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Bill Straub: Gov. Bevin is playing Yosemite Sam, a ridiculous Looney Tunes cartoon character


In contemplating Kentucky Gov. Matthew Griswold Bevin, aka Mad Matt, aka St. Matt the Divine, one can’t escape the assessment that he would be much more successful as a cartoon character than a public servant.

Our boy Matt, in fact, is the living embodiment of Yosemite Sam, the foil for Bugs Bunny in all those wonderful Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts we used to catch on Saturday mornings.

Like Sam, Matt is, of course, an overtly ridiculous figure who exhibits aggression, is bloated with self-aggrandizement, arrogance, displays a hair-trigger temper and has a tendency to react in a manner that often results in his britches catching on fire.

Yosemite Sam has been described as extremely belligerent while possessing the largest ego “north, south, east, and west of the Pecos,” leaving the remaining territory, presumably, for the governor of the Commonwealth.

Even some of Sam’s dialogue makes references to Bevin. One of Yosemite’s favorite lines, when he mistakenly thinks he has Bugs cornered, is “Say your prayers, rabbit,” which inevitably brings recollections of the time Matt advised residents of the West End of Louisville to pray away the violence that plagues the neighborhood.

Yosemite Sam, a Looney Tunes character by Friz Frelend

Yosemite Sam, as you’ll recollect, hates a lot of people, particularly Bugs, but as far as I know, he has never uttered anything that can be interpreted as anti-Semitic. That, sadly, can’t be said about the governor who recently, for no apparent reason, decided to take on “the likes of George Soros” and financiers Herbert and Marion Sandler, all of the members of the Jewish faith, for helping fund ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism outfit that is linking up with The Courier-Journal of Louisville to do some well-needed probing in the Commonwealth. St. Matt even threw in a snide reference to the ACLU, often associated with Jewish funders, for good measure.

In a tweet, Richard Tofel, director of ProPublica, characterized Bevin’s rant as “dog whistling anti-Semitism in which he can’t manage to use the word ‘Jewish.’”

Of course, the thing that most closely ties Yosemite Sam and Mad Matt is that they are both nincompoops who regularly and deservedly get their butts handed to them. The biggest difference is that Sam makes a great toon while, as a toon, St. Matt makes a historically lousy governor.

And some people are starting to notice there’s something not quite right with this guy. Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported this week that a Mason-Dixon poll of 625 registered Kentucky voters, conducted Dec. 12-15, shows Mad Matt with a paltry 38 percent job approval rating while 53 percent of those questioned disapprove.

The situation is so bad that in a state Republican President Donald J. Trump (OMG!) carried by 30 points, ol’ Matt is shown by Mason-Dixon to be trailing Democrat Attorney General Andy Beshear by eight points in a potential head-to-head gubernatorial match-up next year. Two other possible Democratic contenders, House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins, of Sandy Hook has a single point edge and Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes is a single point back.

Now, let’s face it, the election is about 11 months away and, if you happen to be in Vegas, you’re going to put your dough down on the Republican. Remember, just last month, do-nothing Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, won re-election over Democrat Amy McGrath who ran a near-perfect campaign in one of the Commonwealth’s more progressive districts.

Regardless, Mad Matt is in freefall and when he looks around for somebody to blame, he’s the only person in the room.

Consider just the last two weeks. There was the ProPublica incident where he took to YouTube to denounce the organization that has won four Pulitzer Prizes in its 10 years of existence.

ProPublica’s mission is to “expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.”

In the attack, Bevin accused the “failing” Courier-Journal of teaming up with a “biased, left-wing organization.”

“Now the Courier-Journal has said, ‘We don’t even care. We’ll sell our souls, we’ll be a sock puppet for the ProPublica organization, for George Soros, for the Sandlers, for all these other people who hate America,” Bevin said.

The tirade, which emerged from right field, is interesting because, like almost everyone else in the Commonwealth, St. Matt has absolutely no idea what ProPublica intends to investigate. And, more than anything else, his comments raised an interesting question – what is he worried about and what is he trying to hide?

But of course, the biggest example of Bevin stepping on a rake so the handle will smack him in the face came over the bloody state pension issue, which has now been plaguing the Commonwealth for years. There’s no question that the situation is dire – Kentucky is at least $39 billion short of what it is required to fund state pension and health care for retirees over the next 30 years.

That’s a pretty penny.

Bevin and the Republican-controlled legislature tried to address the problem earlier this year by pulling a fast one – placing pension reform language in an unrelated bill during the closing day of the session and then ramming it through. The measure was unpopular, to say the least, particularly among teachers. Beshear, the attorney general, mounted a court challenge over the manner in which the bill was handled and prevailed, leading Bevin to characterize the man who made the ruling, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd, a “hack.”

Shepherd is, perhaps, the most respected state judge in the Commonwealth and has slapped down St. Matt before. Regardless, the issue was taken before the Kentucky Supreme Court and, lo and behold, it unanimously upheld Shepherd, leading the governor to declare it “an unprecedented power grab by activist judges.”

Maybe, governor, you’re just wrong.

Bevin responded a few days later by doing something everyone and his brother warned him against – he called a special legislative session to address pensions. He fired with little warning – calling for the gathering to begin four hours after he made the announcement. That, of course, meant that lawmakers in the outer counties couldn’t possibly make it in time for the gavel.

Daffy Duck, another Looney Tunes character by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett

But it didn’t matter, really. A couple of days later the House, controlled by his Republican Party, determined it had enough, adjourned and went home, maintaining the crisis couldn’t be settled in the precise timeframe. Bevin weakly responded that lawmakers “do not know the gravity of the problem.’’

Maybe not. But they know the gravity of the problem associated with the man sitting in the governor’s office.

All of this is just SOP for Mad Matt, who gave an old Army buddy a $215,000 raise while serving as chief of the Commonwealth’s information technology. And he has invested $15 million in state funds, along with $10 million in tax incentives, to bring an aluminum plant to Greenup County. Latest word is the company still needs hundreds of millions of dollars before the project can get off the ground.

And through this all, the cartoon governor continues to lash out at his betters, praises himself and marches into the history books as the most inept governor in the Commonwealth’s long history.

I’m reminded of a quote from another great Warner Brothers cartoon character, the inimitable Daffy Duck:

“You’re despicable.”

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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