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'Stumbama' gives GOP great opening

By JOHN DAVID DYCHE

This column recently ventured some predictions about what would happen in politics in 2014. Now it will predict one thing that definitely will not happen: Kentucky will not increase its minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour as Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo recently proposed.

President Obama backs a similar federal hike, so we can call this bad idea "Stumbama" here in Kentucky. Why would Stumbo align himself with the unpopular Obama to back a misguided measure that he knows will not become law?

It is an act of desperation, pure and simple. Stumbo knows that his party's long stranglehold on the state House of Representatives and, more importantly, his personal power are slipping away.

Public Policy Polling, often described as a pro-Democrat operation, sees evidence that Kentucky's Republican trend in national elections is starting to "bleed down to the state level as well." PPP's most recent results show Kentuckians would go Republican by a 44-36 margin if state legislative elections were held now.

Kentucky Democrats are already paying a steep price for being Obama backers. The president's environmental and regulatory agenda is hurting Kentucky coal, and Obamacare helped the Republicans win a recent special state House election in formerly Democratic territory.

Stumbo tried redistricting shenanigans to minimize the impact of Kentucky's inexorable move toward the GOP. Faced with having a federal judge draw new districts, however, he had to accept ones much fairer to Republicans than ever before.

The state's job picture is worse than it was last year and worse than most of America's. People are finally facing up to the fact that real change in Kentucky will have to start with the Democrats who have long dominated Frankfort.

When cornered, a Democrat like Stumbo instinctively resorts to class warfare. He blocks Republican ideas that would actually produce jobs and doubles down on Obama's liberalism by pandering for more aggressive redistribution of wealth.

Raising the minimum wage will not create jobs. Abundant evidence and common sense indicate it will cost jobs and hurt those at the economic ladder's lower rungs as employers cut back on entry level positions.

Yet Stumbo is taking his party to the far left of the political center. Like national Democrats (e.g., Obama, Warren de Blasio), he believes bigger and more powerful government is the answer to every problem.

Republicans want smaller, smarter government and a growing, vibrant private sector. But the GOP must take care to respond to Stumbo's statist agenda and demagoguery in a way that does not alienate poor and working class voters.

Stumbo will try to make Kentucky Republicans into mini-Mitts. Romney's infamous remarks about the "47 percent" may have cost him the 2012 presidential elections and unfortunately reinforced stereotypes of Republicans as the party of the already wealthy rather than the party that wants to make everyone wealthier.

Of the legislative session now underway, Stumbo told the Courier-Journal, "It has the potential to be nasty."

As if his own intentions were pure, Stumbo claims "it depends on how strong the Republicans want to push their message across and politicize the session."

That is exactly what Republicans should do, of course, but in a way that appeals to a broad base. The challenge for the GOP is to show why their policies would produce jobs and explain why more jobs is a better goal than bigger government.

This will require some Reaganesque optimism. Kentucky has done things the Democratic way for decades, but Republicans must make the case for a different approach in a way that gives hope to those Democratic policies have failed for so long.

It is up to Republicans to not only win the philosophical argument for change, but to do so in a way that will also win elections. They must respond to the pessimistic politics of "Stumbama" with a positive vision of a more prosperous future for all Kentuckians.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com.

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