Campaigns are over; working across party lines must begin
By Governor Steve Beshear Nov. 22, 2008
To many people, it must have been a remarkable picture.
After months of bitter and often rancorous campaigning, President-elect Barack Obama sat next to Sen. John McCain for a meeting a few days ago. It wasn’t just a photo opportunity. They talked at length about how they could reach across party lines to discuss — and move forward on — some of the nation’s most challenging issues.
If they can do this on a national level, why can’t we do it in Kentucky?
The truth is: We can and we must. At a defining hour in our nation’s history, and in the history of Kentucky, we need the same kind of bipartisan spirit. Quite simply, we need to work together — without respect to partisanship, without concern about parties, without a desire to posture and score political points.
People expect us to do so. They need us to do it.
In recent weeks, however, it has been suggested by some of my colleagues that such resolve is not possible. My colleagues, particularly Republican leaders in the state Senate, have criticized the fact that I campaigned hard for Democrats in the elections that just ended earlier this month. They say that such campaigning threatens the ability to work together on issues.
That’s narrow-minded thinking. We just experienced a hard-fought election. That’s our system. Now, let’s close the book on the politics, set aside the partisan rhetoric and acrimony and adopt a spirit of collaboration and unselfish thinking as we act to confront the monumental economic challenges before us.
I don’t agree with our state’s senior U.S. Senator, Mitch McConnell, on a lot of things. We have sincere and profound differences on real issues. But he was right the other day when he said on the floor of the Senate that the time for campaigns is over. The time for bipartisanship and working together is upon us.
I take him at his word that if the President-elect governs from the center, there will be opportunities to work together on our economy, on education and on making health care more affordable to Americans.
We should follow the same path in Kentucky.
Don’t misunderstand me. There’s a place for politics. The collision of ideas and personalities that occurs during a campaign is like a big physics experiment that — when it works — produces the best leaders and focuses them on the most pressing problems.
But this centuries-old system of selecting our leaders features a time for politics and a time for policy.
The system works best when — after the heat and pernicious attacks of the campaign are over — people of opposing philosophical bent can work together for the good of the state. I have campaigned in the past for people who I thought would help me advance an agenda for Kentucky. I will do so again in the future. I assume my Republican Senate colleagues will do the same.
Some people have debated the meaning of the recent elections. At their most fundamental level, the results of November’s elections meant this: Families are hurting, and they’re looking for leaders bold enough, courageous enough and committed enough to help them.
Consider what is at stake: on Friday, an independent group of economists, who work outside state government, projected that the state’s deficit for this budget year will run into the several hundred millions of dollars.
What does that mean? It means that over the next few weeks, as Governor, I must develop a plan to address the shortfall. As a state, we can’t have a deficit. Our budget must balance. And, just as families are balancing their budgets at kitchen tables and in living rooms, we will make tough choices about priorities.
We will have to cut spending significantly to balance our books, just as families cut spending to live within their means. However, we will have to find a balance — we cannot eliminate vital services. We will have to be creative. We will have to be smart. We will have to be strategic.
But above all, this effort will require elected leaders, on both sides of the aisle and from all different perspectives, to move past elections and self-interest and put their faith in our collective future as a Commonwealth.
As your Governor, I’m willing to sit down anytime, anywhere, any place with my colleagues, regardless of ideology or party, to come together on how we move forward. I hope that my colleagues across the aisle want to do the same thing.
We can’t and we won’t agree on everything, even when it comes to the financial crisis confronting us. There will have to be compromise — on both sides.
I want Kentucky to succeed. I want Kentucky to be a better place for our children and their children. And despite our profound differences at times on matters of policy and politics, I hope my colleagues — all of them — want the same thing.
It was written recently of the new President and the new Congress that they did not get to choose the page on which they would write their chapter in the history books.
That is right. As elected officials, we don’t choose the time in which we serve. But we can choose how we will lead.
The time for partisanship is over.
The time for leading is now.
Let us resolve, together, to lead our state for the benefit of its people.
Steve Beshear is Governor of Kentucky.