Last night, on Kentucky Educational Television’s “Kentucky Tonight,” Hall of Fame journalist Bill Goodman and his guests discuss the 2014 election. His guests included: Steve Robertson, chair of the Republican Party of Kentucky; Jonathan Miller, former chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party; Ellen Williams, former chair of the Republican Party of Kentucky; and Louisville Metro Councilman David Tandy, former treasurer for the Kentucky Democratic Party.
By Jonathan Miller, on Tue May 14, 2013 at 8:00 AM ET
This morning’s Newsweek/The Daily Beast features a cover story by The RP on the growing national movement to legalize hemp. Here’s an excerpt:
Poor, poor pitiful hemp.
Its cooler cannabis cousin, marijuana, gets all the buzz — generational bards from Bob Dylan to Snoop Dogg sing Mary Jane’s praise; cancer and AIDS patients declare her glory.
And even though smoking hemp won’t make you feel high — just really stupid for trying (as well as a sharp burning sensation in the lungs) — the Feds still crack down on it because they think it kinda…sorta…looks like the wacky weed that threatens to send our nation back into reefer madness. Just another innocent casualty in the War on Drugs.
In recent weeks, however, it appears that hemp might have the last (sober) laugh. That’s because a bi-partisan, blue-grassroots effort to secure federal legalization of industrial hemp production might not only prove successful; it could also provide a model for solving far more pressing issues within our hyper-partisan, dysfunctional democracy.
To understand why the hemp movement is going mainstream, consider one of its strongest advocates: first-term Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. The GOP official shocks the hemp stereotype: He’s neither the liberal hipster nor the bow-tied libertarian, each hoping the movement will bring us a step closer to legalized marijuana. Instead, the 40-year-old, rosy-cheeked beef cattle farmer is part and parcel of his rural, small town, socially conservative upbringing, a culture that’s traditionally been most hostile to hemp legalization…mostly because, well, they fear it will bring us a step closer to legalized marijuana.
And Comer, a political comer who’s popular with both the Mitch McConnell GOP establishment and the Rand Paul Tea Party, is passionate about agriculture. Seeing his vocation under siege, particularly upon the decline of tobacco, Comer risked ridicule by campaigning on an issue that many lampooned, and few of his constituents understood. But he stubbornly embarked on a statewide educational campaign with a simple, irrefutable message: Hemp is not marijuana.
Skip to the 12:43 mark to watch the legendary Bill Bryant interview The RP and KY Agriculture Commissioner James Comer about their bi-partisan trip to Washington, DC, to lobby capital lawmakers about industrial hemp legalization:
The world is still waiting for an unpredictable take on George W. Bush, whose dedication of his presidential library has spawned mostly commentary that can be pegged from knowing the writer’s pedigree: liberals who downgrade Bush for a war he could have declined and a recession he arguably could have avoided, but cite his relative moderateness as proof that today’s Republican Party is caught in a fever; hard-core conservatives lamenting that Bush spent promiscuously and short-changed social issues, and appointed the Obamacare-saving John Roberts; and center-right conservatives observing that Bush at least understood the value of a conservatism that appealed beyond the Republican base. (a point that I have made in past columns on Karl Rove and Jeb Bush).
I’ll forego those arguments for now to make another observation that Bush’s admirers and detractors gloss over: Bush happens to be the rare president who made a practice of being indifferent to the legacy building implications of his office. He said as much on several occasions (and was ridiculed for it) and his comments reflected a mindset which governed largely in the moment with no pretense of a signature governing vision. Consider the many plays this ad hoc style played out.
Where Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had specific and in their case diametrically opposed conceptions for the long term relationship between the world’s military superpowers, Bush’s foreign policy was really just a stop-gap. He bought into the intelligence that Iraq was a budding security threat, wiped its leadership out, and spent five years massaging the results with little trace of a broader strategic design (the neo-conservative rhetoric about democratizing the Middle East never got much more than lip service from Bush, who easily accommodated the region’s other autocratic regimes). While Ronald Reagan actively sought to dismantle the framework of liberalism, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama openly attempted to redefine their party and their opposition, Bush seemed notably uninterested in weaving a long term or even distinct short-term ideological blueprint. His signature domestic victory, No Child Left Behind, was technocratic and did not lean hard to the left or the right; the prescription drug benefit was similarly ambidextrous: insubstantial and loophole filled on one hand, the first expansion of Medicare in forty years on the other. And once the drug benefit passed, he barely mentioned it, much less tried to expand it into a template for how a conservative reformer might tackle health care in its broader dimensions.
