Tag Archives: Kentucky

Confounding And Despicable–Kentucky Version

Evidently, Mitch McConnell isn’t the only disgusting person from Kentucky.

On December 13th, NPR posted the following report

Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin departed the governor’s mansion three days ago, but the reverberations of some of his final actions are still being felt across the state.

Bevin, a Republican who narrowly lost a bid for a second term last month, issued pardons to hundreds of people, including convicted rapists, murderers and drug offenders.

In one case, Bevin pardoned a man convicted of homicide. That man’s family raised more than $20,000 at a political fundraiser to help Bevin pay off a debt owed from his 2015 gubernatorial campaign.

In all, the former governor signed off on 428 pardons and commutations since his loss to Democrat Andy Beshear, according to The Courier-Journal. The paper notes, “The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and a third who killed his parents.”

Some of the pardons were uncontroversial, but others were simply inexplicable. For example, Bevin pardoned one Dayton Ross Jones and commuted his sentence to time served. Jones had pled guilty to the 2014 sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy; the assault had been captured on video and shared on social media. Jones was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016.

NPR quoted incoming Governor Andy Beshear about that particular pardon.

“A young man was attacked, was violated, it was filmed, it was sent out to different people at his school,” Beshear said. “It was one of the worst crimes that we have seen.

Bevin didn’t offer an explanation for that one.

A follow-up article from Vox focused on reactions to the pardons, and reported widespread disapproval, even among Republican supporters of the former Governor. Families that had been victimized by the people Bevin pardoned were understandably outraged.

On Twitter, Bevin pushed back against “suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision making process,” calling such allegations “both highly offensive and entirely false.” He also wrote he issued the pardons because “America is a nation that was established with an understanding and support for redemption and second chances.”

The pardon of Baker, the man convicted of homicide whose family had contributed thousands of dollars to Bevin’s campaign, generated special criticism, with Republican Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele calling into question why–if the pardon was based upon disagreement with the verdict– Bevin didn’t pardon Baker’s co-conspirators.

There were other mystifying pardons: a man named Hurt had been convicted of sexually abusing his 6-year-old stepdaughter in 2001, and several judges had subsequently refused to overturn his conviction despite his stepdaughter retracting her allegations. (The retraction came after a judge was accused of inappropriately meddling in the case.) Bevin simply ignored the considered decision of several judges who presumably had access to all of  the evidence.

He pardoned a child rapist because, he said, the hymen of the 9-year-old victim was still intact, despite medical consensus that most child victims do not show evidence of physical damage and that examination of the tissue is not a reliable test of sexual activity.

Bevin pardoned a friend of his sister, who had been convicted in a 2013 plot to hire a hit man to kill her ex-husband and his new wife.

Bevin pardoned Delmar Partin, who killed his former lover then chopped off her head and stuffed her body in a 55-gallon drum destined for a toxic waste site. He pardoned
Kathy Harless, who was sentenced to life in prison for throwing her baby in a cesspool after giving birth in a flea market outhouse. The list goes on.

It’s hard to know what to make of this burst of “compassion.” Bevin was an unusually unpopular governor who frequently seemed to go out of his way to be unpleasant. He reversed his predecessor’s decision to expand Medicaid, denying thousands of poor Kentuckians access to health insurance, and took other punitive actions that make it hard to attribute these pardons to a misplaced kindheartedness, or to credit his claimed belief in “redemption.”

He just seems intent upon outdoing his fellow Republicans in inflicting damage and creating chaos.

Prescriptions from the Doctor

It’s interesting that most of the public opposition to the Affordable Care Act has come from politicians–not infrequently, from politicians whose most generous donors have a vested interest in the medical status quo–and not from providers of medical care.

Perhaps we should listen to the people on the front lines–the doctors. This is from my cousin, a cardiologist whom I often quote here:

As a physician who had been in practice for many years, I remember the hardships suffered by many of my elderly patients prior to the initiation of Medicare in 1965. During that time, I was forced to sit painfully by as many unfortunate sufferers lamented that, even though they desperately needed to be hospitalized or needed expensive tests and additional services, they had only received small monthly social security payments with or without a small pension that barely sustained them at a subsistence level. In short, that situation afforded not only insufficient medical care, but threatened their financial security during those so-called “golden years.”

