Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Blue Kentucky Home

Twenty years ago, Kentucky rejected modest, diligent, faithful Steve Beshear in favor of flashy businessman Wallace Wilkinson, who promised lottery winnings that would fund education without raising taxes.

Today, a state ravaged and exhausted by four years of depredations by republican Ernie Fletcher watched Steve Beshear sworn in as its 61st governor.

In his first speech as governor, Democrat Steve Beshear pleaded for unity, promised ethics and pledged economic progress.

He described a stagnant state that has "fallen short," "fallen behind" and "stood still while others have moved forward."

"It doesn't have to stay that way," Beshear said in his inaugural speech from the Capitol steps. "If we address the challenges that face us, and take bold steps to meet them, I believe that we can make Kentucky 'America's Next Frontier.'"

The overflow crowd of more than 1,000 gave its loudest applause to Beshear's pledge to make ethics reform his top priority.

Beshear said one of his first official actions as governor will be to require his top appointees to complete "extensive training" in state ethics laws and hiring procedures.

He'll also propose to the legislature a package of new ethics laws that increase penalties for ethics code violations, strengthen protections for whistle blowers and change the way member of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission are chosen.

"We need to get our own house in order before we can be trusted to do the people's business," he said in an apparent reference to a hiring scandal that torpedoed former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher's chances of re-election.

The weather was close to perfect - 65 and mostly sunny all morning, clouding up only toward the very end of the ceremony. Fletcher's 2003 inauguration was icy - as unusually cold for December as today was unusually warm. In hindsight, that deep chill was a harbinger of the last four years.

With any luck, today's mild weather will be an equally accurate harbinger of the next four years.

And not just in Kentucky, but nationally. Ernie's victory foreshadowed Smirky's re-election, and Smirky's fortunes have fallen eerily in tandem with Ernie's.

As I wrote back on election night:

Kentucky has gone with the winner of the Presidential Election every time since 1964. With a Democrat back in the Governor's mansion, the Bluegrass State is Blue once again, and 2008 will be the republicans' Waterloo. In Kentucky, and throughout the nation.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.