Even when Bush overreached, as I argued then and would still argue now, in the way he waged the war on terror, it should not be forgotten that the bulk of what he sanctioned happened in the shadows, without Bush ever outlining in any concrete way a new formulation of American interrogation or surveillance policies. When “caught”, the Bush team, more often than is remembered, either reined themselves in or minimized the scope of their departure from preexisting laws. And Obama’s wholesale adoption of those same techniques, only substituting drones for torture, makes them already look more like another chief executive pushing for more authority than some uniquely Bush based doctrine.
It’s worth remembering that Bush actually tried to preserve an assault weapons ban, but never spoke of it; tried to roll back farm subsidies while doling out new oil subsidies; pinched pennies in specific agencies without even faking a grand deficit reduction strategy. The absence of any memorable Bush speeches on domestic policy is not entirely a function of his famous inarticulateness, but reflects the fact that so few Bush initiatives kept his own administration’s attention.
Read the rest of… Artur Davis: Yet Another Way of Looking at George Bush
By Jonathan Miller, on Thu May 9, 2013 at 12:15 PM ET
Just got back from an exhausting, and very productive trip from Washington DC with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and State Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Paul Hornback (both pictured with me at left).
I will have more to write about it in the coming days (after I get my paying job done), but here are some clips from the the national coverage of our trip:
Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim: “Kentucky Hemp Lobby Makes Inroads In Washington”:
A chance encounter at last weekend’s Kentucky Derby may have given the hemp industry the break it’s been looking for since the crop was banned in 1970, when the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.
Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, a Republican, told The Huffington Post that he was at a private pre-derby party on Saturday when he found himself chatting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his chief of staff Mike Sommers. Comer talked shop.
The topic at hand was the fate of the hemp industry in Kentucky, which could become the first state in the nation to successfully lobby for federal approval. Boehner and Sommers were interested enough to invite Comer and the chief supporters of the state’s legalization bill to a meeting in Washington.
On Tuesday night, Boehner sat down with Comer and the bill’s lead backers, Republican state Sen. Paul Hornback and Democrat Jonathan Miller, a former Kentucky state treasurer who currently serves on the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission (and who also moonlights as a HuffPost blogger). Sommers confirmed the meeting took place.
According to Comer, Boehner told the trio he would talk with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about how a federal bill might be moved forward to remove hemp from the list of controlled substances. On Thursday, Comer and the Kentucky legislators plan to meet with McConnell, who surprised observers back home by endorsing Hornback’s hemp bill, a move that quickly brought the state GOP in line.
The most likely path to passage for hemp legislation runs through the farm bill, as an amendment. That bill goes up for debate in the Senate Agriculture Committee next week — fortuitous timing for hemp.
“I was impressed with his knowledge of this issue,” Comer said of Boehner. “At the end he said, ‘This is funny, because this issue’s been around a long time. My daughter was talking about this 15 years ago.’ So this is something he knows a lot about. And the difference today, as opposed to 10 years ago, is the only people who were pushing this issue 10 years ago were the extreme right or left, or people who wanted to legalize marijuana.” Comer spoke with HuffPost and a Roll Call reporter in the office of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), their home base while they’re in Washington, working with the group Vote Hemp, which advocates on behalf of the industry.
The upcoming farm bill might be a venue for legalizing industrial hemp production, at least if Kentucky lawmakers get their way.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his home-state GOP colleague Rand Paul are already among those backing the proposal along with numerous House members, and advocates are looking for more support in advance of next week’s Senate farm bill markup.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James R. Comer is on Capitol Hill this week meeting with senior lawmakers and promoting proposals to remove federal barriers to cultivating hemp, including a measure being pushed by Paul with the backing of McConnell. Kentucky legalized production at the state level in April.
“You can make textiles. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper,” Comer said. “It was a leading crop that Henry Clay grew and Abraham Lincoln’s in-laws grew in Kentucky.”
