Sunday, October 22, 2000

No excuse for camera flap

        COVINGTON - Northern Kentucky pols have gone at it in some odd, inappropriate places, at fish fries, church festivals, parades and other public gatherings.

        Last Wednesday night, however, was probably the first time they've thrown it down in a church.

        But there they were, the campaign chiefs of state Senate candidates Jack Westwood and Jaimie Henson, arguing in the middle of Ninth Street Baptist Church as if the sanctuary was the set of RickiLake.


        “Today on Ricki, candidates and the cameras that scare them.”


        That's what caused this mini-Holy War. Mr. Westwood - the Republican incumbent seeking re-election - staged a Garbo and refused to be videotaped during his scheduled debate with Mrs. Henson.

        In a case of political paranoia the likes of which we haven't seen since Dick Nixon roamed the White House with his enemies list, Mr. Westwood refused to be taped because of what the Demo crats might do with the video.

        Forget that the voters deserve to see a debate in a race that has statewide implications, given that the Republicans hold the state Senate by only two seats.

        Forget the 70 or so folks, including a lot of east side Covington residents who don't always get much attention from politicians, who packed the church's community hall to watch the encounter.

        Forget that process by which candidates discuss and argue their personal and political philosophy and plans.

        Jack Westwood just didn't want to look bad, so he took his campaign and went home.

        What was he so afraid of?

        “The Democrats will use the tape to make Jack Westwood look bad,” said Senate President David Williams, who has become a virtual tornado of spin this election cycle in defending Mr. Westwood and other Republicans.

        Oh, well, what the heck, let's just not debate. We don't want Jack to look bad. No need for honest political discourse. An actual discussion of the issues might screw up the GOP's campaign plans.

        Mr. Westwood apparently isn't afraid to discuss the issues with Mrs. Henson. He had agreed to Wednesday's debate, and he is scheduled to appear on ICN6 news this week in a forum with Mrs. Henson.

        But Democrats won't be able to use the cable news video to make a campaign commercial, the GOP claims, so it's OK for Mr. Westwood to participate.

        Mrs. Henson, however, didn't bring the camera to Wednesday's debate, contrary to some GOP rhetoric. An independent cable producer, Terry Whittaker, came to tape the debate so voters in Kenton County could make a side-by-side comparison of the candidates.

        Could that be the real reason Mr. Westwood scurried out of the church as if he had been defrock ed? Could it be that he didn't want to take some tough questions about voting to double his own pension, about voting on a bill to increase county officials' salaries without reading the bill?

        The Westwood camp is making all sorts of noise that it is the Democrats who broke a signed agreement with the Republicans that no video cameras would be present. But the Dems didn't bring the camera, and when organizers of the event said the camera stays, Mr. Westwood went.

        Mr. Westwood pulled the same thing in 1996, refusing to debate on camera in the GOP primary or the general election. We wrote that off to rookie jitters and inexperience because that was his first major campaign.

        But there's no excuse this time.

       Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or by e-mail at


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