Then, in 1965, something abruptly and miraculously changed the landscape—the advent of Medicare. Suddenly our elderly could receive a standard level of medical care, which included, among others, diagnostic tests and hospitalizations. The financial burden was lifted from both the patients and us physicians, because we were no longer confronted with agonizing daily decisions about how we could provide decent medical care on a shoestring budget without threatening our patients’ health or survival.

He writes that two other doctors have recently weighed in via the New England Journal of Medicine (November 20, 2014). In “Civil Disobedience and Physicians—Protesting the Blockade of Medicaid,” C. van der Horst, MD, wrote that, when he anticipated passage of the Affordable Care Act, he thought he would no longer need to worry about patients’ affording necessary medications, preventive care services and hospitalizations.

But then van der Horst’s home State of North Carolina (like Indiana) blocked Medicaid expansion (even though, as it bears repeating, the federal government would pay 100% of the costs for the first 3 years and 90% thereafter). Over the protests of health care workers, teachers, union workers, immigrants, environmentalists, and people of all races and religions, North Carolina lawmakers have stubbornly refused to expand coverage.

The second article–written by Michael Stillman, MD–detailed the very different experience of Kentucky. Kentucky approved Medicaid expansion and “fundamentally altered our medical practice, allowing us to provide data-driven and thorough care without first considering our patients’ ability to pay” and giving 650,000 Kentuckians access to decent, comprehensive medical care. Most had previously lacked health insurance, had avoided routine preventive care—and worried that a medical emergency would leave them bankrupt. Medicaid expansion lightened their financial and emotional burden–and as a bonus, provided better physician education.  (Previously, doctors in training had become accustomed to offering substandard and incomplete care to indigent populations.) Now they are able to provide appropriate, evidence-based care.

As my cousin concludes:

This country will eventually—and inevitably—support decent medical care for all its constituents. Perhaps the process would be enhanced if our politicians were forced to spend time on the “front lines” of medical care in our clinics and hospitals and actually have dialog with those patients who are most vulnerable and under-served.

Listen to the doctor.

 

Ouch!

The most recent Bluegrass Poll has found that Mitch McConnell is slightly less popular than President Obama among Kentuckians. (To put that in perspective, in 2012, Obama lost Kentucky by nearly 23 points. This may look dismal, but it’s not so bad when you consider that Congress overall polls as less popular than either cockroaches or colonoscopies…)

It’s been a long time since a Senate leader lost a re-election bid, but independent polls have challenger Alison Lundgren Grimes leading McConnell by 4 points. There’s a lot of time until November, and McConnell will have a lot of money, but his predicament–and his vulnerability–illustrate an increasingly common dilemma for GOP candidates.

Republican candidates have moved so far to the right in order to avoid or defeat Tea Party challengers that they have compromised their appeal even to the less extreme members of their own party. One problem is that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible for either Republicans or Democrats to pander on the “down low” to their respective party bases in order to win the primary and then do a quick pivot to the center for the general election. Every email, every Facebook post and tweet, is forever available to opposition researchers and casual “googlers” alike.

Furthermore, as important as money continues to be, thanks to the Internet, communicating your opponent’s voting history, indiscreet tweets and other political miscalculations is far less expensive than it used to be.

This is a dangerous time for all incumbents. Disgust with Washington is palpable. How citizens’ anger and fatigue will play out across the political landscape is anyone’s guess. Democrats, especially, need to remember the time-honored rule: you can’t beat somebody with nobody–defeating even unpopular incumbents requires a strong candidate. (Speaking of which, Democrats in Indianapolis need a strong mayoral candidate yesterday.)

In Kentucky, Ms. Grimes appears to be that strong candidate. And the “turtle man,” as Jon Stewart refers to McConnell, is definitely unpopular and struggling.

It remains to be seen whether 2014 will be the year that citizens decide they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore–but in Kentucky, at least, prospects for change are looking up.