Comer and two Kentucky colleagues said in an interview in Paul’s office that meetings with lawmakers and administration officials were going well and that the trio had not encountered much opposition, except, as former Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller acknowledged, from law enforcement.
“Most of all, we believe it’s based on the fear that this is a slippery slope and they would lose money with marijuana eradication, and it’s a lack of education.” Miller said, noting that the group’s attempts to meet with the Drug Enforcement Administration had been fruitless.
Advocates say that law enforcement should no longer worry about telling the difference between pot and hemp, which are related but not the same plant.
“We have found tremendous policy support from liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, everybody in between, but law enforcement continues to have some reservations based on what we think is misinformation, so we’re trying to clear up the record,” Miller said.
Politico’s KEVIN ROBILLARD: “Kentucky official lobbies Hill, White House on hemp”
A top Kentucky official on a mission to legalize industrial hemp said Wednesday he got a warm Washington welcome from both administration officials and House Speaker John Boehner.
Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner James Comer told POLITICO both Boehner and officials from the White House and Agricultural and Energy departments seemed open to legalizing the plant, which is a close cousin of marijuana and whose growth is outlawed in the United States.
“I just think if more and more people studied this issue they would realize this is a no-brainer,” said Comer, a Republican who used a similar economy-focused message to push hemp legalization through the state’s general assembly earlier this year. “This is a way to create jobs.”
The centrist nature of the commissioner’s pitch won him establishment support in Kentucky, including endorsements from the state’s Chamber of Commerce and the Louisville Courier-Journal. Comer and other backers, including both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, market hemp as a economic and environmental wonder plant that can be used to build everything from clothes to car doors.
The bill eventually passed with overwhelming margins in both Kentucky’s Democratic House and Republican Senate, but won’t allow Kentucky farmers to grow hemp until the federal government gives them the go-ahead. Hence the trip to D.C.
Comer is traveling with Jonathan Miller, a former Kentucky treasurer and Clinton administration official who was able to broker meetings with Obama administration officials. So far, the pair have met with Agricultural Department officials, who said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was “open to the idea and very receptive to it,” as well as Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency staffers, one of whom wore a hemp dress for the occasion. They also met with a White House staffer who was “somewhere above the janitor and somewhere below the chief of staff,” Comer said.
By Jonathan Miller, on Wed May 8, 2013 at 9:00 AM ET
Best comment on this photo — from the Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth: “You look awfully pasty, Jonathan”
Day 2 of my great hemp adventures in Washington with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has just begun.
But as we trek around Capitol Hill and up Pennsylvania Avenue, I wanted to share with you the picture at left — the highlight of yesterday’s marathon visits with Members of Congress and senior Obama Administration officials.
It’s funny, but I did not share with the Speaker my political party affiliation. Although I did mention my daughter is his constituent at Miami University in Ohio.
And sorry to disappoint my fellow progressives who feel comfort in demonizing our political opponents as “enemies” or rotten people: Speaker John Boehner was engaging, extremely generous with his time, and very serious about the hemp legalization issue. He asked dozens of penetrating questions, digging deep into the agricultural and economic development potential of the crop; and fortunately Commissioner Comer was around to to provide substantive answers.
I’m the old man with Congressman Massie and Commissioner Comer
I also really enjoyed meeting Tea Party favorite, Congressman Thomas Massie. Massie is wicked smaht (a good description of an MIT grad), very warm, and was really eager to find common ground with me, discussing his involvement on issues such as hemp legalization, drone oversight, and providing flexibility on mandatory minimum sentences.
Of course, I did get to turn the tables on Commissioner Comer with several meetings with my fellow Democrats, including Obama Administration officials at several agencies, as well as my favorite Congressman, Louisville’s John Yarmuth (SPOILER ALERT: an hilarious photo is forthcoming.)
The feedback was consistent — those who were already educated on the issue were very supportive. Our critical task in Washington — as it was in Frankfort — is to simply share the facts and dispel the myths. Once that task is complete, hemp will be legalized. I’m confident.
