On this Memorial Day weekend, The RP asks how the GOP can claim that someone who has spent her entire adult life championing disabled veterans could have “no applicable qualifications” to serve in the U.S. Senate. Is it because she once was named Miss America? And what does that say about the status of women in Kentucky?
Read an excerpt from his piece in today’s The Daily Beast:
Miss America stands ready to step in. Heather French Henry, that is, the Northern Kentucky resident who won the famous beauty pageant–ahem, scholarship contest–in 2000, and later married the then-Lt. Governor in a fairy-tale, televised wedding. Henry, who last week announced that she is considering the Senate race, doesn’t fit the beauty-queen stereotype: She is a dynamic, charismatic speaker, boasts Clinton-ian retail politicking skills, and has developed a policy platform that no one dares criticize as a passionate and successful advocate for disabled veterans for more than a decade.
And Henry has a strong historical precedent on her side: The 1979 Kentucky gubernatorial race was turned on its head by another former Miss America: CBS Sports icon Phyllis George. While the ballot listed the name of her husband, John Y. Brown, Jr., George’s media sparkle and hand-to-hand political charm enchanted the state, and ultimately helped to produce a surprise victory for the first-time candidate and his insurgent campaign. Even today, Brown gives his ex-wife generous credit: “There’s no question about it, ” the former governor told me, “I simply would not have won without Phyllis as a partner.”
Of course, Governor Brown was no slouch himself. The multi-millionaire businessman, most famous for franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken and owning the Boston Celtics, articulated a fresh, outsider message – ”Let’s run Kentucky like a business” — to a populace exhausted by political corruption.
Alas, Henry’s husband is no Brown. Former Lt. Governor Steve Henry’s political career was continually tarred by scandals: pleading to misdemeanor campaign finance violations, settling federal lawsuits for alleged Medicaid and Medicare fraud, even being forced to reimburse the state for public resources used at his and Heather’s wedding. The McConnell machine has already pounced: Within 24 hours of Henry launching her trial balloon, the state GOP party had started heckling,calling her ”a bottom-of-the-barrel pick…with such egregious political baggage and no applicable qualifications to run in one of the most important Senate races in the country.”
It’s hard to believe that Kentucky voters will hold a wife responsible for the sins of her husband — a different set of facts, indeed, liberated Hillary Clinton as a more vulnerable, and likeable, candidate. Instead, it is the secondary charge — that Henry has “no applicable qualifications” — that should cause the most concern and, perhaps, spur on the most hope.
It appears that the McConnell campaign is already appealing to the misogynist strain in our state’s body politic, painting Henry as the dim beauty queen companion of a corrupt husband.
The accusation, however, is manifestly absurd: The mother of two, children’s author and small businesswoman — who travelled the nation for years, championing our most cherished, suffering heroes — boasts an ideally unique résumé for the world’s most deliberative body. More significantly, whack-a-moling Henry could backfire, playing into the national Democratic narrative of a Republican “war on women.” If that happens, Kentucky could emerge, ironically, as Ground Zero for a more progressive, women-friendly politics.