Well, to be more precise, Kentucky’s incumbent Attorney General and I used to occupy the same crowded political space: two young, big-city, over-educated, well-connected, center-left, aspiring pols, each trying to elbow out the other for the chance to grasp the political brass ring that was the opportunity to be anointed the next great hope for Bluegrass State Democrats.
Our journeys finally came into direct conflict when, in 2007, all of our political mentors withdrew their names from the gubernatorial hat, compelling Jack and I to engage in a hyper-awkward, Elaine Benes-ian dance to explore teaming up as a ticket…which ended, of course, when both of us insisted on leading. I ultimately plunged into the seven-person governor-wannabe scrum from which I never emerged, while Conway found open daylight running and easily winning the state’s top law enforcement position.
In the intervening years, as I have found a permanent seat on the sidelines as a recovering politician, I’ve watched Jack’s career with consistently wistful cognizance that “but for the grace of God go I.” During his 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate — a race that had our paths been reversed, I undoubtedly would have run…and lost — I saw Jack pilloried in much the same way I had been skewered for my own policy-wonkish, retail-politics-averse approach to campaigning. And when his ultimate undoing came at his own hands — the ill-advised decision to run the now infamous “Aqua Buddha” ad that challenged Rand Paul’s faith, I could see myself succumbing to the same pressures, within the oxygen- and rationality-deprived political bubble, to employ a desperate, risky strategy in order to stop an “dangerous” opponent with a diametrically-opposite ideological worldview.
When Conway later admitted his mistake — arguing that the ad was “the only time in my political career I’ve gone against my gut,” I recalled my greatest gut-check regret. In the 2007 race for Governor, I was questioned by a newspaper’s editorial board about how I voted in the 2004 statewide referendum over what I felt was a pernicious constitutional amendment that would not only ban gay marriage, but anything that looked like it, such as civil unions. Privately, I’d supported marriage equality — strongly — ever since Andrew Sullivan introduced much of the country to the possibility in his historic 1989 essay in The New Republic. But while I had openly supported anti-discrimination laws, and was especially proud to have been the first gubernatorial candidate ever to pursue, secure and embrace the endorsement of gay rights organizations, marriage equality was a third rail that I was still too timid to touch — the amendment, after all, had passed statewide overwhelmingly just three years earlier, with 74% support.
So I did what I had done my entire political career on the issue: I lied to the editorial board. And I didn’t come out of the political closet until I had formally renounced politics a few years later.
Today, my former political doppelgänger faced a similar challenge on this very same issue. When federal District Judge John Hayburn’s recently ruled that the Commonwealth must recognize lawful same-sex marriages from other states, Conway was confronted with the decision on whether to appeal the decision — on behalf of the voters who had so overwhelmingly voted for the ban a decade ago.
For some of Conway’s Attorney General colleagues in blue states who encountered similar circumstances, this may have not been a difficult decision. But here, in an inner notch of the Bible Belt, marriage equality is still quite an unpopular position. A few brave Democrats had stepped out months earlier — including, most prominently, Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, and State Auditor Adam Edelen – but general election voters, who Conway will likely appeal to in a 2015 gubernatorial run, still oppose the practice by a 55 to 35 percent margin in a recent independent poll. (And today, a GOP candidate who had donated. $20,000 to support the constitutional anti-gay effort in 2004 just announced his entry into the 2015 governor’s race as the standard bearer for social conservatives.)
Worse yet for Conway, his client, the popular Democratic Governor Steve Beshear — who won statewide liberal plaudits for vetoing an Arizona-like anti-gay, “religious freedom” bill in 2013, and national progressive celebration for successfully implementing Obamacare in the state — wanted to pursue the appeal.
So Conway chose the route he had abandoned in his U.S. Senate race: He went with his gut. In announcing his decision to refuse to pursue an appeal, the Attorney General stated that ”in the end, this issue is really larger than any single person and it’s about placing people above politics…I can only say that I am doing what I think is right…I had to make a decision that I could be proud of – for me now, and my daughters’ judgment in the future.”
