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  • Writer's pictureL. Darryl Armstrong

Politics and a business philosophy don’t necessarily result in a victory in any campaign

Kentucky has just had its primary election. Incumbent Governor Ernie Fletcher will face off with Democrat former Lt. Governor Steve Beshear in November.

One of the Republican candidates in the primary was businessman Billy Harper, Paducah, Ky. Harper finished third out of a field of three.

He was shocked.

I wasn’t.

A multimillionaire businessman that made his money in the construction industry like so many millionaires and business people, Harper thought he would turn to politics to “clean things up in Frankfort.”

He did this ostensibly because the current Governor Ernie Fletcher, whom he had served as campaign manager for in 2004, was “unelectable” due to a very public hiring scandal involving the classic patronage issues.

Actually Fletcher, a seemingly decent human being, had not done a single thing in my opinion than any Democratic Governor ever did except Fletcher wasn’t smart enough to not get caught nor did he have a competent crisis manager to handle the problem once it erupted. (Think Alberto Gonzalez and you get the picture.)

Being a Washington-experienced person Fletcher, who was a Congressman prior to being elected Governor, seemingly followed the apparent advice of Washington consultants and blundered and stumbled his way through the scandal handling the entire event with little finesse.

Harper, and his running mate whose name escapes me, was intent on becoming electable as a Republican in 2008 but then so was Anne Northrup, another former Republican Representative, who lost her sixth run at Congress to an ultra-liberal Democrat from Louisville. She also decided to run for the Governorship because everyone told her that Fletcher was “unelectable”.

Don’t mistake my comments here, both Harper and Northrup are probably pretty honorable people, however, Harper is a businessman not a politician and he learned a very expensive lesson spending close to $3 million dollars of his own money trying to become one.

Gawd, only knows why he would do this other than ego over-riding common sense.

Harper finished third with 14 percent of the Republican vote, behind Gov. Ernie Fletcher who received 51 percent and Anne Northup who received 35 percent.

“For whatever reason, the voters just didn’t buy the message we had for change, less taxes and to run Frankfort like a business,” Harper said. “I thought the rural vote and the grassroots vote would come out and support that message.”

And here is why they didn’t.

The seven reasons why a candidate doesn’t get elected

  1. 1. No one knew Billy Harper except for a few in of us in western Kentucky, where by the way he did quite well.

Harper won the 13 counties of far western Kentucky with 55 percent of the vote. He won McCracken County and finished second in the other 12. McCracken was the only county where he finished first.

Although he did well in McCracken and surrounding counties, he was disappointed that the turnout was less than 20 percent.

I met Candidate Billy Harper when he and I were in Leadership Kentucky together in the 1980s. I knew his first wife when we were in college. Yes, he is a successful businessman but he had no name recognition beyond the Jackson Purchase and for some reason he chose a western Kentucky running mate, whose name I can’t even remember now. 

Basic politics 101 tells us that if you are from a rural part of this state you have to offset that by having some one with name recognition from a more populated part of the Commonwealth as your running mate. And it helps if that person is also someone who has lots of money, or the ability to raise lots of money.

  1. 2. Those of us who did know him, or know of him, would have honestly told him that a politician he is not.

A good businessman, if you judge being good in terms of making money, that he is, but a good politician – nope. Frankly, good and politician are oxymoronic concepts anyway and Harper, I really think, is a better person than most any politician I know.

I think this because my Brother Bob Maxwell thinks highly of him and I trust his judgment of character, as well as my own.

  1. 3. You can’t buy image or name recognition and I don’t care how much money you have.

That was an expensive lesson learned. Enough said.

  1. 4. He allowed the aura, or pheromones, of politics to lure him into it although I am sure that he also had high altruistic motives.

I don’t doubt that he wanted to change the political landscape and cultural of Frankfort. However, being a campaign manager for a winning candidate can lure you into things that you should just stay away from – a statewide race is one of those things. Someone should have told him that and they didn’t. I wouldn’t write that final check to the consultant, if I were you.

  1. 5. Harper said — “For whatever reason, the voters just didn’t buy the message we had for change, less taxes and to run Frankfort like a business.” It wasn’t we didn’t buy this message, any good conservative would buy that message and there are a lot of conservative Democrats and Republicans in this part of the state, it’s just that we know enough about politics to know that Harper didn’t have the political contacts, or persuasive skills, charm, or strong-arm tactics to get that message into policy in Frankfort.

Like it or not, politics is all about playing the game and running and winning the gauntlet of offices on the way to the Governorship in most cases. When you move up that way, you pick up lots of chits along the way and you learn how to wheel and deal — I know, I know, I don’t like it either but it is the way of politics and Harper didn’t have that experience on his resume. The best Governors and CEOs have worked their way up through the ranks and the voters know that.

  1. 6. Also, jeez you can’t run government like a business.

Didn’t anybody learn anything from the Fletcher fiasco? They wanted to run government like a business and ended up in a scandal. How about Wallace Wilkinson and John Y. Brown, fellow millionaires, who did run and win the governorship only to find they too couldn’t run government like a business and ended up in scandals. I spent 18-years of my Federal career trying to run a federal agency like a business only to have my hair turn gray and fall out. Once I realized this would never happen — that government could be run like a business — I left government to go into business for myself. If we don’t learn from history we are destined to repeat it!

  1. 7. We liked the campaign ads but…

They were creative but the candidate’s presentation in them was stilted and without enthusiasm. Like it or not, politicians to get elected have to have some charisma, especially on television. They have to be bigger than life. They must show enthusiasm and excite the voter to support them. Some politicians can do it through story telling (think President Ronald Reagan), some through great oratory (think Senator Alben Barkley), and some through their charm (think President Bill Clinton). Candidate Harper needed help on this point.

And that is my analysis. Billy Harper ran a good race, but frankly he would be better off to have placed that $3 million in a good mutual fund.

Until next time.

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