Sunday, October 24, 1999

Martin backers show politics' stupid side




BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Let's talk political correctness.

        Not the kind where genuine attempts at inclusion and understanding get bogged down in a morass of pandering, platitudes and posturing, leaving politicians afraid to take a stand for fear of alienating voters.

        This other brand of political correctness has to do with raw politics, when a politician makes a decision based on pure partisanship, with little or no regard to reality.

        Put another way, it's something that is correct to politicians but curious — if not absurd — for everyone else.

        Which brings us to Peppy Martin, Republican candidate for governor.

        To say her campaign has not caught on with voters is to say the Edsel didn't catch on with car buyers. She is the Pet Rock of the 1999 gubernatorial campaign, a curious and passing fad that quickly wore out its welcome with a weak platform, poor organization, virtually no money and a bunch of wild allegations aimed at one of her opponents, Democratic incumbent Gov. Paul Patton.

        Ms. Martin has been shunned by many of the leading Republicans in the state and region, from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell — who wouldn't even sit on the same stage with her at the Fancy Farm political picnic — to local lawmakers, county officials and GOP party activists.

        They know that the Republicans, for whatever reason, blew their chance to make a true run at Mr. Patton back in January, the filing deadline for this year's race.

        Many of the Republicans just decided to sit back, lick their wounds, let Mr. Patton win a second term and concentrate on winnable battles, like taking over the state Senate. The GOP accomplished that several weeks ago, when a couple of Senate Democrats jumped ship to give the Republicans their first Senate majority ever.

        It looked like Ms. Martin was going to be left appropriately dangling in the wind by her fellow Republicans when U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Southgate opened a mini-floodgate of support by publicly endorsing her.

        “I certainly can't endorse my good friend Gatewood Galbraith,” Mr. Bunning said last month, referring to the Reform Party candidate. “I don't think the present governor has done a good enough job to earn re-election. So, being a good, solid Republican, I am endorsing the nominee of the party.”

        Following Mr. Bunning, like good lemmings should, were other GOP leaders.

        State GOP Vice Chairman Damon Thayer of Grant County has already voted for her by absentee ballot.

        The director of marketing for The Breeders' Cup, Mr. Thayer will be in Miami on Election Day preparing for that thoroughbred race, which is scheduled Nov. 6 at Florida's Gulfstream Park.

        “I'm supporting the Republican nominee for governor,” Mr. Thayer said. “I cannot imagine any circumstance where I could vote for any of the other candidates in the race.”

        Yep, they're being good Republicans, this group that has endorsed Ms. Martin.

        But they are not being good leaders, which is what politicians — and those who work to put them in office — must be.

        Do Republicans who have endorsed Ms. Martin really want her leading and running the state they live in and, in Mr. Bunning's case, represent in Congress?

        They'll never admit it publicly, but the answer is probably not.

        No, the only reason they are backing Ms. Martin is because she is a Republican and not Mr. Patton, who has a running feud going with Mr. Bunning as the two careen toward the 2004 U.S. Senate race.

        Loyalty to a party is fine. We would expect nothing else.

        But a better posture would have been to take the route of Mr. McConnell and other GOP elected officials, like state Sen. Katie Stine of Fort Thomas. They simply aren't commenting on the race because they can't fathom backing Ms. Martin.

        Making the endorsements even more curious, and frankly making the local Republicans look even worse, is Ms. Martin's ambiguous and weak stance on abortion.

        At first she said it shouldn't be an issue. Then, through some of the same party folks who are now backing her, Ms. Martin let it be known that she would sign legislation curbing or further regulating abortions.

        But when she recently spoke to a group of Republicans in Boone County, a hotbed of conservative GOP politics where abortion is major issue, she didn't even mention the issue. That would be like a politician talking to a group of tobacco farmers and not mentioning tobacco.

        Again, we're not saying the Republicans should be toting “Paul Patton for Governor” signs around the state and donating to his campaign.

        But latching on to Ms. Martin's campaign comes off as exactly what it is — cheap political theatrics from a party that didn't have the will, the talent or the guts to make a real run at the governor's race.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at crowleys@cinci.infi.net