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Warren Greer: Andy Beshear’s victory saves the Kentucky Democratic Party’s ‘glass floor’


At long last, Kentucky’s 2019 gubernatorial election is over. As a life-long Democrat and a firm believer in decency and civility, I’m glad Matt Bevin got what he deserved. But I’m also a little sad that Andy Beshear won, because the elitist faction of the Kentucky Democratic Party (KDP) now has new life and was not as fully exposed as it otherwise would have been. Just think what the storylines would have been if governor-elect Beshear had not squeaked across the finish line thereby giving Kentucky Republicans both houses of the General Assembly, seven of eight Congressional seats, and EVERY constitutional office in the state!

But, alas, Andy prevailed, and his governorship will undoubtedly produce some short-term good while perpetuating the long-term dysfunction that Democrats here know all too well. Because of his narrow victory, Beshear and the other first-family elites in the KDP (Jacqueline Coleman, John Yarmuth, Greg Fischer, Morgan McGarvey, and others) will retain just enough credibility to maintain their unfortuitous hold on a fraction of Kentucky’s political power. Democrats should breathe a sigh of relief… I guess.

Truth be told, the strange blend of mediocrity and privilege that has sunk the political left in Kentucky reflects a broader phenomenon in America known as the “glass floor.” In a society that is becoming increasingly feudal, the glass floor is a fallback that protects the sons and daughters of privilege from the consequences of unearned use of political and business power.

“There’s a lot of talent being wasted because it’s not able to rise, but there’s also a lot of relatively untalented people who aren’t falling and end up occupying positions they shouldn’t,” says Brookings Institute researcher, Richard Reeves, who coined the term glass floor in a landmark 2013 study.

According to Reeves, a key component of the glass floor is “opportunity hoarding,” a concept that is especially apt in describing recent Democratic Party primaries in Kentucky. Even the most talented newcomers face long odds when running against the sons and daughters of families who crank up the money and influence of the one-percent machine that most Democrats have no access to.

Although the KDP’s privileged class has a new lease on power because of Beshear’s win, there are encouraging signs of a meritocratic movement within Kentucky’s political left. Emerge Kentucky, an organization that provides intensive political training for women in the Commonwealth has claimed a number of wins in confronting the gender inequality that has defined Kentucky government since the state’s founding.

Candidates such as Amy McGrath, a military veteran with remarkable political ability, have successfully confronted the bastions of first family power such as her defeat of Jim Gray II in 2018. Not least, the broad-based action of Kentucky teachers — a decidedly non-elite group — has become a new force in the state’s politics, despite their backing of the Beshear/Coleman first-family ticket.

So, after narrowly avoiding the worst political disaster in the history of the Kentucky Democratic Party, Andy Beshear and his elite compadres get to claim a win in the strange affair that was Kentucky’s 2019 election. If nothing else, his success might signal a time in which Democrats in Kentucky finally realize the way in which power elites stand upon the glass floor to maintain their hold on power and squash newcomers with devastating outcomes for the left’s electoral prospects.

Perhaps Democrats will now wake up to the wool that’s been pulled over their eyes and will understand that the progeny of Kentucky’s first families cannot possibly point the way for disadvantaged people to rise because they themselves never had to face the challenges of racial and economic non-privilege that is a challenge of our time.

Perhaps this will be the bottoming out of the KDP’s electoral misfortunes in Kentucky, thereby inspiring a new meritocratic movement that allows talent and ability — regardless of political or financial privilege — to have a fair shot at public leadership.

Warren Greer is a historian, entrepreneur, and educator living in Louisville. He can be reached at warren.greer@att.net.


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