January 12, 2006

Kramer for President - New Metro Council head wants to bridge partisan divides

BY STEPHEN GEORGE

That sharp collective inhale you could hear in City Hall last Wednesday night, just seconds after Metro Council member Tom Owen cast his vote for Republican presidential candidate Kevin Kramer, was as loud as the six minutes it took to decide a new president was brief.

Some Democrats expressed a mixture of surprise and outrage at the outcome, for which Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, and Democrat Bob Henderson, D-14, provided the other votes to give Kramer the majority needed (Republicans are a 15-11 minority). There was talk in the days following of possible Democratic Party sanctions for voting out of step; such a threat was issued two years ago, after Council Democrats George Melton, Dan Johnson and Denise Bentley helped vote Kelly Downard into the presidency. The party never formally followed through.

“Kevin has been an effective and in many ways imaginative member of the Council,” Owen said in an interview Monday. “I think we’ve been burned so badly by what we’ve seen at the state and federal level that there’s a hungering for legislators who will reach across party lines.”

Kramer is the fourth Council president and second Republican to hold the leadership position. A moderate who represents the largely Democratic 11th district, he’s vowed to bring bipartisanship to a body whose brief history suggests a significant lack thereof. LEO caught up with Kramer late Friday afternoon for a chat.

LEO: How will you make the Council less partisan?
Kevin Kramer: I think honestly it comes down to communication. I know there was a time early on when I was looking at the possibility of considering a piece of legislation that I thought made sense. I was asking for information, and people assumed that the reason I was seeking that information was because I wanted to make somebody look bad. That was so foreign to me. The people I’ve known my whole life, no one I know would have suspected I was doing something on purpose to make somebody else look bad. As much as you want to be frustrated with them and say, “How dare you think that of me?,” the reality is they think that for good reason, because it has happened before.
If you’re going to stand up on a Wednesday night after you’ve been elected and say, “My goal is to build a coalition government and start working together,” and then you don’t knock on the doors of the people who are in the building, one has to wonder how sincere you are. How able I am to accomplish my goal is another problem. When you put the goal out there and then you don’t accomplish it, people say you didn’t do what you said you were going to do. So it’s a goal, it’s not a promise.

LEO: How will this year’s election affect the Council, in terms of partisanship?
KK: The reality is we have — and The Courier-Journal said today maybe Councilman Kramer can find a way to do away with the caucuses or something. I don’t see that happening. I don’t think the president really has the authority to just declare that there’s not going to be caucuses anymore. And if I did, I could guarantee you any ability I would have to work in this environment would be gone. Both sides would be so mad at me, I’d never be able to do anything, and that would defeat every purpose I have.
My hope is that what we’ll be able to do is keep the conversations in committees focused on issues. Now, if our having discussions about the safety of the city is going to appear to be partisan, then I really don’t know how you have that discussion. Because we really need to have that discussion, and we need to have it honestly, openly, and we’ve got to figure out what’s going on in the city and what we can do to move us in the right direction. My goal would be, then, that the discussion in committees stays professional, and that the discussion in the committees stays focused on issues and not on individuals.

LEO: Why do you think you’re so popular among the Democrats in your district?
KK: I honestly think that folks out there understand that the person who’s representing them is representing them, in my district. I am not representing a party in my district; I’m representing people in my district. And the Democrats pay taxes the same as the Republicans, and they deserve the same level of care, the same level of effort, the same level of service. And so I think I’ve been able, fortunately, to convey to people that my job, the way I see it, is to respond to and to do the best I can to take care of the services that the city is responsible for.

LEO: One criticism of district representation in general is that, depending on the way representatives behave, it inhibits big-picture thinking. Does being president change the composition of your thinking there?
KK: I don’t think it changes the composition of my thinking. I think the point you raise is a valid point, but I would share with you that although that’s legitimate and I certainly recognize and understand that in many instances that’s very true, that’s not been true from my perspective. I represent the folks who live in District 11, but if the people in District 11 are going to be best served, they’re going to be best served by having this city move forward. It’s in the best interest of my constituents to see Louisville grow to be as good as it can be, and sometimes there will be things — we may have to look at a road in District 11 that might be slightly in disrepair, when another major road in another area of town is in huge disrepair, and there’s a need to take care of that one first. I think people understand that. I don’t think most people are so parochial that they can only see what goes on in their own part of the world.

LEO: Name three major issues the Council will face this year.
KK: I think safety has got to be the first thing we talk about. We’ve got some pretty serious issues, and we’ve got to take a good, hard look. I think the second thing we have to do is look at Metro development and jobs. We’ve got to do what we can to get good jobs here that pay well enough that people can really do well on those salaries and in those positions. We’ve got to do what we can to support small businesses here. There’s a lot of money brought into this community in small businesses, and so anything we can do to help with the growth of jobs — I don’t mean to suggest that Ford and UPS aren’t huge; they are, GE too — but at the same time I think we’ve got to focus on small business as well. The third thing (is) one that I haven’t been personally involved in yet because I wasn’t in the group that was dealing with the arena decision, but that’s big. I think it’s time for the city of Louisville to take a real good, hard look at what does this do for us, and where do we go from here with building such an attraction?

Contact the writer at
sgeorge@leoweekly.com