Thursday, November 19, 2015

OPINION: Kentuckians on Medicaid voted against their own interests, and the Democratic base wasn't motivated

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Back in 2004, journalist and historian Thomas Frank wrote the political book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Frank explores a political landscape historically dominated by left-wing [opulist movements, until conservatives started using social issues like abortion and gay marriage to appeal to the working class.

In doing so, Republicans were able to sway middle class and low-income citizens to vote against their own economic interests.

He argues the political discourse in America’s heartland has moved from discussion of economic mobility and opportunity to culture war issues, which are based in perceived anger toward “liberal elites.” Eleven years later, Kentucky has become the new face of this phenomenon.

Prior to the Nov. 3 gubernatorial election, Kentucky was known as the only Southern state where Democrats dominate most levels of government. But with Republican candidate Matt Bevin’s victory over Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky might be the new Kansas.

During the campaign Bevin spoke against raising the minimum wage, advocated dismantling the state’s online insurance market Kynect, and posited restructuring the Medicaid expansion. And yet Bevin’s largest amount of support came from the most impoverished areas of the state which have high numbers of Medicaid recipients.

Polls consistently had Conway ahead of Bevin throughout the race, and yet Bevin defeated Conway by nearly nine percentage points. Political experts have suggested several reasons for how this happened, such as low interest among Democratic voters and conservatives being less likely to participate in polls.

Another likely reason is that religious conservatives, which make up a huge voting community in Kentucky, were motivated by the situation surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.

The escapade involving Davis and her refusal to issue marriage licenses in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage received national attention, and Bevin showed support for Davis’ cause, turning a relatively insignificant issue into a culture war issue on which many conservatives base their votes.

Bevin’s victory should serve as a wakeup call to those on the left and even the center. The Democratic base was not motivated in this election, and the party paid the ultimate political price on Election Day. Regardless of whether or not they are justified in their sentiment, much of working class America is angry, and Republicans have proven to be more capable of capitalizing on the emotions of the citizenry and turning them into victories.

Cheyene Miller is the managing editor of the Kentucky Kernel, for which he wrote this column. It also appears at

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Matt Bevin, who aimed to get elected governor on his own terms, does it in spectacular fashion

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Republicans, adorned in suits and dresses, sipped their drinks and rang their bells – their Bevin bells. As each set of precincts came in, the cheers grew louder for Republican Matt Bevin in the Galt House Hotel on the riverfront in Louisville. Tuesday he became only the second Republican to be elected governor of Kentucky in four decades.

The consensus of support in the room did not come, however, because Matt Bevin was Republican; it came because he is a maverick; a political outsider; a fresh face; a change.

In his two campaigns for public office, Bevin has often rubbed many Republicans the wrong way. After his primary defeat in the 2014 Senate race by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bevin refused to endorse McConnell against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. This year, he said he favored Ben Carson for president rather than Kentucky's own Sen. Rand Paul, even as Paul came to the state to campaign for Bevin.

In September, the Republican Governors Association pulled its ads from the airwaves in Kentucky, a surprising move in a year that only had three governor’s races, and did not come back into the state until just a few weeks before Tuesday’s election.

Even in victory it was clear Bevin was a party outsider. “I’m proud of the fact that this is a great night for the Republican party in the state of Kentucky,” he told the Galt House crowd, “but it is more important that this is a great night for conservatives in Kentucky.”

Bevin does things his own way. Upset with certain journalists, he often refused to answer questions from them. He blacked out Louisville’s WAVE-TV, refusing to buy advertising on the Louisville NBC affiliate. This meant popular shows like The Voice, The Blacklist and Sunday Night Football were closed to advertising for Bevin in the largest media market in the state.

