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Reagan Taylor Opens Door for Democrats?

06.10.17 12:52 PM – Andy McDonald
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Kent Clark's State of the County addresses were optimism and sunshine. Reagan Taylor seems to be plotting a course with more political risks.

Not long ago, Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor announced his bid for reelection. Conventional wisdom is that you rack up some nice little accomplishments in your first term, then go on to win another term as the competent, experienced incumbent. Nothing flashy.

Going somewhat against that model, Taylor has made some bold moves in recent months, but they are moves that could open the door for Madison County Democrats. The ideas Taylor has mentioned include the creation of a substance abuse healing center and a concept, perhaps off somewhere in the future, to merge the county’s three local governments, including Berea and Richmond, into one entity.

First there is the issue of the proposed healing center.
Taylor’s assertion is that incarceration is not working, and that only through comprehensive treatment options can our community heal from the epidemic of drug abuse, especially heroin. As a result, the initial plans for a healing center include a diversion program for non-violent offenders who would be directed into treatment instead of jail.

Mind you, Judge Taylor may be absolutely correct, in theory, but his solution bears steep political risks for a one-term incumbent. Let’s compare, for example, two central Kentucky counties – our own Madison County and the fictional neighboring county of Dogpatch. The judge/executive of Dogpatch County is Buford T. Baddazz, a tough-on-crime former lawman who has a policy of zero tolerance for drug offenders.

Judge Baddazz has no time Taylor’s for solution, which he disparagingly calls “hugs for thugs,” because Baddazz knows the citizens of Dogpatch County are sick of having their houses and cars broken into, tired of finding needles on playgrounds, and they are tired of out-of-town drug traffickers seeing their quiet community as an easy target. As such, word has gotten around that if you’re caught for a drug offense in Dogpatch County, you’re going to jail. Period.

This brings us to Madison County Democrats and the judge executive race in 2018. Any prospective opponent of Taylor’s is bound to ask the question: If you’re a drug offender, why wouldn’t you come to Madison County to do your business if you know the consequences of getting caught here as far less severe than if you are arrested in a county with tougher policies? Wouldn’t you drive over the border into Madison to buy your drugs if it would lessen your risk of doing jail time? This perhaps exposes Taylor to the charge that whatever the healing center might accomplish, it might also have unintended and very undesirable consequences, such as attracting more drug traffic into Madison County, not less.

Then there is the issue of merged government.
When former Madison County Judge/Executive Kent Clark gave his State of the County addresses, his message was always the same: Everything’s great, folks. County government is working for you, and our partnerships with the cities of Richmond and Berea are better than ever.
Taylor, in contrast, paints a less rosy picture when he raises merged government: We don’t have the money to sustain what we’re doing. Our current government structure isn’t working and we need to change it. The time will come for Richmond and Berea to merge with the county.

It’s not exactly the optimism and sunshine of the Kent Clark days. Again, Reagan Taylor may be absolutely correct, in theory, that merged government will be the most efficient long-term option. But from a purely political standpoint, I think it’s a huge leap of faith to assume that Berea and Richmond residents will easily accept having to give up the local control they currently have. That’s where an opportunity for Mad. Co. Democrats presents itself.

The Democratic candidate could pare their talking points down to just one sentence. When campaigning in Berea, they would say it’s a proud community, and they’ll fight to keep its unique identity. When in Richmond, they’ll promise to keep that city’s unique identity as it is. No merged government. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s a promise that will have to be broken in 5, 10 or 15 years. It’s a crossover issue that could motivate both Democrats and Republicans to get behind the candidate who vows to protect their beloved cities.

Taylor definitely has confidence, otherwise he wouldn’t be pitching such bold ideas. No doubt he’s popular and well-liked. But with less than one term under his belt, he’s not fully entrenched just yet, and the right Madison County Democrat could turn that confidence into a political disadvantage.

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