Sunday, November 28, 1999

Lucas: When in doubt, be scary


Mailer typifies right-wing stances

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Anybody notice this little Thanksgiving week gem in your mailbox?

        “A city of Murder, Mayhem and Violence ... Hollywood,” blares the mostly black-lettered text, followed by a grainy, slightly off-center photo of that “Hollywood” sign we've all seen a million times in movies, television programs and news reports.

        Open the four-page mailer and the message continues, “and it's poisoning our children.”

        Underneath that rather upbeat, happy message is a photograph of a manic-looking preteen, his dark eyes glaring at a television screen as he grasps — oh my goodness! — a video game terminal.

        Behind this villainous youth is, we guess, his little sister, who is sitting on a sofa and coloring. Presumably after playing a quick game of some video-mayhem fantasy death game, our disturbed young man is going to turn around and whack the girl.

        Who sent this warning to Northern Kentucky homes? Some hard-line right-winger? For sure it was an ultra-conservative politician along the lines of presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

        The sender of this ominous, alarm ist warning was U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, the 4th District Democrat from Boone County whose smiling mug is opposite the pic of that frightening kid who is all messed up on video games.

        “Rep. Ken Lucas” reads the text, presented in a far-friendlier white font than the black printing found in other places in the mailer. Defending Kentucky Values in Washington.”

        OK, Mr. Lucas, we get the point. You're a Democrat — at least you're registered as such — but you vote, and think, conservatively.

        From the day he announced his campaign in 1997, Mr. Lucas has run hard as a moderate to conservative Democrat, a “common-sense conservative” as he puts it.

        Something about that message must have clicked with voters. Because while the Republicans were falling all over themselves trying to paint Mr. Lucas as a pseudo-conservative, an elephant in donkey's clothing who wouldn't vote with the GOP once he got to Washington, he went out and beat the real thing in defeating former Republican state Sen. Gex (Jay) Williams — a one-time darling of the conservative movement and Northern Kentucky Republican Party — in the 1998 election.

        Since getting to Washington, Mr. Lucas has voted on a lot of GOP-backed bills, including legislation on abortion, HMO reform, taxes and gay rights. And he has more than once sided with Republicans on hammering President Clinton.

        Mr. Lucas' record has even prompted U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Louisville, Kentucky's top GOP-dog, to joke that the congressman has been voting like a good Republican.

        Mr. Lucas said he would vote conservatively and, with a few exceptions, has done so. That satisfies a lot of Republicans and most Democrats, who in this part of the state are hardly the East Coast liberal-style Democrats.

        The candidate does it, according to himself and his campaign team, because he is a conservative at heart who wants to use his bully pulpit to stress family and community values.

        But he also hangs with the Republicans in Washington because if he wants to win re-election next year — even against a little-known, under-fund ed Oldham County Republican named Don Bell — he'd better.

        As far as the somewhat over-the-top nature of his scare-piece mailer, Mr. Lucas' Washington office wanted something to catch the eye of the recipient.

        Boy, did that work.

        Mr. Lucas does lay out his thoughts on cleaning up violent movies, television and video games, an issue that both parties have taken on and at times demagogued in the past.

        Easier said than done, of course, and we always have to wonder when a politician starts hammering Hollywood whether it is being done for true change or simply headlines.

        More palatable in the mailer is Mr. Lucas' support for tougher laws on patrolling the Internet with the idea of cracking down on sexual predators.

        Mr. Lucas can't be accused of just jumping on this issue. He's been talking about it since his first campaign for Congress.

        But he also seems to be using a page out of the far-right handbook — when in doubt, scare 'em.

        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.