In a state that traditionally leans blue for state elections, especially the governor's office, Bevin stole the show by keeping the focus on conservative social issues. While Jack Conway seemed like a Punxsutawney Phil who saw his shadow at the Fancy Farm picnic and went back in his hole for six weeks, raising money, Bevin traveled around the state defending Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

But as the campaign rounded the final turn, Bevin was still staring down the barrel of unfriendly poll numbers. He shifted his strategy, began releasing ads linking Conway to President Obama  and started calling his opponent a rubber stamp for Obama.

His strategy worked.

Bevin won over voters like Stanley Burgan, 73, a retired auto body painter in Jessamine County. Burgan said he is registered Democratic, “But I went Republican because I’m sick of what Democrats are doing; meaning Obama.” Asked about specifics, Burgan said, “the homosexual thing, the liberalism – almost socialism – the Democrats are producing.”

In an election where officials expected a 28 percent turnout, Bevin rallied social conservatives and religious groups, who may have produced larger-than-expected support; 30.7 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls, and they pushed Bevin into the governor's mansion with a margin of 8.7 percentage points.

“We are Republicans and Democrats, and we are one Kentucky at the end of the day.” Bevin said to the crowd of cheering supporters. “Kentucky is ready for a fresh start!”

But the biggest cheer of the night came from the candidate’s wife.

Bevin said that as he drove 95,000 miles around the state over the last two years, “I hear so often, ‘How is it possible that you always seem so rested and full of energy? You have all these children; how is it possible that you are able to do this?’ I’ll tell you. You marry well.”

Glenna Bevin, who appeared in a TV ad for her husband, could not wipe the smile off her face, even though the spotlight embarrassed her. She tried to hide behind the shoulder of her husband, politely declining the attention the two had earned Tuesday night, along with their nine children, four adopted form Ethiopia.

From the failure in the Senate race, to his outsider, and sometime abrasive approach to the governor’s race, one metaphor illustrates the grit of Bevin. His father Avery Bevin was asked about a story Matt once told during the Senate race.

It was a cold New England night on the farm, probably dozens of degrees below zero, as it often is. A car would not start, and Bevin and his father went out to persuade it. Bevin said that it was so cold the moisture in their leather gloves froze, and had to be removed to perform repairs – a dangerous task due to the risk of frostbite.

Avery Bevin said it happened regularly. “You either took your gloves off and made it run, or you just sat there and froze to death,” said Avery. He never imagined his son in public service, but Matt has taken the gloves off and says he can make Kentucky run.

Interviews with voters help show how Bevin won race

By Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
Information for this story was also gathered by Kevin Erpenbeck, Megan Ingros, Jerry Seale and Ben Johnson.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. – Republican Matt Bevin rode a wave of voter discontent with the status quo and negative advertising to defeat Democrat Jack Conway to become Kentucky’s next governor, according to interviews Tuesday outside polling places.

“My biggest concern right now is that I want to see the Democrats out,” said Grover Johnson, a 64-year-old retired Toyota plant worker from Georgetown. “I’m not with their agenda, even though I was raised as a Democrat. With all their liberal policies, I’ve turned against them. So I’m voting straight Republican down the line.”

One common theme expressed by many voters, particularly Republicans, is that they were tired of negative television commercials.

Rhonda Fender, a 47-year-old Toyota worker, said she wasn’t pleased with how either candidate handled their campaigns, calling them “dirty and nasty” because of all the mud-slinging in ads and televised debates.

Sheila Hein of Lexington, a 74-year-old retiree, said she had planned to vote for Conway but “couldn’t take those negative ads anymore.”

The Conway campaign ran mostly negative ads during the race, and the independent Democratic committee supporting did likewise if not more. Bevin was attacked for things such as not releasing his tax returns, failing to pay taxes, and for seeming to flip-flop on issues.

On the Conway YouTube channel, there are 10 attack ads against Bevin and seven “positive” ads featuring Conway. Four of the seven positive ads were uploaded three months ago, while eight of the 10 negative ads were uploaded within the past seven weeks, according to the timestamps in the descriptions.

Lexington landlord Bill Hall, 82, said he’s a registered Democrat but voted for Bevin: “I vote for the man who would govern best and I think he has more experience in the business area. We got enough politicians.”