Conway’s decision will not have a significant practical effect: Governor Beshear announced a few minutes after Conway’s press conference that he would hire outside counsel to pursue the appeal. But for a populace desperately seeking politicians who are authentic, who lead from their heart, even at great political risk, Conway’s choice may instill a small ray of hope that even in this most cynical of times, conviction can sometimes trump politics.
And for this recovering politician, who has forsaken the arena for many of the same reasons that so many Americans hate politics — as well as for the chance, finally, to live a life when I can always be true to my most passionate beliefs — it’s great comfort to see my former political frenemy take the kind of brave, selfless action that I would have loved to put on my political resume.
When California Congressman Ami Bera met New York Rep. Christopher Gibson at a dinner last April, they began a conversation about how the two of them — a physician and a retired Army colonel, a Democrat and a Republican — might work together in Congress to advance the country’s interests.
It didn’t take them long to come up with an idea.
While the two men held different career perspectives, they shared a deep concern about health care for our military’s men and women. They knew that there were serious problems, particularly with the muddled and inefficient health-records system in which active duty service members received care through the Department of Defense and veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The doctor and retired officer understood that with little coordination between the two mammoth agencies, service members often encountered frustrating bureaucratic delays in accessing benefits and health care as they returned to civilian life. And they agonized that this was a terrible way to repay those who’ve served our country.
Both Rep. Bera and Rep. Gibson are members of No Labels, a fast-growing movement of citizens and political leaders who are dedicated to the politics of problem solving and consensus building. As members of No Labels’ Congressional Problem Solvers, a group of nearly 100 lawmakers from both parties and both houses, they were committed to working together to find a better way to take care of our service men and women and returning vets. And they did.
Out of their conversation that night came the 21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act, a bill to construct a streamlined and easily accessible electronic health-records system for military service members and veterans.
The bill became part of a legislative package, Make Government Work!, that the No Labels Problem Solvers unveiled last summer with sponsors on both sides of the aisle.
So clearly beneficial was the No Labels bipartisan, common-sense bill that key language from it was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December. The language set out standards for the creation of an authoritative health-data system that will, for the first time, merge the electronic health records of the Department of Defense with the Department of Veterans Affairs—thereby, as Rep. Bera stated, “saving money, making the transition to civilian life easier for vets, and helping address the VA backlog.”
If all goes according to plan, patients will be able to download their own medical records and, in time, share them via a secure, remote storage system with their healthcare providers.
As Rep. Bera noted after the original bill was introduced, “Creating an efficient and responsive health care program for service members and veterans isn’t just a Democratic or Republican priority, it’s important to all members of Congress regardless of party, and it’s something we can achieve if we just listen to one another and work together.”
The adoption of this measure is proof that listening to one another and working together really can make a difference and lead to results. This is just one example of what No Labels and the Problem Solvers group can do and continue to strive towards.
The group has just embarked on a three-year campaign to develop a national strategic agenda, a shared vision for this country built around goals and concrete actions that reasonable people of differing political persuasions can agree upon and rally around.
The group is working with members of Congress — people like Congressmen Bera and Gibson and more than 75 others who’ve said they support the concept of a national strategic agenda — as well as other political leaders and some of the nation’s leading voices in business and economics to develop a set of objectives and policy options. No Labels hopes its national strategic agenda — a new sort of governing process based on shared goals — will emerge as a major part of the political discussion in the next presidential campaign.
The process won’t be easy—nobody ever said democracy would be. But the continued progress of our nation and the well-being of citizens depend on our earnest efforts and more constructive, good-faith conversations between Democrats and Republicans.
