Sunday, August 27, 2000

Report Card from Frankfort: 2000




By Ray Cooklis
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's been a long time since Jon Draud was a freshman in school. But the retired Northern Kentucky educator still knows how to make the most of that status.

        Draud, 61, a first-term state representative from Crestview Hills, scored a solid second place in our second biennial report card on Northern Kentucky's delegation in Frankfort. And he topped the survey as the legislator with the most potential to advance.

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The numbers
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        For this report card, we surveyed hundreds of their Kentucky General Assembly colleagues, Capitol lobbyists and journalists. Respondents rated Northern Kentucky's 10 House members and four Senate members on a 0-10 scale, using several criteria.

        Even though he's had basically 60 days on the job — the General Assembly's regular biennial term, under the state constitution — Mr. Draud made a strong impression not only for sponsoring education initiatives, his forte, but in his work on local projects and his out-front support of Northern Kentucky hotel tax.

        He had “significant impact as a freshman,” wrote a fellow House member. He's “a keeper,” wrote another. He “worked well, understood the issues, spoke well,” wrote a lobbyist.

        Otherwise, the survey's order of finish was remarkably similar to 1998 survey. Again, four of the top five finishers were Democrats (even though Republicans dominate the delegation 9-5), and all were House members.

THE SCORES
1. Rep. Jim Callahan
Democrat
Wilder
District 67

7.85
2. Rep. Jon Draud
Republican
Crestview Hills
District 63

7.61
3. Rep. Royce Adams
Democrat
Dry Ridge
District 61

7.59
4. Rep. Arnold Simpson
Democrat
Covington
District 65
(tie)

7.44
5. Rep. Tom Kerr
Democrat
Taylor Mill
District 64

7.39
6. Sen. Katie Kratz Stine
Republican
Ft. Thomas
District 68

7.31
7. Rep. Tom McKee
Democrat
Cythiana
District 78

7.17
8. Sen. Ernie Harris
Republican
Crestwood
District 26

6.81
9. Rep. Paul Marcotte
Republican
Union
District 60

6.75
10. Rep. Joe Fischer
Republican
Ft. Thomas
District 68

6.36
11. Sen. Dick Roeding
Republican
Lakeside Park
District 11

6.34
12. Sen. Jack Westwood
Republican
Erlanger
District 23

6.30
13. Rep. Charlie Walton
Republican
Florence
District 66

5.66
14. Rep. Jon David Reinhardt
Republican
Alexandria
District 69

5.37
        The top scorer again was Rep. Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, the House majority chairman and one of the most powerful lawmakers in Frankfort. Colleagues praised him as a hard-working “nice guy” who's “great to work with,” a “good leader who communicates well with other.”

        Mr. Callahan received the survey's highest scores for effectiveness and problem-solving ability. “He's the best of your bunch,” wrote a fellow House member.

        The survey's other big winner: Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, the delegation's only African-American member. He placed fourth in the overall scoring, but had survey's highest numbers for integrity and intelligence.

        Significantly, Mr. Simpson also is the Northern Kentucky legislator most respected by colleagues in the General Assembly, seen as extremely smart, capable and trustworthy. One House member summed it up: “I'm white and serve with him on the House floor. I hope he runs for Democratic leadership. He is the most honest person on the House floor.”

        Why, then, was he only fourth? Many said he's too low-key, even shy. Mr. Simpson should crank it up a notch.

        Northern Kentucky voters should also note the survey's quiet third-place finisher: Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge, who gathered the most consistent scores across the board.

        Literally nobody had a bad word to say about Mr. Adams, a House member since 1993. “Open and honest all the time,” said a House colleague. “A class act, a man of integrity,” said another.

        Sen. Katie Kratz Stine scored highest for her energy. Many admired her gutsy, strong-minded work ethic, but some saw her as a divisive figure. “You want her on your side — just ask labor after (the reform bill on) worker's comp,” wrote one lobbyist. “Tough as nails.”

        “She is by far the most partisan senator,” wrote a House member.

        Rep. Paul Marcotte, R-Union, got high markes for his integrity as a “straight-up legislator who plays no games.”

        At the bottom, as in 1998's survey, were Rep. Charlie Walton, R-Florence, at No. 13, and Rep. Jon David Reinhardt, R-Alexandria, at No. 14. Survey-takers described both as honest, earnest men who work hard but sometimes lack a solid grasp of the issues.

        The Kentucky survey follows an historic 2000 General Assembly session — first time in more than a century that Republicans held control of one if its chambers. That made the session more contentious than usual — several vetoes by Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, a record low number of bills passed by the GOP-led Senate, a failure to pass key bills such as the voter-approved vehicle tax reduction.

        Add to that a last-minute GOP amendment that would have boosted legislators' retirement benefits, and it's clear that Kentucky is headed for a wild General Assembly election campaign this fall.

        That's why Northern Kentucky voters should take note of our survey results — but take them with a grain of salt.

        It's an unscientific sample of informed opinions from those “in the know” in Frankfort. It can be one of many tools that voters use to evaluate their legislators.

        Today's report card is a companion to last month's survey of Ohio General Assembly members from the Cincinnati area. Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, again won that survey handily. He was followed by Rep. Robert L. Schuler, R-Sycamore Township, and Rep. Rose Vesper, R-New Richmond — neither of whom will be in Columbus next year because of term limits.

        Both surveys were designed to give area voters an idea of who's doing the job at the state Capitol — and who's not. State legislators often work in obscurity, compared to members of the U.S. Congress. Many residents don't even know which legislative district they reside in, or who their representative is.

        But what state legislators do is important. This spring, Kentucky's legislators approved $290 million in local projects, including more than $12 million for Northern Kentucky. That's money that will go directly to the communities in which we live. Did Northern Kentucky get enough money? Is it for the right projects?

        This fall, Kentuckians again will vote on a proposal to let the General Assembly meet annually, with a 30-day session in odd-numbered years. That probably would lead to more legislation being passed, and would give each lawmaker at least $21,000 in additional compensation. Will this be good for Kentucky?

        That's for voters to decide. And that's why we think it's important to focus on state legislators with these surveys.

        So take the opportunity to rate your own lawmakers, using this form.

        Ray Cooklis is an Enquirer editorial writer. He can be reached at rcooklis@enquirer.com