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June 2012
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MISSTEP Conway may pay price for taking Holder's cue

Often in recent years we've witnessed protestations by Kentucky Democratic candidates that they are "conservative Democrats, not like those liberal Democrats in Washington."

As a strategy it hasn't had much success. But it is a surprise to us that with control of the Kentucky House at stake this year, and the governor's race already gearing up for 2015, the state's Democratic leaders and candidates are so fully embracing the policies of the Obama administration.

The president is so unpopular in Kentucky that he managed to lose 42 percent of his own party's vote in the 2012 Kentucky Democratic primary, where he ran unopposed. The dissenting votes went to "uncommitted" in what was an historic rebuke to an incumbent president by his own partisans. In the 2012 general election, Mitt Romney won Kentucky by 23 percent.

Yet in the current election cycle key Democrats seem joined at the hip to the president. In the House, Speaker Greg Stumbo wants to implement on the state level Obama's proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. Allison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrats' pick to challenge U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in November, likewise embraces the idea.

As we have noted in the past, while everyone would like a 40 percent raise over the next three years, there's no benefit if there are no businesses left to pay it. A minimum wage hike of this magnitude would wipe out many Kentucky small businesses, or send them fleeing to other states.

This week Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, widely considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2015, took his own page from the Obama administration playbook. Conway took a cue from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who last month encouraged state attorneys general not to defend Defense of Marriage laws.

Conway got weepy at a press conference in announcing he would not appeal a federal judge's order striking down a part of Kentucky's Defense of Marriage law and requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That led Gov. Steve Beshear to quickly intervene, saying he would hire outside attorneys to defend the state law. Beshear says the legal issue is far from settled, with cases from several states likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Beshear says simply dropping Kentucky's appeal would result in "legal chaos" if Kentucky began changing names on driver's licenses and taking other administrative steps to recognize such unions only to have laws like Kentucky's upheld at a later date.

Conway's action, meanwhile, is not defensible in terms of his legal responsibility to his office and the people who elected him. It is his duty as Attorney General to defend the laws of the state passed by the duly elected legislature, not to substitute his judgment for theirs. As we noted in a previous editorial, attorneys are ethically bound to represent the good-faith legal claims of their clients, even when they find the client's position personally distasteful or potentially unpopular.

In the end, we suspect Conway's action is a political calculation - or perhaps we should say miscalculation. It will win him praise in the editorial offices of the state's reliably liberal major newspapers, but come next year's primary, he may find voters have a different take. The issue won't be about whether there should or should not be gay marriage. It will be about faithfully executing the duties of his office. It's an issue of being Obama-like. We think it will be trouble for him in 2015.

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