The paralysis of Atlanta—and its rising-star mayor, Democrat Kasim Reed—during the first of two recent storms highlighted more than just a possible managerial deficiency. The fact that Reed had spent the morning of the storm receiving an award from Republican Governor Nathan Deal—as well as Reed’s post-storm refusal to blame the flummoxed governor—suggests something broader: a durable alliance between the Obama 2012 pit-bull surrogate and his conservative Republican governor. Such an alliance is less rare than one might imagine. In an age when people lament partisan polarization, one area of stubborn bipartisan cooperation endures: the seemingly counter-intuitive pacts between black Democratic mayors and conservative Republican governors.
National political observers detected a similar relationship a thousand miles to the north in 2012, when then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker tied himself in knots to pretend he was considering a challenge to Governor Chris Christie. Most New Jersey political insiders understood this to be a necessary feint—one that a playful parody film featuring the two men seemed to confirm. After Senator Frank Lautenberg died, Christie repaid Booker—and did himself a favor—by spending $25 million in state funds on a special election for Senate just three weeks before his own November election. It wasn’t enough to simply not run against each other; Christie ensured that he and Booker would not be turning out their own supporters (who would be unlikely to split tickets) in the same election.
Given that black Americans voted for national Democratic candidates at a 90-plus-percent clip in 2008 and 2012, why would leaders from Democrats’ most loyal faction tacitly support conservative Republican governors? What exactly does each side have to gain from these political non-aggression pacts—and are they durable or likely to collapse?
From the white governor’s side, there are several things to gain:
Direct short-term electoral benefits: By dividing urban black mayors from their party, a Republican governor can do slightly better in cities for his reelection campaign, either by winning a premium of black voters above the roughly 10 percent a generic Republican can expect, or by minimizing black turnout (not through underhanded Ed Rollins or Allen Raymond sort of way, but by dampening the enthusiasm of black community leaders who are often critical to urban voter-mobilization efforts).
Indirect short-term electoral benefits: By wrapping themselves in black political clothing, these white Republican governors are pulling a sort of reverse Sister Souljah: They are using black mayors as a vehicle to show white suburban women that they are not the scary, borderline-racist kind of Republican who howls about birth certificates, Kenya, and food-stamp presidents.
Long-term electoral benefits: For more a decade—and with special urgency since Election Day 2012—we’ve heard about the Republican Party’s acute need to diversify its electoral base. The instant elevation of Marco Rubio into a likely presidential candidate —before he was even sworn in!—and a similar phenomenon with Dr. Ben Carson are proof of the party’s desperate quest for a candidate with appeal to minorities in a rapidly evolving nation. Of course, white Republican presidential aspirants won’t cede this niche to minority candidates; indeed, one of George W. Bush’s key selling points as he positioned himself for the 2000 Republican nomination was that he had received 49 percent of the Latino vote in his 1998 re-election. (It later emerged that this figure was inflated and the actual number was 40 percent).
Chris Christie’s concerted efforts to win Latino and black votes (of which he won 51 percent and 21 percent, respectively, compared to Romney’s 27 percent and 6 percent) in 2013 suggest a similar thrust, albeit one that is likely obsolete now. Clearly, ambitious governors like Christie and Kasich use Democratic mayoral support—generally, the kind of tacit, “sitting-on-their-hands” support that accompanies tepid endorsements that mayors like Booker, Coleman, and Reed offer Democratic gubernatorial candidates—to burnish their electoral resumes for future national candidacies.
Possible entrée into the Obama White House: Republican governors who may face future primaries aren’t always keen to be too closely associated with President Obama (Christie’s infamous post-Hurricane Sandy embrace notwithstanding). Forging close ties with mayors who acted as top Obama surrogates and can get calls to the White House quickly returned can come in handy for those whose public rhetoric may preclude close relationships with the Obama Administration.
Of course, benefits also accrue to the black mayor in these détentes. Here are a few:
Direct economic benefits: This might include support for major projects (both public subsidies and assistance in lining up private-development financing), as well as political backing for initiatives that require state support. These create jobs and bolster the tax base in cities like Newark and Cleveland that have suffered steep declines. More broadly, Republican governors give mayors someone who can lean on legislative leaders on matters that aren’t too ideologically charged but can help the mayor’s city—often a leading state economic engine.
