Recently, Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial candidate, Hal Heiner, visited my office. It came on the heels of a luncheon appearance at the Lexington Rotary club. I had earlier given him from a lift from the Rotary luncheon.
This was my first one-on-one with Heiner. I found him remarkably reminiscent of the late James Street, quarterback for University of Texas' 1969 national champion football team. Heiner is a youthful 62 and not only looks a lot like Street, but has that same effervescence. Those who remember will tell you that "James stayed lit up like a pin ball machine." Street's childhood friend who now serves as Clemson University Athletic Director, Terry Don Phillips, described James as "a winner."
Heiner's "can do" attitude further reminds you of Street. He described Kentucky as a state that "was blessed" with everything from natural resources to a central location. His outlook pretty much amounted to one factor: "We need to produce revenue by not increasing taxes, but increasing jobs."
Kentucky is a unique state. I recall former WTVQ General Manager, Diane Sutter, describing it as "Southerners with a Midwestern mentality." In essence "charming and genteel, while being more practical and less temperamental." Heiner certainly fits the bill! But, as one elderly Rotarian questioned, "speaking as an engineer, Hal, how would you address the gridlock in Frankfort?"
Kentucky has a Senate that has Republican majority. The House of Representatives has been in Democrat control since Reconstruction. Speaker, Greg Stumbo runs the House with an iron hand. Current Governor, Steve Beshear went as far to say that the Houses return to Republican control would "turn the clock back 100 years!"
Heiner's plan is typical of an Engineer. It is thorough. It contains numerous movable parts, starting with "right-to-work" and ending with "charter schools." Both are predicted to attract industry, which would equate to jobs. His rationale behind Obamacare and Kentucky's establishment of exchanges is backed by pure economic logic. It stands as polar opposite to that of likely Democrat nominee, Jack Conway.
Obviously it will take a "winner with a can do attitude" to accomplish what Heiner seeks to do! Which inspired me to ask a somewhat novel question: "Do you think we could get ten or twelve Democrats to switch parties?"
Hal's response was, "interesting idea. I dunno."
Throughout the South there are conservatives who vote with Republicans in nearly all, if not all national elections. I refer to them as "D.I.N.O.s- Democrats in name only." I recall my insurance agent trashing President Obama,telling me how much he liked Rand Paul and exclaiming that there was "no way I will vote for Ben Chandler in the U.S. Congressional election." He then said that he was a registered Democrat. When I ask him "why," his response was "well, my father was a Democrat and his father was a Democrat and I guess it's just tradition."
Tradition or not, it may be the key to unlocking Kentucky's potential as Heiner seeks to do!
It can happen! In fact it did happen throughout the South on a national level. Perhaps the most prominent example is Rick Perry. Perry was a Democrat through 1988. But he made the switch on grounds that he didn't leave the party, it left him. As some remember, Ronald Reagan used those same words.
Many have read former Georgia Democrat, Zell Millers book, "A national Party no More." The Democrats are increasingly seen as the party of "big government, increased entitlements and questionable foreign policy."
In short,the party has drifted left to the point where John F. Kennedy would have a difficult time recognizing it. It's safe to say that "the party of John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman" no longer exist!
Could a "can do optimist such as Hal Heiner pull it off?" If he's anything like Street, the answer is "yes." Longhorn historians will describe Street's impossible dilemma of playing second string behind All American, (later all pro) Bill Bradley. Yet by the third game of his junior year, he had won the starting job!
It might require some help from the outside! Obviously a "D.I.N.O." Congresswoman such as Richmond's Rita Smart would be impressed, if not overwhelmed if Rick Perry asked her to both lunch and to switch parties!
Kentucky and certainly America needs smart, enthusiastic business people like Hal Heiner "quarterbacking" their transformation from a "ward of Washington" to a "laboratory" of ingenuity and progress. This is what Mike Huckabee did in Arkansas. That's why Arkansans who lived in the state during both Clinton's and Huckabee's governorships will tell you how much more effective Huck was than Bill.
In Hal Heiner, we see James Street, less the Longview, Texas drawl. In effect a "winner." The question will be, "how big?"
It may come down to how many D.I.N.O.s come home.
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