Murray, KY – On Tuesday, Kentuckians cast their ballots for important statewide offices. Commentator Richard Nelson says as much as Kentucky loves college basketball, participating in our government is more important.
On Nov. 8, one of the most significant events in Kentucky will take place and in case you are wondering, it doesn't have anything to do with the UK basketball season being underway. There is an election coming up. It's not that our beloved Cats aren't important; they are, after all, ranked number two in the pre-season coaches' poll, but dare I say that other rankings are more important to the Commonwealth and our future.
As it is, Kentucky ranks 47th in median household income; 49th for the percentage of people below the poverty line (18.6%); and our overall credit ranking is tied for 45th in the nation. We have an education system ranked near the bottom in the nation and a state retirement system that is badly broken. Sorry to disappoint, but John Calipari isn't on the ballot this year, and it's going to take more than a big man in the middle and a fantastic three-point shooter to bring us up to par with the rest of the country.
Despite our shortcomings, Kentuckians still have several gifts that are the envy of the world. We can speak out and criticize our government. We have a media that isn't censored. We can publicly assemble as Occupy Wall Street protesters are doing. We can worship without fear of persecution. Blessed as we are, can we expect these freedoms to last so long as they remain neglected and undervalued?
Consider what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East. Just last week, Libya's longtime leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was killed after 42 years of coddling terrorists and making a sport of brutally quashing dissent. Dictators in Egypt and Tunisia have also been dislodged from power not peacefully, but by violence. While these nations are thousands of miles from Kentucky, a point driven to our doorstep in this election season is that we shouldn't take our freedom to peacefully participate in government for granted.
If the Arab Spring was a breath of fresh air for the possibility of democracy a world away, then Kentucky's spring primary was just the opposite. Just over 10 percent of eligible voters bothered to show up at the polls. According to Secretary of State Elaine Walker, this election may be another snoozer with only 25-28 percent of Kentucky voters expected to turn out on Nov. 8. This reminds me of the man-on-the-street interview where a reporter asked: "What are the two biggest problems in America?" The bystander's response was: "I don't know and I don't care." If ignorance and apathy are the disease, then education and engagement are the cures.
There are several qualified candidates running for the highest offices in the Commonwealth this year. There are Democrats, Republicans and Independents; competent men and women who have dedicated this season of their lives to offer their ideas and leadership for making Kentucky a better place to live. But to make this celebration of our freedom a success, then voters need to participate.
We will not risk our lives going to the polls. We will not be harassed or tailed by opposition thugs. We won't even have to get our thumb inked. Tunisia, the nation that sparked protests in the Arab world, recently reported better than a 90 percent voter turnout in its first election in decades. Many voters stood in line under an unrelenting sun for hours. While we shouldn't need extreme conditions or even a bloody revolution to remind us of how precious our liberty is, something more important than UK's basketball success should prompt us to take stock and prioritize the things that matter most.
Richard Nelson is a Trigg County magistrate and a policy analyst for The Family Foundation, a nonprofit public policy organization. He currently lives near the Roaring Springs community with his wife and children.