Support for urban school-reform efforts: This may come in the form of political support (urging legislators or executive branch appointees), economic backing (money for performance pay bonuses or charter-school start-up, for instance), or a hybrid of both (Christie’s alliance with Booker to attract—and spend—Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to the state-controlled Newark public schools).
Long-term political benefits: Ambitious black mayors hoping to be the next Obama—or at least the next Deval Patrick—can take advantage of their relationships with Republican governors to provide a veneer of moderation. The goal is to avoid the fate of candidates like former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who are seen as being too liberal for a statewide race (an impression driven in part by their color, political-science research has suggested), even if they’re not particularly liberal.
Fundraising: Governors can quietly introduce the mayors to their donors, and/or provide a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” with traditional Republican business donors, giving big-city mayors access to contributors who would not otherwise be inclined to support them.
But what are the costs for each side? The answer is, not many. Republican governors have little to lose by propping up big-city Democratic mayors; Republicans have almost no chance of ever competing for office in these areas. Though extra attention to urban areas could potentially have a slight demobilizing effect on rural conservatives, the effect is probably negligible.
Black mayors also have little to lose. Though their constituents have been pressed into action around election time, local black political elites have historically been excluded from state and national party strategy, instead being belatedly pressed into action around time. And of course, white statewide aspirants have been engaged in mini-Sister Souljah acts around the country for years, distancing themselves from the party’s urban base and focusing electoral appeals on white suburban and exurban swing voters. Consequently, some black Democrats feel scant party allegiance, making it easier to cozy up to Republican governors.
The biggest risk is that their Republican allies might lose. As mayors, they’ll be forced to travel to the state capital and supplicate to Democratic governors who can likely glean from a precinct analysis of urban election returns whether a mayor really worked to turn out voters in his home wards—and could probably ascertain a decided lack of enthusiasm from any number of actions or non-actions during election season.
Of course, these mayors wouldn’t be cozying up to the governors if they thought the Democratic candidate was likely to win. Politicians’ self-preservation instincts are as powerful as those of coyotes, who will without hesitation chew off a trapped limb in order to escape a bear trap.
Given the federal investigation swirling around Chris Christie, Cory Booker may already be detaching himself from his old ally. Likewise, given how widely panned Deal’s storm management performance was as we head into election season, Kasim Reed might want to consider gnawing off his own leg caught in the trap named Nathan Deal.
By John Y. Brown III, on Mon Feb 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM ET
People watching from the parking lot of the Holiday Manor Starbucks reminds me of people watching from the parking lot of Ballard High School–35 years ago.
I think patrons of this Starbucks try harder to project a certain “image” –in a high school-esque way–than other Starbucks in town.
People watching from the parking lot of the Heine Bros on Frankfort Ave reminds me of people watching from the parking lot at Central High School –35 years ago.
I think the patrons of this Heine Bros try harder to project a certain “anti-image” —in a high school-esque way–than other Heine Bros in town.
And people watching from the parking lot of Panera Bread off Brownsboro road reminds me of where the parents of the kids from Ballard and Central would have gone for coffee after dropping their kids off at school in the morning—35 years ago–and is just creepy to even think about doing. But where I find myself going this morning.
By Lauren Mayer, on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 8:30 AM ET
My father loved to give advice in pithy brief sound-bites, like “Neither a borrower or a lender be,” “If you break your leg, don’t come running to me,” and “Moderation in all things, including moderation.” One of our favorites was when he helped us do story problems in math, and we could count on him to say RTFQ (for “Read the F-ing Question”). And of course, he frequently admonished us to stick to the facts and refrain from exaggerating, particularly when it came to why we couldn’t help with the dishes (“I have 9 hours of homework!”) or what a fight was about (“she’s been bugging me for 3 days straight!”)