Voting against candidates and choosing between the lesser of two evils were also common themes among voters.

Doug Barnett, a 40-year-old attorney and member of the Fayette County Board of Education, said “Bevin’s ideas on teacher retirement were simply scary and unsustainable. . . . You do that with teachers’ retirement and you have no plan to fund it and move teachers to social security, all you’re going to do is defund the plan even more.”

Retired nurse and registered Republican Phillis Hasbrouck of Lexington said she couldn’t vote for Bevin because, “He's got a variety of answers. You never know which one's the right one. You ask him something and he tells you something one time, and the next time he tells you something else.” Hasbrouck said she voted for independent candidate Drew Curtis because she goes to a Lutheran church with him.

Curtis finished with less than four percent of the total vote. 28-year-old Shade Sloan of Georgetown said he voted for him because he likes Curtis’s ideas over the other candidates’ platforms.

“Curtis felt like a family member speaking to you,” Sloan said. “He seems like a real person and his ideals are something the state needs. He wasn’t pushing his party’s agenda. It’s all what he wants. I wholeheartedly believe he would have been the best candidate.”

Some voters, like 38 percent in the last Bluegrass Poll, said they were unhappy with the choice of candidates. Bill Gorman, a 66-year-old insurance agent from Lexington, said, “I wasn’t pleased with the choices. I think each party’s candidate did a poor job.”

Although some people did cast their votes against candidates, others still voted in favor of them.

John Sims, 51-year-old small business owner in Lexington and registered Republican, said he voted for Bevin because he believes the Republican Party will “represent small business owner needs better than the Democrats.”

For 44-year-old Veterans Affairs phlebotomist and Lexington resident Denise Emerson, the deciding factor in voting for Conway was that he “knows everything pretty much about Kentucky. Every position he’s ever carried has been Democrat and has been in Kentucky.”

President Obama was a factor for some voters.

Scott County Schools Parent Involvement Coordinator Sherry Cutright, 61, said she voted for Bevin because she shares his values and “I would not vote for anyone who identified with President Obama.”

The state’s Medicaid expansion and the Kynect health-insurance exchange were major issues in the race but were cited by few voters. None of the voters interviewed in Georgetown mentioned either, and only a few in Lexington voters mentioned health issues.

Daniel McQuin, a 45-year-old CPA, said he voted for Conway because Bevin wants to scale back the expansion of Medicaid: “It’s going to hurt a lot of people.”

Some voters said they either didn't follow the race very closely, or at all.

Rosemary Derbyshire of Lexington said she only occasionally followed it on the news and “very deliberately” did not watch debates.

“I find them somewhat ridiculous and extremely irritating,” said the 65-year-old retiree. “I think the way they do them is fairly pathetic.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Independent candidate Drew Curtis gets a low vote total but has a high-spirited event on election night

By Lauren Allen
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Drew Curtis announced the beginning of his book and the end of his race for governor in a dimly lit Lexington bar surrounded by Mason jars and purple souvenirs, celebrating his first political campaign Tuesday night in apparently the best way he knows how.

With all of the celebratory cheering and drinking going on at the Chase Brewing Co., an outsider would never have known that this candidate received less than 4 percent of the vote.

Heather Curtis laughs as her husband talks on a podcast.
With him was his wife and running mate, Heather Curtis, who wasn’t so sure about this position when he first proposed the idea. “When we started out, we were fighting a lot,” she said, because he was a little naive. When her husband realized that he needed to have better ideas, not just opinions, she decided to join him.

As much as the couple kept their children out of the race, their middle one would still say “I wanna watch the Drew Curtis for Governor show” whenever he saw Daddy on TV, Heather Curtis said.

Drew Curtis comes with a pack of loyal supporters who say they value his work ethics and morals.

Virgil Edwards is a registered Republican, but said he strongly supports, and voted for, Curtis won him over because he was the only candidate who would answer his questions.

