Do you remember your days of compulsory K-12 education? Whether you went to public school or private school, whether you studied in a city or in a county, you went to school. For 13 years. And you studied civics. And you spent at least a day or two of your school years observing your state legislature, or maybe you even took a field trip to our nation's capital. Or, at the very least, you watched a lot of Schoolhouse Rock.
Well, at least I used to think that we'd all spent a lot of time studying civics and political procedure. It sure doesn't feel like it lately. In fact, there are a whole lot of self-interested, small-minded actions going on lately-- actions incited by both our citizens and our law-makers. In this Presidential election year, it seems that the entire United States is engaged in an ugly, uncivil, contentious debate of political ideology for the sake of entertainment. We conduct personal attacks on those who don't share our political beliefs. We adopt the groupthink of our chosen political news outlets with little regard to the actual political process. We try to bend our nation's legal and political framework to fit our whims and our prejudices and our dislikes. And, sadly, our beloved Commonwealth of Kentucky has some of the most egregious examples of these behaviors. It really feels like the Bluegrass State could use a civics lesson.
I recently learned that there's an online movement to impeach Governor Matt Bevin. I guess it makes sense, in the age of Facebook activism and Go Fund Me financing. We think that we can sign a petition that says "I don't like what this guy is doing" and it means that we've taken a stand. The thing is, Governor Bevin is fulfilling his campaign promises, whether we like them or not. He explicitly said that he'd work to dismantle the healthcare exchange. He said he'd take the hardest possible stance against abortion. And, it's really hard to even define impeachable behavior for Kentucky's elected officials. We don't have a lot of precedent, nor a tangible definition. Not liking a governor's plan of action is not basis for impeaching him. It's a call to action for Kentuckians who don't agree to contact their legislators, campaign for like-minded candidates, and actually vote in state elections.
And then, there are our elected officials. While I actually don't agree with many of the commonly-held negative characterizations of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, I do believe that his machinations to block an Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, while perhaps politically brilliant, are obstructionist at best and perhaps downright petty. More moderate Republicans call for Senator McConnell to put the Constitution (and his own duty as an elected official) above partisan politics, while opponents have cited the hypocrisy of his voting to confirm Justice Kennedy during the last year of the Reagan presidency. It may be good politics, but it certainly feels petulant.
And now, it seems, a Kentucky State Senate committee approved a bill that would legally protect businesses that don't want to serve LGBTQ customers. Let me say that again: There is a bill before the Kentucky Senate that would allow business owners to turn customers away based on sexual orientation. Perhaps most disturbingly, the language of the bill is shrouded in the natural rights theory of Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson, as though it were established from on high that business owners shouldn't have to deal with gay people if they don't want to:
To recognize that our country was founded on two (2) self-evident truths: that all persons are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; -- Kentucky 16 RS BR 1548
Now, I've spent most of my adult life writing about Kentucky, celebrating Kentucky, and championing the Commonwealth to those who think we're backward, ignorant, and ill-informed. Today, I actually sat down and cried when I learned of this bill and considered the direction in which my beloved home state is headed. This is wrong. This is Big Brother. This is proving all our detractors and our haters right. I don't care what your political or religious motivation is; we're setting Kentucky up to marginalize large groups of people.. We're setting our state up to have our very own Medgar Evers, 53 years later.
It's time for Kentucky to separate knee-jerk reactions from political ideology. It's time for all of us to think about what we actually believe in and how we can express our needs and beliefs to our elected officials. It's time for a serious civics lesson, y'all.