Adults are supposed to be role models for kids, so one would assume that grownups with a public platform would be very careful about exaggerating (particularly since the internet makes it way too easy to blow holes in tall tales). But in the latest media frenzy, another of my dad’s aphorisms would come in handy, which is the PT Barnum quote, “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” That’s right, Fox News has joined in the latest ludicrous attack on Girl Scouts.
In case you missed it, the Girl Scouts national office recently tweeted a link to an article about nominees for Woman Of The Year,” and the long list of accomplished women included Wendy Davis and Kathleen Sibelius. Conservative news-ish site Breitbart seized on the story, which prompted pro-life groups to erupt in outrage, leading Fox News ancor Megyn Kelly to convene a panel on why the Girl Scouts would endorse known abortionist Wendy Davis. Before you could say “Trefoil Shortbread,” conservative organizations had launched “Cookie-cott 2014,” a national boycott based on the idea that cookie sales would fund an evil agenda to turn every girl into a lesbian vegan homicidal atheist.
Okay, I’m exaggerating too – but just a little. (And exaggeration in the service of humor is at least more entertaining!) This tempest in a cookie-box has prompted some ridiculous accusations and hysterical over-reactions, which just make the boycotters look silly. Fortunately the backlash may even increase cookie sales – I know I’m buying a few extra boxes (although I don’t need much excuse – disclaimer, I was a Girl Scout for 5 years and have always struggled with my Thin Mints addiction!)
By John Y. Brown III, on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 12:00 PM ET
We’ve all heard some version of the story of a great basketball player who in some big game misses the clutch shot that could have won the game.
After that the player is forever haunted by that “moment” and asked over and over again by fans who recognize him, “Aren’t you the guy who ……?”
Over time the wound dissipates but never quite fully goes away.
My father wasn’t a basketball player (at least after high school). But as a former professional basketball team owner, he has had to live with a similar kind haunting basketball “moment.”
Call it the “Salina Bros Shakedown.” Call it the “Greatest sports negotiation of all time.” Call it the convergence of tenacity and blind, dumb luck. Whatever it was, it now has a final-seeming price tag of $800M.
And it’s $800M that, theoretically, my father—had my father been a different kind of person and a more ruthless kind of negotiator- may have gotten a piece of.
Yesterday I was with my dad when we ran into Joe Arnold who stopped him to do this interview. Joe does a masterful job of explaining succinctly what happened and capturing my father’s unbothered and good-humored attitude about it all.
I believe in negotiating hard and negotiating smart. Always. And my father has taught me that well. But he has also taught me to negotiate honorably with an eye toward your reputation and future business opportunities. At the end of each negotiation you have a “bottom line” business deal and a “bottom line” reflection on your character. And both are of equal importance.
In this particular negotiation there was a fluke in which had my father been focused merely on squeezing every last penny out of this deal at the expense of his reputation, he may have gotten a piece of this improbable windfall. But that would have meant sacrificing who he is and his reputation as a fair dealer with people who had trusted him and were relying on him to close the biggest deal of their lives. The entire ABA/NBA merger was being held up by the Salina brothers final demand for TV rights in perpetuity and they knew they had the NBA and ABA over a barrel and merely had to wait them out until they capitulated. And they did.
Is a person’s reputation worth $100M, $200M or even $400M dollars?
I guess the takeaway for me is that I believe that question is the wrong question. Because one’s reputation should never be for sale. Period.
And as so-called “missed opportunities” go–they should never be the cause for time-consuming and soul-draining bitterness but rather something you laugh off magnanimously and then keep moving ahead, from, lest you miss the next opportunity.
And that’s a pretty good lesson for a son to learn from his pop.
Is any of this just some sort of happy rationalization trying to pretend a missed opportunity wasn’t really wanted anyway? Probably a little. But only a little.
Because, at the end of the day, sometimes a missed shot in a basketball game, literal or figurative, is just that. And nothing more. And leaves behind an interesting story but not something to haunt or define you. After all, it’s just a game.
Time and time again, we’ve heard our leaders tell us they want to be “uniters, not dividers,” but no one has ever explained how they plan to achieve that.