As always, we strongly encourage to get involved — NOW. Here are three very simple things that you can do — right now, at your computer — to register your support for legalized industrial hemp and pressure Washington to fulfill the people’s will:
By Jonathan Miller, on Sun May 5, 2013 at 12:00 PM ET
This week, I have the honor and pleasure of joining Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer as we meet in Washington, D.C. with an impressive swath of Obama Administration officials — from the White House to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy to the Environmental Protection Agency — to seek their help in securing the federal legalization of industrial hemp.
Think the pairing of this proud progressive and the conservative Comer to be somewhat unusual? Let me further blow your political assumptions: We will be joined in our advocacy by the unlikely alliance of GOP Establishment favorite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Tea Party poster child Senator Rand Paul, and liberal Democratic stalwart Congressman John Yarmuth.
This rare burst of No Labels-style Washington bi-partisanship is merely a reflection of the broad, deep and diverse support for hemp’s legalization among Kentuckians of all political persuasions. This March, the Kentucky General Assembly overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 50 — sponsored by GOP Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Paul Hornback, and strongly championed by Democratic House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins — that establishes an administrative and law enforcement structure for hemp growers should the crop be legalized at the federal level, and would empower Kentucky to jump to the front of the line and establish itself as the national leader on the crop once federal approval was granted.
How have liberals, conservatives and everyone in between found such common ground? It’s because the case for hemp legalization is so compelling:
While support for legalizing hemp’s distant cousin, marijuana, remains controversial (I support legal pot; Comer does not), hemp is not marijuana. The two plants are quite distinct in the way that they appear physically and are cultivated agriculturally. Moreover, smoking hemp can’t get you high; it just might make you feel a little stupid that you tried. Industrial hemp has less than one percent THC, while marijuana ranges from 5 to 20 percent THC content.
Legalized industrial hemp production could emerge as a prolific cash crop that could bring hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue to Kentucky, and many billions of dollars to the United States. There are more than 25,000 uses for the crop, including rope, clothing, automotive paneling and door installation — even makeup.
Most exciting to me — as a clean energy advocate — is hemp’s application as a clean-burning alternative fuel. Hemp burns with no carbon emissions and produces twice as much ethanol per acre as corn. While bio-fuels critics have raised alarms at the diversion of food products into fuel production — causing spikes in food prices — hemp has no such negative economic side effects. As the U.S. struggles with the dual enormous challenges of climate change and dependence on foreign oil, industrial hemp could become a powerful weapon in America’s energy independence arsenal.
Only one thing stands in the way of this exciting economic and environmental progress: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continues to classify hemp as an illegal, controlled substance, regardless of its THC potency.
Accordingly, Comer and I — and our bipartisan federal delegation — will be lobbying Obama Administration officials this week to provide Kentucky a waiver from the federal regulations; or better yet, to encourage the DEA to reclassify industrial hemp as legal, regulated agricultural crop.
But while our lobbying efforts will hopefully produce some progress, the key power is in your hands. While a majority of Americans now support legalized marijuana — and presumably a much larger majority supports legal hemp — only when you share your support with your elected officials will they feel the political pressure to take action.
Here are three very simple things that you can do — right now, at your computer — to register your support for legalized industrial hemp and pressure Washington to fulfill the people’s will:
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET
Last week’s speedy Congressional action, giving the FAA more flexibility to deal with sequestration-imposed cuts, was hailed by many as a great example of government functioning at its best. But I’m feeling a little like the little kid who insists the Emperor has no clothes – wasn’t the pain of those cuts supposed to be the point? I thought the idea was that if the impact were felt across the board, constituents would complain and Congress would act to find a less Dickensian way of resolving the budget disputes. But apparently that doesn’t apply to frustrated business travelers, or Congresspeople who want to get out of DC as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, do a google search on ‘heartless sequester cuts’ and it takes 0.41 seconds to get 5,310,000 results. (I was going to write ‘and you’ll get thousands of results’ but that sounded like an exaggeration so I did the actual google search – yes, the truth can be even more ludicrous than my imagination.) But of course kids in the Head Start program, homeless people, elderly cancer patients, furloughed federal clerical workers, etc., don’t have the political pull to get the pain of their cuts alleviated.
