Circus surrounding Kim Davis case attracts plenty of political clowns

September 12, 2015
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee greeted the crowd Tuesday after being released from the Carter County jail. Photo by Timothy D. Easley/AP

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee greeted the crowd Tuesday after being released from the Carter County jail. AP Photo by Timothy D. Easley

 

Every circus has clowns, and the carnival surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ claim that her religious beliefs should trump the rule of law and the civil rights of the people she is paid to serve has attracted more than its share of them.

The most shameless has been Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate, Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor and Fox News showman.

Huckabee’s campaign organized a rally for Davis in Grayson last Tuesday, the day U.S. District Judge David Bunning released her from jail there. She spent five nights behind bars for contempt of court after she refused the judge’s order to let her office issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Brushing his face repeatedly for the TV cameras, as if wiping away tears, the Huckster blasted the judge — a conservative Catholic, George W. Bush appointee and son of former Republican Sen. Jim Bunning — for doing his job and enforcing the law.

Huckabee then emotionally offered to take Davis’ place in jail, claiming she was being punished for her beliefs rather than for her illegal behavior.

The second-biggest clown was another Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He showed up at the rally and shook hands until a Huckabee aide blocked him from taking the stage.

Although they haven’t come to Kentucky for photo ops, GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal also have voiced support for Davis’ defiance of the judge’s order and the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

I find it frightening that four presidential candidates of a major political party are so dismissive of the rule of law. I would be even more frightened if any of them had a chance of being elected president.

More disturbing, because they do have a chance of being elected, are similar stands being taken by Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee for governor, and state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, the GOP nominee for attorney general.

Do they have that little understanding of America’s system of laws and justice? Even if they are just pandering for the votes of conservative Christians, everyone else should be alarmed.

This case isn’t difficult to understand. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Decades ago, that same clause was interpreted to guarantee black people’s civil rights.

Under our system of justice, such a ruling invalidates conflicting federal and state laws, such as Kentucky’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

The bedrock American principle here is that minorities have the same civil rights as everyone else, regardless of how majorities of voters would like to limit them.

Davis has a First Amendment right to free exercise of her religious beliefs. But her rights stop at the point where she, as a public official, infringes on the 14th Amendment rights of gay couples seeking legal marriage licenses. Justifying her actions “under God’s authority” doesn’t cut it.

Do Kentuckians really want a governor and attorney general who either don’t understand our legal system or think some people should be exempt? Just think of the legal expenses they could rack up for taxpayers fighting losing battles over mixing church and state.

This isn’t a fight between conservative values and liberal values; it is a fight between those who understand and respect the rule of law and those who don’t.

*****

As a side note, I have seen one positive thing come out of the Kim Davis circus: Same-sex couples from across the country have come to Morehead to get married.

If those couples spend much time in Morehead, they will see that it is not the ignorant backwater portrayed in some national media reports.

Morehead is one of Eastern Kentucky’s most progressive places. The city council in 2013 voted unanimously for an ordinance banning discrimination against gays and lesbians, becoming only the sixth Kentucky city to do so.

It also is home to Morehead State University, whose respected academic programs range from music to space science. Morehead is not just a place where people preach about their ideas of heaven; it is a place where scientists are exploring the heavens as some of the leading pioneers of small satellite technology.


Want to fix Congress? Start by removing big money

January 1, 2012

New Year’s is a day for hope and optimism — two words rarely associated with the United States Congress.

Americans’ disenchantment with their elected representatives is nothing new. “There is no distinctly native American criminal class, except Congress,” Mark Twain wrote more than a century ago.

A Gallup poll in December showed that only 11 percent of Americans approve of Congress’s performance — the lowest rating since the venerable research organization started asking that question in 1974.

It is no wonder. Partisan gridlock keeps Congress from getting almost any important work done. Worst of all, Republicans and Democrats have become captive to special interests whose big money funds their campaigns, often makes them rich and fuels a poisonous political climate.

How do we change things? Two recent bipartisan efforts offer some good ideas.

One is a movement called No Labels, which claims to include more than 180,000 Republicans, Democrats and independents. (Find more information at Nolabels.org.)

No Labels argues that the system is broken, but members of Congress could change their internal rules to fix many of the problems — if public pressure forced them to. Among No Labels’ proposals:

 Require Congress to approve a budget on time. If members don’t, they don’t get paid until the job is done.

 Give the Senate 90 days to vote up or down on presidential appointments. If it doesn’t, nominees would be confirmed by default.

 Curb filibuster abuse by requiring senators who want to stall legislation to actually take to the floor and hold it through sustained debate. Also, end the practice of filibustering “motions to proceed.” That would allow the Senate to openly debate and vote on more legislation.

 Allow representatives to anonymously sign discharge petitions on proposed legislation. Signers’ names would become public if a majority of House members signed. That would prevent party leaders and committee chairs from killing popular legislation for political reasons without allowing a vote. Enact similar reforms in the Senate.

 Prohibit members of Congress from taking pledges other than their official oath of office and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. That would stop special interests from controlling lawmakers through pledges such as those against raising taxes or cutting Social Security benefits. No Labels says a combined 80 percent of current lawmakers have signed those pledges, making it almost impossible for Congress to govern in a fiscally responsible manner.

 Require the president to appear before Congress for monthly televised question-and-answer sessions, such as the British prime minister does with Parliament.

 Encourage cooperation across party lines by ending partisan seating arrangements, initiating monthly off-the-record gatherings of lawmakers and creating a bipartisan leadership committee to work through issues. As No Labels rightly points out, how can people with different viewpoints work well together if they don’t know one another and never talk honestly with one another?

Another good idea is a constitutional amendment proposed Dec. 20 by U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Louisville Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican. (To read the amendment, click here.)

The proposed amendment would get special-interest money and its corrupting influence out of politics by overruling key provisions of Citizens United, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 that made a bad situation dramatically worse.

The amendment would specify that financial expenditures and in-kind contributions do not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment. It also would enable Congress to create a public-financing system to be the sole source of funding for federal elections.

Imagine an election without endless attack ads and robo-calls funded by millions of dollars from often-anonymous special interests. Not to mention a Congress and White House beholden to the American people rather than the highest bidders.

Reform like this will never happen without significant pressure from average citizens. It will be opposed by many political leaders, not to mention partisans who cynically throw around words such as freedom and liberty as a smokescreen to protect the powerful people, corporations and organizations whose bidding they do.

Some people will resist change because the status quo works just fine for them. But if, like me, you are among the 89 percent of Americans who think Congress is failing us, this is a good day to resolve to do something about it.