With the news that President Trump tried to cajole his way into winning the election by shamelessly begging Georgia’s Secretary of State Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” I recollected President Nixon’s trying to spy on the Democrats in the Watergate scandal during his campaign for re-election in 1972. An increasingly smaller percentage of our population can vividly recall Nixon’s resignation and his leaving the White House on Sept. 9, 1974. It was a sad day for all Americans; little did we know how sad it would prove to become, as the next 46 years passed. That was the day we began our slow but steady intense mistrust of our government.
I was an adult before I knew that my father was a Republican. Probably most of his friends were, too. Most of them were farmers, but they quietly went about their business, working, paying their taxes, and supporting their community as well as they could. That was how people conducted themselves back then. He was a business owner and a farmer; it is not difficult for me to understand why he leaned toward being a Republican. I grew up with a basic understanding that Republicans supported business, industry, and an independence from interference by government. As business partners in tobacco loose floors, he and my uncle would go to the bank every year, before tobacco season opened, to borrow money for the first tobacco sale. It required establishing about $100,000 of credit from the bank so they could pay the farmers who brought their tobacco to their loose floor to sell. They would pay the bank back after the first sale. That was a pretty big obligation, on the part of the bank, as well as that of my father and uncle. The Republican philosophy fit in pretty logically with how they ran their business and their lives. I understood that, and I understand it today. What I don’t understand is how my Republican friends have allowed those basic rock-solid values to be overshadowed by embracing the ideology of low taxes or no taxes, denigrating welfare, reducing gun safety, and ending abortion.
My mother came from a long line of Democrats, what people used to call “Roosevelt Democrats.” Several of my family members were “Yellow Dog Democrats” who had held local public office. We had the Courier-Journal and the “Earie,” as my father called the New Era, coming to our house as long as I can remember. Politics and government were part of our lives, as a requirement of being a responsible and engaged citizen. We never argued or talked about who belonged to what party. Our parents never did that with their family members or their friends.
That “old school” way of being politically engaged began disappearing during the Reagan administration. Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove initiated the effort to reinvent the Republican Party. They planted the “low tax, or no tax” and “starve government” thoughts that they knew would successfully win votes by appealing to a larger percentage of the voting public. In retrospect, President Reagan was somewhat of a pawn. When he pronounced that “welfare queens” were taking our tax dollars, Gingrich and Rove, along with other Republican operatives, knew that would strike a chord with many voters. They didn’t stop there; they added decreasing welfare, eliminating gun safety laws, and ending abortion to their repertoire as time went on.
Now I am going to ask you to address that “elephant in the living room.” We have to, if we expect to progress as a community. About eleven years ago, I began working to improve our public library after I learned how poorly funded our library was, and that all but seven other public libraries in Kentucky were funded by a local library tax in their counties. As a teacher and school librarian, I had a particular appreciation for reading and education. I believe education is the only means by which many of our children have a chance at success. One of my students informed me that “I ain’t never checked out no book” one day in the school’s library. I realized that there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of children in our school system who could say the same thing. That was the eye-opener for me. I vowed to do something about it. Later, as a member of our public library board, I pushed for a library tax. It was a sad revelation to me that our community, basically, had no interest in paying a library tax. I attribute this to the fact that we have become a Republican county that does not embrace any kind of tax increase, regardless of how beneficial it would be to all of our citizens. At that time our library ranked 112 of 117 public libraries in Kentucky in services and funding. Now, eleven years later, we rank 111 of 117 Kentucky public libraries in per capita funding (Kentucky Department of Libraries). Additionally, our school tax rate is one of the lowest in Kentucky. Before the arrival of COVID-19, an average of 600 people a day were using our library. Investing tax dollars in it would help many children and families. It would be money well spent. On average, it would amount to about $1 a week, for a $.05 library tax. That is below the average library tax rate in Kentucky.
My husband and I drove to Bowling Green to see my cousin recently. As we rode along highway 68 into Bowling Green, we noticed several new schools that had been built since we were there a few years ago. We commented, “Bowling Green is building schools; we are closing ours.” We happen to be friends with their County Judge Mike Buchanon. Several years ago, he told me he “got on the phone, talked to a few key people, received a few threatening phone calls, but we got it passed,” referring to passing a local library tax. Mike Buchanon is a Republican, by the way. Christian County came to a crossroads many years ago, when we determined that we would “keep taxes low” and “starve government” by adopting the Republican approach. We obviously chose the wrong path. Now we struggle to grow. Bowling Green is now the third largest city in Kentucky.
When we vote against a tax or a tax increase, we are not voting against our neighbor who is a “snowflake” or a “liberal.” We are voting against our kids, our grandkids, and our friends’ and neighbors’ kids. Children are not Democrats or Republicans. They didn’t bring any of this on themselves. We did. It should not matter which political party we belong to, with regard to supporting our library and our schools in Christian County. Now, at least, I hope we will all acknowledge that big elephant in the living room. Are we going to acknowledge it, or are we going to continue to ignore it? It will not go away until we all will it to, by working toward common goals that will improve the life of everyone who lives in Christian County.