He said Curtis answered any question he had, while Democrat Jack Conway never responded to his emails and Republican Matt Bevin outright told Edwards that his questions way not be worth his time.

Edwards, a senior at Eastern Kentucky University, said he voted for Curtis because “he represents a change to the status quo.”

Curtis's supporters may not miss him for long. He said he is writing a book about the race, already partially published on

Curtis’ biggest fans may be his staff. Communications Director Heather Chapman said “Working for Drew has pretty much spoiled me for any other candidate.”

Dressed in an American-flag suit, campaign manager Andrew Sowders said his favorite moment of the campaign, the fourth he’s worked on, was the turnaround when he saw Curtis “start to believe in himself and what he is doing.”

From the beginning, Curtis did things differently than the typical politician, which was a big part of the appeal to his campaign manager, who is now looking for a job as fulfilling as his current one.

Friends were out supporting the independent candidate at the event as much as his staff and supporters. One was Jason Falls, a long-time friend who believes independent candidates are moving up in the polls because Americans are getting tired of the two-party system. Falls said he supported Curtis from the start because he knows he would not sell out to special interest groups.

Spirits were high throughout the night, even as Curtis's percentage of the vote stayed quite low. He said that if he were to ever join the world of politics again, “It would have to be [for an] executive” position like governor.

He said none of his personal money was lost in the campaign because he never spent much more than the $75,000 that he raised.

Conway, supposed leader until the end, comes up a loser

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Despite polling about 5 percentage points ahead for the entire governor’s race, Democratic candidate Jack Conway came up 8.7 points short in his bid for Kentucky governor.

“Folks, tonight was not the result that we had hoped for, but is a result that we respect,” Conway said in his concession speech at the Kentucky Democratic Party election-night event in Frankfort.  

Conway said that once the result was final, he had a congratulatory phone conversation with his Republican opponent Matt Bevin.

“It was a cordial phone call,” said Conway, who said he told Bevin “that if he ever needed any assistance that this Democrat is at his disposal.”

The Democratic crowd seemed to lose a little morale each time the election results were updated on the monitors.

“It’s surprising, but it doesn’t really bother me.  We live in a great country (and) we have the freedom to do this so however it turns out, that’s what the people chose and I support that,” state Rep. Dean Schamore of Hardinsburg said as the final results were being tallied.

Schamore said he doesn’t necessarily consider Bevin to be unqualified for the job. “He’s just not my choice for governor,” Schamore said.  “I’m sure he’s a good person.”

Steve Crisp, a telecommunications businessman from Georgetown, said that he is a Republican who voted Democratic Tuesday because he thought Conway was “the guy for the job.” He added, “I really just don’t know a lot about Mr. Bevin.”

Corey Hyde, a University of Kentucky computer science senior from London, said Conway’s loss was “not quite what I expected.” Hyde said his boyfriend was a union employee and feared a Bevin victory because Bevin wants a "right to work" law than bans labor contracts that require all employees to pay union dues or fees.

In his speech, Conway showed gratitude to the people of Kentucky he had met during his campaign. “You’ve opened your homes, you’ve opened your hearts.  You’ve made me a better person in so many ways,” he said.

Conway said he respected Kentucky voters and their decision, and thanked them for the “tremendous honor of serving as the state’s attorney general. He also thanked Gov. Steve Beshear, Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, his campaign team, and his family.

“Tonight I consider myself the most blessed man on the face of the earth,” said Conway in regard to his family.  During his speech he turned toward his two young daughters and said “Daddy’s going to be home a lot.”

Conway focused much of his campaign on education as well as challenging Bevin on Kynect, Kentucky’s private health insurance market established under the federal health reform, and the Medicaid expansion.

Bevin will replace current term-limited Beshear, Conway’s fellow Democrat. His victory represents a change in Kentucky’s longstanding tradition of electing Democrats to the governor’s mansion; they have held it for 40 of the last 44 years.

