritage and history as by the bourbon; vibes maintained year-round by local newspapers giving lots of inches to historic commemorations and anniversary get-togethers and what-not. But over-idealizing recent political names whose dealings brought them to spotlights above and beyond the shadows of Appalachia, means denying the standing effects of their own misadventures in value judgements, for better or for worse.

And then the people are met with Jimmy Higdon. Essentially, he's a grocer who arose beyond the executive level into a career in local politics. But currently, he has been pushing for dramatic reforms in how the state handles the opioid epidemic. Taking funds from some sort of tobacco settlement, he's shelling it out to the counties in biggest need of immediate action, with the singular intent of using those funds and hard-working volunteers to get law enforcement, community leaders, church groups and schools all on the same page, from sharing notes to sharing resources. He's a Catholic Conservative, but he's pushing for community-wide watchdogs, like-minded concerned citizens to lean together in combating the narcotics, the opioids, the crank and meth and assorted prescription pain-killers in their neighborhoods.

What's more, in his semi-regular articles for the local Nelson-County Gazette, informing the media rather than attacking it as fake, he has been noticeably critical of the cost to taxpayers the war on drugs has long proven itself to be, to the extent of his pushing for the non-rhetorical route of redirecting funds from marijuana-focused investigations and arrests towards instead the obviously more dangerous and lethal drugs. Carl Brown would have appreciated the efforts, I bet. Moving these degrees closer to full decriminalization, preferably one also with retroactive implications, would expand the job force considerably, giving regional employers a broader selection to choose from. It would also simplify the work of many law enforcement officers, while lessening their own outrageous cost of doing business. Because everybody smokes pot, from house-painters to plumbers to restaurant management to hoteliers to stone-masons to farmhands to dishwashers to radio disc jockeys to major property developers to club owners to matronly suburbanite housewives running thrift stores in town merely for the hobby of listening to NPR in public to reporters of a local newspaper itself, Bardstown's Kentucky Standard. Carl Brown was a long-time contributor to Louisville's indie alternative newspaper, the LEO, which was founded largely by John Yarmuth. Yarmuth is a Republican-turned-Democrat who currently serves in the US House of Representatives, and though supposedly representing conflicting parties, a number of Higdon's ideas would undoubtedly align better with Yarmuth's own platforms than with those of his fellow party members.

The criminalization of marijuana especially is a foolish waste of time. After the Cornbread Mafia silliness of recent decades, and after generations of bourbon distilling by a substantial portion of the community, and moonshiners aplenty even further out from public record, it is self-evident that the people of this state have endured and will continue to endure an abundance of spirits and green faeries for as long as necessary. If Kentuckians are good for nothing else, it's for sharing with the rest of the country not only lamebrained careerist politicians but legitimately creative individuals. Freer spirits who escaped the box.

In the same way that Republicans moving leftward to center to cater to leftists saves so many more lives than do Democrats moving rightward to center to cater to racists.

More importantly, when Kentucky's law enforcement does anything from condoning racist recruiters, to getting caught in a child sex abuse scandal, to systemic wage theft, to plastering their patrol cars with the corporate-owned symbol for a serial killer comic book character, then the police need to be reined in. The police so need to be reined in. That is more important than witch-hunting blue collar people smoking some green to let off steam after a hard day's night in the privacy of their own home. Republicans tend to be very vocal in their unquestioning loyalty to domestic law enforcement, so it will be interesting to see if Higdon's sugar draws anymore flies looking to break out of the box.

Author: Richard Caldwell