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March 28, 2006

Bluegrass Politics: Let the people vote — if it’s the right’s agenda

Few things are more infuriating in politics than the never-ending hypocrisy the public is forced to endure year after year. This is especially true of the current administration in Frankfort, which is led by the man — Gov. Ernie Fletcher — who promised in 2003 that, if elected, he would “clean up the mess in Frankfort.” But last week’s antics by Republicans and their allies on the far right demonstrated a breathtaking new level of hypocrisy.First was the never-ending saga of expanded gaming and whether a constitutional amendment on allowing slots and casinos in Kentucky should be submitted to voters this November.Leading the charge against expanded gaming is Kent Ostrander, founder of the socially conservative Lexington-based group, The Family Foundation. In 2004, Ostrander was the chief advocate for a state constitutional amendment to ban an already illegal act: gay marriage. Republicans and politically fearful Democrats granted Ostrander and his band of religious zealots their wish by proposing such an amendment, which the voters passed later that year.Ostrander and his group were accused of trying to impose their own religious and moral views on the public, but he disagreed.“This was just a single issue that we tossed out there to the people of Kentucky to let them wrestle with,” Ostrander told the Kentucky Enquirer in 2004. He told another newspaper, “We had planned to just let ordinary citizens do their jobs at the ballot box.”Now, two years later, it’s Ostrander who’s fighting to keep those very same voters from deciding another controversial issue — expanded gaming. However, while he was happy to let the voters “wrestle” with the gay marriage issue, he’s not interested in hearing those same arguments when it comes to letting them decide whether to expand gaming in Kentucky, especially since public opinion polls show popular support for the measure.Not to be outdone by the expanded-gaming hypocrites, Gov. Fletcher continues to push his proposal to teach creationism — dubbed “intelligent design” — in public school science classes. During legislative hearings last week, several of Fletcher’s recent appointments to the state school board were asked about their views on the subject.One nominee, Kaye Baird of Pikeville, responded by arguing: “Intelligent design and evolution — why don’t we give students the choice, or let them have facts about both of them. Don’t we want our young people to be open-minded and be thinkers?”That’s a fine argument if this administration actually applied it across the board.But it doesn’t.Take the matter of sex education in public schools. Under the state and federal abstinence-only policies currently in effect for Kentucky schools, teachers are prohibited from providing students with information on the benefits of condom use. In fact, they are instructed to provide only data on failure rates, including information showing that condoms do not protect against fatal disease.At the same time, in the Fletcher administration’s December 2004 newsletter to state employees, on the subject of “What You Should Know About HIV/AIDS,” it said: “If you choose to have sex with anyone else, use latex condoms (rubbers), female condoms or dental dams every time you have sex.”So while that state worker is told by our state government that condoms can prevent the transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus, that worker’s own teenage children are being told something quite different by a different government worker in the public schools.Yet our new state school board members now suggest we need to give students the “facts” and let them decide for themselves when it comes to theorizing how the universe was created, while the same young people must be protected from information that condoms can prevent AIDS or from learning about sex education so they don’t get pregnant — thus avoiding the other favorite bugaboo of these zealots, abortion.In the meantime, the mainstream media shrugs at such outrageous contradictions and double-speak, keeping the public in the dark about how its government is being run and manipulated to serve a narrow right-wing agenda in the process.When will the people say “enough is enough” about the hypocrisy they are fed by those purporting to serve our best interests and lead us in the right direction? Or do they even care any more? Mark Nickolas is a former Democratic political consultant and publisher of the political blog BluegrassReport.org. Contact him at Mark@BluegrassReport.org