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Kentucky Politics and Government.

Penny Miller sets an ambitious goal to provide a comprehensive approach to Kentucky's political culture and government. The book is large in scope and covers a broad array of topics with extensive detail. It contains considerable information about Kentucky and the development of its political institutions.

The book is part of the Politics and Governments of the American States series, an effort to describe the unique political character of each state, examine its political parties and interest groups, and make sense of its government and politics within the federal context. The series, edited by John Kincaid, is published by the University of Nebraska Press.

The volume begins with an eloquent essay by Daniel J. Elazar, series founding editor. Miller uses Elazar's concepts and terminology to describe Kentucky's political culture as a "classic example of the traditionalistic political culture" which, in addition, is highly personalistic rather than ideological, and which contains pockets of other (individualistic and populist) political cultures. While the traditionalistic political culture unites Kentucky, regional diversity--reinforced by a fierce loyalty to place--and forces of change, divide the state. The striking divisions and the complex patterns of change constitute the two main themes of this portrait of Kentucky.

The strength of this book lies in its insight and understanding of the political development of key institutional players--the governor, the legislature, the courts, political parties, and interest groups--and its treatment of current policy issues. Attention is devoted to the history of the state and to the evolution of Kentucky' s four constitutions. Despite the many perceived weaknesses of the 1891 constitution, the state' s voters have rejected several attempts to call a constitutional convention or approve a new constitution. The voters, however, have ratified a number of far-reaching constitutional amendments which, among other things, have substantially strengthened the legislature, have allowed for gubernatorial succession, and have transformed an antiquated judicial system to one of the most progressive, unified state systems.

Miller's expertise is most apparent in her discussion of the Kentucky General Assembly and its decade-long struggle with the governor to achieve a balance of political power. Also strong is her analysis of recent important policy issues, including economic development and health-care reform. Kentucky's bold, innovative restructuring of elementary and secondary education is highlighted in the book.

The volume examines intergovernmental relations issues from a number of perspectives, providing insight into Kentucky's 435 cities and towns, 120 counties, and fifteen area-development districts. The study stresses the intriguing maze of centralizing and decentralizing forces at work in the state. Students of consolidated governments will especially appreciate the extended discussions of the successful effort in this regard in Lexington-Fayette County, and the many defeats elsewhere in the state to achieve city-county consolidation. The Louisville-Jefferson County Compact, an effort of the mayor and county judge to deal with metropolitan issues in light of voter refusal to approve merged government, is explored in the most detail.

Unfortunately, the chapter dealing with Kentucky in the federal system is rather disjointed. A wide range of topics is introduced, from Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois (1990) to the Tennessee Valley Authority. Efforts to identify a pattern of dependence/resistance do not provide much insight into the complex state-federal relationship, except to capture Kentucky politicians' penchant to denounce the federal bureaucracy and Washington generally, while bringing home the pork of federal grant programs and direct expenditures. The brief comment on the War on Poverty, highlighted by the observation that "in practice, Community Action Agencies showed little interest in working with the poor," is particularly disappointing. While undoubtedly true of some places, the interaction and impact of the poverty programs are much more complex and cannot be reduced to such a broad generalization.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is a major agency involved in federal-state relations. It receives more extensive treatment, but there is little analysis on the recurring debates about the source and nature of the Appalachian "problem" and what, if anything, governments can do about it. The crucial role of John Whisman, the eastern Kentuckian who helped spearhead the enactment of ARC in the 1960s, is noted, but he is incorrectly identified as the first co-chair of ARC. Further, the Kentuckian Al Smith, who in the 1970s did serve as the federal co-chair, is not mentioned.

The author spends considerable effort attempting to capture the flavor of Kentucky politics in order to produce a book that is "intelligent and interesting." Unfortunately, the volume merges as a hybrid of journalism, academic analysis, and personal commentary, which will not totally satisfy any of these communities. To the journalist, the book does not seem to capture the real world of politics. There are too many statistics and charts, the narrative is detached, and the author at times seems naive. To the academic, the book seems too impressionistic, with the conclusions not always well supported. For example, Miller notes that "Kentucky's interests--from coal technology to tobacco support--have received disproportionate attention in the Senate." What does that mean? Compared to what? There is no documentation provided on this point.

The book does not always strike a good balance in discussing different parts of the state. Sensitive, image-conscious Kentuckians will wince at the exaltation of central Kentucky bluegrass high culture as "a shared treasure . . . not attainable by everyone," the relative short-changing of Louisville and its urban politics, and a seemingly patronizing attitude toward Kentucky's Appalachian and rural areas. The treatment of small-town Kentucky appears to be preoccupied with noting wet and dry areas, and the comings of Walmarts.

Despite these shortcomings, the book is useful to those seeking to understand the passion and diversity of Kentucky, a state at the heart of mid-America, with many particularities, but one reflecting the broad themes of current American political life. It is a much needed addition to the literature interpreting the crucial place of states in the American political system.

Janet W. Patton Eastern Kentucky University
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Author:Patton, Janet W.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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