In a dismally low-turnout election in November, Kentuckians elected Matt Bevin, a Republican Tea Party favorite, to the governor’s mansion, marking just the third time since World War II that the state has elected a Republican governor. Now, safely ensconced in office thanks to the apathy of the electorate, Bevin is taking action to implement his brand of oppressive extremist conservative politics at the expense of the rights of hundreds of thousands of Kentucky citizens.
Preferring unilateral action to reasoned debate or listening to the will of the people, Bevin issued a series of five executive orders yesterday that seek to undo the progress made by his Democratic predecessor Steve Beshear and further oppress Kentucky residents in the name of his twisted Tea Party ideology. In the most devastating move, Bevin reversed an order issued by Beshear that restored voting rights to some 140,000 non-violent felons who have served their time in prison. Kentucky is one of a handful of states where ex-felons have to personally petition the governor to restore their voting and civil rights after completing their sentences, with the result being that almost 200,000 Kentuckians are permanently disenfranchised because of prior crimes.The victims of this injustice are disproportionately poor and African-American, to the degree that one in five African-Americans in the state are disenfranchised as a result of the practice.
Thus Beshear’s move to restore voting and other civil rights to these ex-cons was a historic move with the potential to reshape Kentucky politics, but of course that wouldn’t do for Bevin, whose disgusting Tea Party ideology preaches that crime stems from personal deficiencies rather than societal factors, despite the fact that ex-cons who are re-enfranchised have significantly lower recidivism rates. In spite of repeated promises made on the campaign trail to uphold Beshear’s move and to stand up to other Republicans on the issue, Bevin has revealed himself to be just as much of a lying, two-timing opportunist as so many other politicians.
In another order with devastating effects on Kentuckians, Bevin reversed Beshear’s move to increase the minimum wage for state workers and contractors to $10.10 per hour, bringing it back down to the federally-mandated $7.25 per hour, a rate at which someone would have to work a nearly 60 hour work week just to safely afford rent on the average Kentucky one-bedroom apartment. Bevin also hinted that he would like Kentucky to join the host of other backwards Southern states that have no minimum wage at all, saying that “wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” apparently admiring the dollar-a-day wages set by the ‘free market’ in the third world.
Finally, Bevin granted the wish of delusional right-wing reality star Kim Davis by removing all clerks names from state marriage licenses in a move meant to facilitate state clerks who object to issuing marriage licenses for LGBT couples due to their religious beliefs. Bevin, who has never been shy about his opposition to LGBT rights and has lamented that gay marriage is a slippery slope that will lead to parents marrying their children, cited the Orwellian Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was essentially crafted to preserve the “religious freedom” of Kentucky Christians to oppress whomever they wish. Many legal experts have claimed that Bevin is in fact overstepping his legal bounds by issuing the changes to marriage licenses, but the law has never been a powerful impediment to bigotry.
The string of oppressive, duplicitous, and possibly illegal executive orders issued by Bevin in an attempt to remake Kentucky in the mold of his delusional Tea Party politics rather than following the will of the people is a powerful indication of the dangers of right-wing government, and the electoral apathy that can bring such demagogues to power. It is a cruel irony that the 140,000 non-violent felons whom Bevin has prevented from receiving voting rights would have easily swayed the election in favor of Democrat Jack Conway had they been able to vote.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.