Kentucky Politics & Government: Do We Stand United?

By Penny M. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Character, Divisions, Conflicts, and Change

This book is about the politics of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and so it is about Kentucky's heart and soul. Politics in Kentucky is inseparable from its two hundred years of history, its geography, its religion, its literature, and its sport. "Politics [is] the damndest, in Kentucky," says the poet.1 So, too, is Kentucky damned--or blessed--by its politics. Kentuckians know how important their politics is. They talk about it incessantly, thoroughly, hotly. As in many other states, however, in 1991 hardly anyone voted in either major party's primary or in the general election for governor.2 This contradiction may not be unusual in America, but Kentucky's passion and passivity in political life are exceeded nowhere.

Only one state stands where Kentucky stands, and geography and a profoundly local historic character shape Kentucky's distinctive political culture. This is the paradigm border state, lying just below the Mason-Dixon line and stretching from the Allegheny Mountains to the Mississippi River. In most of the state, Kentucky presents the classic example of the traditionalistic political culture, allowing an active role for government, but primarily as keeper of the old social order and maintainer of the status quo. Kentucky politics does not foster major political and social change. In that sense, government usually is viewed as a negative force. Political affairs, it is felt, should remain chiefly in the hands of established elites, whose members often claim the right to govern through family ties or social position.3 A persistent feature of Kentucky's traditionalistic political culture is a highly personalistic, rather than ideological, brand of politics.

There are, however, and have always been, pockets of an individualistic political culture in Kentucky, initially along the Ohio River, Kentucky's northern border, especially in the southern suburbs of Cincinnati. The indi-

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