Bevin's social-media advantage helped make him the winner, Senate president says

By Lauren Allen and John Winn Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
This story has been updated, as indicated.

If social-media engagement is any indication, Republican Matt Bevin should win won the governor’s race partly with a big advantage on social media, state Senate President Robert Stivers said last a landslide. But while social media were such an indicator for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, it remains to be seen whether that will hold true in Kentucky, political experts say.

Stivers made the comment in an interview on KET's election-night coverage. He couldn't be reached for further comment.

Bevin followed the lead of the leader of the opposite party. In 2012, against Republican Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama “logged twice as many Facebook 'likes' and nearly 20 times as many re-tweets as Romney, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, wrote on The Media Psychology Blog. “With his existing social media base and spreadable content, Obama had far superior reach.” 

Bevin’s campaign apparently got the message, because the Louisville businessman was far more active on social media during the governor’s race than his two opponents, with 50,000 Facebook likes and 12,000 Twitter followers.

Next in line is independent candidate Drew Curtis with 27,000 Facebook likes and 13,600 Twitter Followers.  That is not a surprise, given Curtis’ background as founder of a successful news-aggregation site.

Lagging far behind is Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway with 14,000 Facebook likes and 5,500 Twitter followers.

Social media are becoming greater indicators of election results because so many American adults are online now and get their news from social media.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found in 2012 that 60 percent of adults use some form of social media, and a study released this year by The American Press Institute found that "88 percent of millennials (ages 18-34) get news from Facebook regularly."

The Pew study also found that more than a third of millennials on social media have shared political information and urged followers to vote.

Obama’s campaign team took advantage of that communications channel.

“As of election night, President Obama had 32 million Facebook fans, 21 million Twitter followers, and 259,685 YouTube views,” Daniel Burrus, a best-selling author on future trends and CEO of Burrus Associates, wrote on his blog. “On the other hand, Mitt Romney had 12 million Facebook fans, 1.7 million Twitter followers, and only 29,172 YouTube views.”

Burrus concluded that if the Romney camp made a mistake by not being more aggressive on social media. “Did social media make a difference in the outcome of the election? When you have a close race, everything matters. So with that in mind, I would answer yes,” he wrote.

Social media may not have as big an impact in the governor’s race, said Stephen Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

“People who are cut off from other sources of political information and only receive their political 
tidbits through social media are the same people who are going to vote rarely if at all,” Voss said.

This group of people is not typically involved in the community or politics, he said, which could likely be the reason they do not see the importance of voting or even know there is an election.
Where social media can play a crucial role, Voss added, is in “immediacy.”

Because of the immediate impact social media can have, political campaigns can respond to anything that is thrown their way instantly through Facebook, Twitter or any other social media, Voss said.

That immediacy is one thing that convinced Curtis, founder of the irreverent news site, to run despite being a political unknown.

“I based my run on a theory: that the Internet and social media have finally made it possible for a third party candidate to win,” he wrote for Wired magazine in an essay published on election eve. “Regardless of how things turn out, I’m convinced I was absolutely correct. And I’m also convinced you’ll see more candidates like me in the near future.”

Curtis wrote that even journalists he’s talked to around the state “don’t feel they’re influencing the race much. They think that social media and the Internet in general have replaced the job they used to do.”

While it hard to measure how much influence social media will have on the election compared to television, it is clear that mixing the two is not garnering much interest.

When Conway posts his television commercials on social media, he only gets an average of 15 shares or retweets. This does not include his paid Facebook posts, which have 3,500 shares. The last advertisement that Bevin posted got 55 retweets and 212 shares on Facebook.

The candidates also exhibit different styles on their social-media accounts.

On the Facebook account Matt Bevin for Kentucky Governor in 2015 (which has 8,000 likes), the campaign posts frequently with links to Bevin’s campaign website and news about his appearances. Bevin’s main Facebook account is generally in first person and has posts directly on Facebook rather than links to sites. His Tweets are similar to his Facebook posts, just simplified for the 140 character limit. Bevin also participates in Twitter such talks as #coalpowersKY with the Kentucky Coal Association. The most personal post on his Twitter is a happy 14th birthday message to his daughter, Olivia.

