Kentucky’s Republican lawmakers, who hold super-majorities in the House and Senate, are hinting that when they return to Frankfort in January for the General Assembly’s 30-day session they will curb Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers and take on a bigger role in the state’s response to COVID-19.
But a new survey of Lexington Power Poll members suggests that GOP leaders should move cautiously: an overwhelming majority of Power Poll members say they trust Beshear more than Republican lawmakers to manage the pandemic.
Meanwhile, nearly three-fourths of those responding to this month’s Power Poll said they planned to spend Thanksgiving with just immediate family, and most others said they would limit their exposure to a small family group.
When do they expect Kentucky to be able to return to “some semblance of normal” from the pandemic? Nearly half think it that won’t happen until next fall or later.
Power Poll isn’t a scientific poll. But because it asks questions of a large group of metro Lexington’s public officials, community leaders and influencers, it offers interesting insights into the opinions of many of the people who run Central Kentucky. This month’s poll drew responses from 108 of 269 active members, or 40 percent. (Only members who respond to at least one survey over several months remain active and continue to receive emails about monthly polls.)
Last week, in a unanimous ruling, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the legality of dozens of executive orders Beshear has issued since spring that at times have restricted business operations, limited the size of gatherings and required the wearing of face masks to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Republican lawmakers and state officials, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, have been vocal critics of Beshear’s emergency orders. But in upholding Beshear's powers, the state Supreme Court said: “A legislature that is not in continuous session and without constitutional authority to convene itself cannot realistically manage a crisis on a day-to-day basis by the adoption and amendment of laws.”
Still, lawmakers have indicated they plan to rein in the governor’s powers.
While Beshear’s restrictions have been unpopular with some people, his public approval ratings on this issue have remained high. Power Poll members were clear about whom they trust most to manage the state’s pandemic response. Ninety-one members (84 percent) said they trusted Beshear most, while only seven members (7 percent) said they had more trust in Republican lawmakers on this issue. Ten people (9 percent) said they didn’t know.
“I'm very disappointed that ALL elected leaders are not unified in saying, ‘Stay home. Wear your mask,'” Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, a Democrat, said in a comment after responding to the poll. “The partisan bickering just to score political points is literally killing Kentuckians. COVID is a common enemy — united we stand, divided we fall.”
In comments, several Power Poll members complained about President Donald Trump’s minimizing of the virus and his refusal to adopt a national COVID-19 strategy.
“We must have a national plan in order to beat this virus,” said Everett McCorvey, director of the University of Kentucky’s Opera Theatre program. “We can't have every state presenting a different plan. The Governor of Kentucky has done an excellent job with trying to keep the virus under control, but without a national plan which incorporates best practices learned from around the world, it will be difficult to lower the numbers anywhere. We must come together on this and not make it so political. People are dying.”
“The pandemic presented an unwinnable choice between economic pain and punishment or illness and death,” said Mark Green, editorial director of The Lane Report, a regional business publication. “Yet the Trump administration sadly managed to make the horrible worse by politicizing our choices then failing to organize testing and PPE availability, and lying incessantly about whatever the facts were.”
Many local, state and national health experts and government leaders have cautioned against travel and large gatherings for Thanksgiving — a hardship few people are happy about. But the vast majority of Power Poll members plan to follow that guidance.
When asked about their Thanksgiving plans, 79 members (73 percent) said they plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with immediate family, while another 20 (19 percent) said they would restrict their holiday gathering to a small family group. Only two members (2 percent) planned to have a large family gathering. Seven people (7 percent) didn’t know.
“Our sons decided, since they live in other cities, that they don’t want to expose us at Thanksgiving, if they came to celebrate with us,” said Sharon Reed, a past president of the Lexington Rotary Club. “Hopefully, there will be other Thanksgivings and Holidays to look forward to next year!”
Power Poll members also were asked to speculate on how long they think it will be before Kentucky returns “to some semblance of normal.” Virus infections have been hitting record numbers in the state over the past two weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths have been rising. Yet, there is good news beyond Kentucky: two pharmaceutical companies recently announced that tests show their vaccines will be at least 95 percent effective, and President-elect Joe Biden has promised that he will take a more aggressive and science-based approach to fighting the coronavirus than Trump has.
Still, the largest group of Power Poll members — 47 (44 percent) — think it will be next fall or later before Kentucky life returns to something approaching normal. Thirty-three members (31 percent) think it will be next summer, and 20 members (19 percent) think it could be in the spring. Only three members (3 percent) think things could get back to normal late this winter. Five people (5 percent) didn’t know.
"People need to respect the authority of our leaders," said Deirdre Lyons, co-founder of agribusiness giant Alltech, who is originally from Ireland. "Our Governor has tried his best and is not always respected as he should be. ... Ireland shut down for six weeks and the numbers have dropped down dramatically. People outside their jurisdiction without a reason are fined 500 Euros and it has made a dramatic difference. Maybe we need to become an example for other states and follow the European standard?"