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Session heading for the same old showdown

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

(Lexington Herald-Leader)Here we are again. End of a General Assembly session. Stalemate. Republican-controlled Senate indulging its unbridled addiction for trying to shove a controversial bill down the Democratic-controlled House's collective throat.

In the past, House Democrats generally filled the role of 98-pound weakling in these encounters. This year, though, they're acting like they want to kick sand in the bully's face. (Dare I say that? We are talking about House Dems after all.)

So, how did we get here again? How did we arrive at the same old place with the session in danger of being blown up if Senate President David Williams doesn't get his way on privatizing state pension plans?

It didn't start out this way. On the contrary, the session began with so many tributes to bipartisanship, cooperation, peace and love you expected at any minute to see 138 souls join hands in the Capitol Rotunda and sing a chorus of We Are the World.

But then, these sessions always start out that way before going to the place where handbaskets burn.

This year, the bipartisanship at least lasted through Gov. Ernie Fletcher's State of the Commonwealth Address, during which he rattled off a re-election campaign wish list that would have eaten up about $200 million of a $401 million budget "surplus" that doesn't really exist.

Leaders of both parties and both houses greeted the governor's proposals with variations on a "we don't want to open up the budget in a non-budget session" theme. Of course, House D's and Senate R's immediately went off to figure out how they could open up the budget and spend huge chunks of that "surplus" on their own respective wish lists.

Of course, Fletcher turning the State of the Commonwealth into a campaign spiel was just one of the ways the gubernatorial campaign helped quicken the pace with which the handbasket reached the flames.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, who is on one of the slates challenging the governor in the primary, was one of 12 Republican representatives voting to restrict gubernatorial pardon powers in response to the blanket pardon Fletcher issued to his friends and aides during the BlackBerry Jam hiring investigation.

Fletcher and House Speaker Jody Richards, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, clashed over legislation aimed at making state social workers' jobs safer. With Richards present, Fletcher went off on a rant against him during a legislative reception. In a hallway encounter, Richards testily told the governor, "Three years, and you screwed (social services) up worse."

In addition to the clash of agendas among candidates and their legislative allies, this year's race led to a lot of legislative yo-yoing on repealing the gubernatorial primary. Current situation: House is down on repeal; Senate is up for it.

As usual, some good bills were blocked (sorry, spouses of Comair Flight 5191 victims). And some bad bills took considerable effort to kill (if they stay dead, that is).

As usual, too, most of the important stuff remained pending when Williams dropped his annual end-of-session bombshell, brought progress to a standstill and demanded acquiescence from all. So, here we are again. Stalemate. Two days to go. Two days in which we'll learn whether Richards and his fellow House Democrats really do have it in them to kick sand in the bully's face.

Who knows? Such an outcome might make for a good campaign commercial. Others have crafted anti-bullying ads from less.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at (859) 231-3249, 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3249 or lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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