Curtis gets more personal on his business page, posting things like “#MexicoSucks #mexvusa.” This was shared from his Twitter like most of his direct posts. He also frequently interacts with readers who post comments.

Conway posts many pictures of his appearances and links to articles about him and his running partner state Rep. Sannie Overly. Some of these posts are written in first person and some of them are in second person. His Twitter account has extremely similar posts, but they are designed particularly for that social media outlet. These tweets get an average of five retweets and favorites.

What all of this will mean for the Nov. 3 election is anybody’s guess. But the headline over Curtis’ Wired article made clear what he thinks the future will hold: “Someday technology will end our dumb two party system.”

For many at one Lexington poll, the choice was between an experienced officeholder and a shake-it-up outsider

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

For many voters at the polls at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church at Alumni Drive and New Circle Road in Lexington, the choice in today's election for governor was between an experienced politician who knows how to get things done in Frankfort and an outsider who wants to shake it up.

“I didn’t feel like we had much of a choice, but I thought we needed a change,” said Mary Lynne Lovingood, 66, a retired chemistry teacher who voted for Republican Matt Bevin. “I’m tired of the atmosphere of everything.”

Several voters said they favored Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway because of his eight years as attorney general.

“I feel like Conway can do a better job because he is a Kentucky guy who’s been in politics for a while,” said Paul Jenkins, 48, a registered Republican who has a small manufacturing company.

Retired architect Michael Schenck, 65, said Bevin “seems to be smarter” than Conway “but he doesn’t have the experience. . . . I don’t know how much support he would have in Frankfort.” Schenck said he typically votes Democratic.

Therapist and yoga instructor Toni Reiss, 63, who described herself as an independent Democrat, said she voted for Conway because she didn’t think Bevin “has the interests of the everyday people in mind” because of his positions on education and health care, “which is what we pay our taxes for.” Also, she said, “He seems to be quick-tempered, not one prone to conversations and problem-solving through shared ideas.”

Some voters said they couldn’t trust Bevin. Veterinarian Patricia Davis, 31, said she mostly votes Democratic and didn’t consider Bevin because “I don’t find him trustworthy at all for a governor.”

Pamela Mathis-yon, 73,a retired family therapist who said she is a registered Democrat but “sort of a Republican,” said she couldn’t vote for Bevin because he hasn’t always paid his taxes on time. “Anybody that doesn’t pay their taxes . . . that totally turned me off.”

However, the tax questions didn’t bother retired bookkeeper Sheila Hein, 74. “I got so tired of hearing about the tax thing,” she said. “If you’re in business, you always pay the penalty and pay your taxes late.”

Hein said she was going to vote for Conway but “He started getting smirky” and “I couldn’t take those negative ads anymore.”

Her husband, Republican and retired tire dealer Bernard Hein, 73, said he voted for Bevin because “Conway crucified him” and didn’t say enough good about his own record.

C.R. Gash, 40, said he usually votes Democratic but voted for Bevin because the Democratic administration of Gov. Steve Beshear forced him to increase wages of his home-health employees. He said he was planning to vote for independent Drew Curtis, but didn’t want to waste his vote. “I’ll probably vote Democratic next time, because it’ll swing too far to the right and I’ll say, ‘Why did I do that?””

Curtis drew some votes from people unhappy with the political system or the other candidates.

“I didn’t like either one of the other two. I thought they were both liars,” said Mark Williamson, 46, a retired jail worker. If he hadn’t chosen Curtis, Williamson said, he would have voted for Bevin “because I don’t like Obama.” He said that while Obama won’t be in office much longer, “I believe Obamacare is going to be short-lived.” He said the president is the biggest issue for him: “Obama’s an idiot.”