, Corbin, KY


October 7, 2013

Acting on principles, conscience rare in politics

CORBIN — Only one member of the General Assembly belongs to the same party as I do — and he’s announced he won’t run for re-election next year.

Okay, so Sen. Bob Leeper, the ultra-conservative independent from Paducah, and I rarely agree on specific issues, but he’s still one of the good guys in the legislature. Unlike a lot of politicians, when Leeper casts a vote you know he is voting his conscience and principle.

The last time Leeper ran for re-election, he did so after a poll indicated most people in his western Kentucky district favored an amendment to allow them to vote on the question of expanded gambling. Leeper opposes expanded gambling and told voters right up front he would not support such an amendment.

Like most of his elections, it was close but he still won. I think those who voted for him respected his principles and perhaps even more respected his candor. Lord knows, there’s little enough of either in Frankfort.

I hope I enjoy reasonably good relationships with most of the lawmakers I write about, even those who aren’t always happy with what I write.  But when I see lawmakers say one thing to justify a vote on a contentious issue but say the opposite thing when it’s politically expedient I tend to call them out, which they don’t much like.

I never, ever had to call out Bob Leeper. He and I almost always think the other is misguided. But I always know he actually believes what he’s saying.

I hate to see him go for another reason. Leeper first ran and was elected as a Democrat. Later he switched his registration to Republican and eventually he registered as an independent. But he kept winning re-election regardless of his registration.  That’s why I jokingly labeled him the most aptly named legislator in America.

While I’m in the uncomfortable position of saying nice things about politicians, let me say something good about Gov. Steve Beshear, who often isn’t happy with what I write about him. Lately he too has stood up for his professed principles in the face of popular opposition.

I’m talking about Beshear’s outspoken defense of the Affordable Care Act and his decision to embrace it in Kentucky.  I think it was the right decision, but what impresses me is that Beshear knows most polls show the law isn’t popular in Kentucky. But he did it anyway because he genuinely believes it is the right thing to do for Kentucky.

Beshear acted against popular opinion, doing what his principles and conscience told him to do. He also believes insuring 640,000 of our neighbors who couldn’t otherwise afford health insurance can transform Kentucky, its health and productivity.

If he’s wrong, Beshear may be remembered much as Brereton Jones is, as someone who naively tried to do something good that just couldn’t work in the real world. But if he’s right, he’ll leave an enduring legacy.

I need to correct an error in last week’s column about federal deficits and debt. While listing the annual deficits run up by President Barack Obama I double counted a year. In the just ended fiscal year, the deficit was originally projected to be $973 billion. But I also listed and counted a more recent estimate of $642 billion for the same year by the Congressional Budget Office.

By doing that, I incorrectly inflated Obama’s accumulated deficits. Depending on which number you choose, the total I listed was either $973 billion or $642 billion too high.

Math was never my best subject. I apologize for the mistake and the confusion.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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