That is why No Labels is calling for a new governing process — a process that starts with bringing our political leaders to the table to develop shared national goals before the debates and policymaking begin.
In our book released today, we lay out our blueprint – howwe bring our leaders together and forge consensus around an American agenda for national success. No Labels: A Shared Vision for a Stronger America, edited by Governor Jon Huntsman and featuring a forward by Senator Joe Manchin, is just the beginning of a three-year campaign to change politics in America. It will take combined efforts and resources to get the word out. So once again, we need to ask for your help.
Please click here and take a moment to rate and review No Labels: A Shared Vision for a Stronger America. Your comments are integral to building buzz around the ideas, moving the e-book up the charts, and helping others to find and join our campaign for a new politics of problem solving.
From Mexico to Singapore to Brazil, our competitors are thinking strategically about how to achieve clear goals for their own success. If we don’t start thinking strategically, we will fall behind.
And while you’re at it … be sure to tell your friends and colleagues about the e-book. Get them reading! No Labels: A Shared Vision for a Stronger America is about developing shared goals. The only way our leaders will be convinced that the time is right for a new national strategic agenda is if the groundswell of support from across the country is impossible to ignore.
Please, help us spread the message. We all have our sights on a strong, prosperous, secure nation. Together, we can get there.
By Jonathan Miller, on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 2:19 PM ET
UK President Capilouto
U of L President Jim Ramsey
The two largest universities in Kentucky — the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville — have been friendly rivals on the court and gridiron for decades.
(OK, sometimes, not so friendly…).
But they are united by the fact that they boast of Presidents who are deeply committed to the ideals of higher education — especially academic freedom.
And today, The Recovering Politician was proud to break the news that U of L President Jim Ramsey and UK President Eli Capilouto each joined the growing list of college and university leaders (192 and counting) who have denounced the American Studies Association’s pernicious academic boycott of Israel. (Read about it here.)
By Jonathan Miller, on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 1:44 PM ET
This morning, we reported that University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey joined the growing list of college and university leaders (191 and counting, according to intrepid blogger Avi Mayer) who have denounced the American Studies Association’s pernicious academic boycott of Israel. (Read about it here; and read why boycotts like this are so pernicious in my book, The Liberal Case for Israel).
Well, make it 192: University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto.
While U of L and UK may be big rivals on the basketball court and the gridiron, they share the distinction of boasting outstanding Presidents, who both are advocates of free speech and a strong US/Israel relationship. Here’s President Capilouto’s statement, “Open Inquiry is Essential in Higher Education”:
A college campus – perhaps more than anywhere else – is a cherished crucible for the free exchange of ideas and beliefs.
This is a fundamental characteristic when you consider that our faculty and staff are charged with developing new scholarship, and our students are at an age when their civic and personal philosophies are evolving. Over time, these necessary attributes of a campus have been challenged, debated and protected. Though honoring it can be demanding at times, our commitment to academic freedom, fostered in a safe and respectful environment, is at the core of our work in a university community. It is who we are.
Their statements clearly indicate a national dialogue, one happening on college and university campuses like ours. I disagree with the ASA’s resolution to boycott academic institutions in Israel.
The values of inquiry and discourse in American academia – applied within a scholar’s responsibilities as an academic – reflect the foundation and principles of our system of higher education.
As institutions of higher learning, in particular, we are tasked with producing independent, testable scholarship, while educating the next generation of civic and business leaders. If we hope to advance our own understanding of the world around us, a scholar’s capacity to build a body of work in his or her field must run unimpeded by politics and external forces. At the heart of that process is the idea that many voices — sometimes in harmony, sometimes discordant — are critical to education and community.
Our capacity to foster constructive dialogue is at the core of what we do at the University of Kentucky. We should resist at all times temptations — or voices — that call on us to circumscribe or inhibit that dialogue. No matter where such temptation comes from, or however well-intentioned it may be, it is a self-defeating proposition.