Sen. Stein spoke on Frankfort politics at Senior University
[by Dianna Ott]
The lone Jewish member of the Kentucky General Assembly, State Senator Kathy Stein was the keynote speaker for Senior University 2013, a day-long event featuring topics of special interest to Jewish senior adults at The Temple on April 18.
Stein, a Democrat who represents Senate District 13 in Lexington, began her remarks with an apology, “I hate to tell you how unseemly some of the activities in Frankfort really are.”
From there, she launched into a story about how lobbyists for the National Rifle Association (NRA) make political threats to legislators who oppose their positions on bills dealing with issues of gun control. Political Action Committees (PACs) controlled by lobbying groups such as the NRA wield enormous political power in Frankfort and across the country, using funds controlled by their group to campaign against reelection for those who do not cast votes favorable to their cause.
Several years ago as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Stein refused a hearing on a bill sponsored by Representative Robert Damron of Nicholasville to allow anyone to carry weapons on college campuses in Kentucky, a policy long favored by the National Rifle Association. NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre has been quoted recently as saying “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” in response to the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last December.
But Stein said, “I consulted with the head of security at the University of Kentucky who told me this would be ‘a police officer’s worst nightmare’ if a shooting occurred. He told me if everyone had a gun, in the heat of the moment officers would never be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys,” Stein said.
Because Stein would not allow the bill to come up in committee hearings, she said she suffered verbal attacks from both the NRA and Damron, the bill’s sponsor.
Stein, an attorney, earned her J.D. from the University of Kentucky and served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1997 through 2008, when she was elected to the Senate for District 13. The location of Stein’s district in Lexington was threatened in 2012 by a move to redraw district lines, a decision later overturned by the Kentucky Supreme Court. The redistricting move was seen by many as a deliberate attempt by Republican leadership to unseat her and other progressive Democrats.
Stein’s presentation, titled “A Lonely Voice in Frankfort,” underscored the reality of being the only Jewish member of the General Assembly. She described receptions “where you find an awful lot of ham biscuits on the menu,” for example.
“When Lee Todd was president of the University of Kentucky, every New Year’s Day I’d cook and take to Dr. and Mrs. Todd my version of Hoppin’ John, a traditional southern dish of black-eyed peas, rice, kale, and yes, bacon,” she told the audience. UK’s current president Eli Capilouto is Jewish, so now she bakes a flourless chocolate torte for Passover as her gift. “It’s really, really delicious. Trust me,” she added.
A native of the coal-mining region of southwest Virginia, Stein took time in her remarks to address the “so-called war on coal” in which well-moneyed interests from out-of-state have “convinced people that they are friends of miners and that all state and federal government regulation is bad.” In reality, Stein continued, it is standard practice for the coal industry to violate ethical and regulatory rules requiring them to reclaim land damaged by mining.
She described the historical practice in the coal fields of company-built housing and miners paid with “scrip,” currency printed by the coal company’s stores or for rent for the company’s houses.
“It wasn’t technically slavery, but it was pretty close,” Stein said.
Current coal mining practices include mountaintop removal methods, which she said contribute to contamination of water supplies due to chemical runoff. On a visit to a community near Hazard, Stein said she heard stories of families who wouldn’t bathe their children if there was an open flame nearby because the water supply had been contaminated with natural gas. “They were afraid the water would catch on fire. Why don’t we hear more about that?” she questioned.
While Senator Stein’s keynote address set the stage for the rest of the day, Senior University included eight other workshops ranging from a discussion led by Rabbi David Ariel-Joel on “Obama’s Visit to Israel and the Israeli Government: Is Bibi Good for the Jews?” to a presentation from Courier-Journal Religion Reporter Peter Smith on religion in Louisville. Topics covering ethics, “How Do I Decide? – Jewish Ethics in the Modern World” by Rabbi Gaylia R. Rooks and health, “Your Body is Your Temple: Jewish Thoughts on a Healthy Body and Lifestyle” by Natural Healthcare Practitioner and Licensed Massage Therapist Pami also drew wide interest from the more than 100 participants.
Additional workshops were “Americans Who Tell the Truth: Models of Courageous Citizens” by Michele Hemenway, “Looking Above and Beyond: Artistic Surprises in our Chapel” by Rabbi Chester B. Diamond, “Jews in Sports” by Bernard Pincus, and “Jewish Catholic Relations since Nostrae Aetate” by Rev. Joe Graffis of St. Andrews Catholic Church.