Don’t get me wrong – I travel frequently and I have spent many frustrated hours in airports coping with flight delays and missed connections, and it’s horrible. It also reminds me of how plane travel has deteriorated – I still remember the first time I went on a plane as a 7-year-old, flying with my family to see grandparents back east. My sister and I had new dresses for the occasion, white patent leather mary-janes, and matching little purses, and it felt so glamorous and chic. (And I’m not advocating going back to that – I still remember how itchy my dress was, and I’d much rather fly in yoga pants and sneakers than in the skirt suit, pumps, and girdle my mom probably had to wear.) (In case you missed last week’s column, or are too lazy to do the math, this was in 1966, not 1956 . . . and yeah, I walked uphill to school both ways, in the snow, in southern California . . . . )
But these days only a few privileged business travelers get anything close to a luxurious experience, and the rest of us shlumps not only have to suffer cramped seats and nonexistent service, but we get our noses rubbed in it because we always have to go through business class on our way back to steerage, adding insult to injury and fostering class resentment. (I’m always thrilled when I see a whiny toddler as I go through business class . . . )
Of course, you could claim that travel delays are the big equalizer, since even a first class ticket can’t help you if the flight is cancelled. But if the point of the sequester was to make the cuts so painful that everyone would suffer and we’d have to find alternatives, this latest Congressional move seems completely wrong-headed. Although it does at least show us that Congress IS capable of quick, decisive action – and fortunately it’s great fodder for comedians. (Granted, making fun of Congress is as easy as making fun of the Kardashians . . . and I’m not above either!)
Eight years ago, the Aspen Institute initiated a new fellowship program designed to counter the nasty partisanship that had seeped into the political system. It was not our goal to create some form of magical political “center”; democracy depends on vigorous debate and we expected conservatives and liberals to hold firm to their principles, as they should.But we did want to bring together those political leaders, left, right, and center, who were willing to listen to the other side and see whether there were areas where they could find common ground in the national interest. That first class of Fellows included a great mix of the best young political leaders we could find, beginning with Gabby Giffords, who was then a Democratic state legislator in Arizona; Jon Bruning, the conservative Republican attorney general of Nebraska; Michael Steele, who became the national chairman of the Republican Party; two who have since become Republican members of Congress (Erik Paulsen and Lynn Jenkins) … and Tom Perez, then the president of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland.
It’s understandable that Senate conservatives would prefer a secretary of Labor whose views are more closely in line with their own. But a Democrat won the presidency and his Cabinet will naturally reflect views similar to his. Presidents are not automatically entitled to have their nominees confirmed but it is an abuse of the Senate’s constitutional prerogatives to reject a nominee simply because he shares the president’s views rather than those of the minority party.
What one ought to look for in any department head is character, intelligence, integrity, fair-dealing, an openness to competing viewpoints – in other words, somebody who will serve not just the president but the nation. I have known and worked with Tom Perez for nearly a decade now. I have watched him in countless interactions with men and women whose political views are very different from his own. And I have seen the tremendous respect he has engendered from highly-regarded public officials representing the entire range of political philosophies.
If Perez had been a member of Congress during my years as a member of the House Republican leadership, it’s almost certain that we would have disagreed on a number of important issues. But I would have had confidence that Tom and I could sit down together, talk about our differences, and work to find ways to move forward together in the best interests of the country we both love. It wouldn’t always be a successful effort but it would always be an honest one.
It’s time for members of the Senate, Republican and Democrat alike, to stop engaging in knee-jerk hostility to anybody who carries the other party’s label: if a nominee for a Cabinet position is lacking in the ability to do the job or unwilling to consider divergent views, he or she might well merit a vote against confirmation. But that most assuredly is not the case with Tom Perez. He will enforce the nation’s labor laws with fairness and integrity and that’s exactly what we should want in the head of any government department. He understands what it takes to be an effective Labor Secretary, because he has done the job successfully at a state level.
The support he has received from business leaders, educators, unions, and grassroots leaders is an impressive but not surprising illustration of the Tom Perez I have seen in action. He’s not a conservative but he deserves confirmation and the country deserves to have him sitting in the president’s Cabinet and bringing his judgment and intellect to the collective management of the nation’s business.
Mickey Edwards is director of the Aspen Institute and was a Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma for 16 years (1977-92).blockquote>