Rural Republican Stivers finds common ground on race with urban Democratic senators
Just before the legislature adjourned Tuesday night, there was a remarkable scene on the Senate dais: punches and broad smiles between two Republicans and two Democrats.
Three of the senators were from Louisville, the Democratic stronghold of Kentucky. The other was a Republican from Manchester, in the most Republican part of the state: Robert Stivers, the chairman of the very Republican Senate.
They were celebrating because Stivers had just signed, confirming final passage, his bill authorizing a plan to fund tax increases to help redevelop economically depressed and heavily black Louisville west – where the Senate districts have the fewest Republicans.
Earlier in the evening, the House and Senate passed yet another Stivers Bill, setting a much higher bar for the use of no strike warrants – the most infamous of which led to the murder of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Police. His death, and that in Minneapolis of George Floyd, sparked protests for racial justice across the country.
These protests also sparked something at Robert Stivers.
“After the protests which turned into riots in some areas, I decided I wanted to go see what people were thinking and saying,” Stivers said in a telephone interview from his Manchester law firm on Wednesday. .
“The events around Breonna Taylor have drawn attention to what I think are the real issues, not the manifestation of symptoms. The real problems are the lack of education, the lack of opportunities, the economic pitfalls and the low chances of economic success. “
He later added: “The symptoms are people turning to drugs, people turning to crime, disenchantment, despair, lack of hope. These are the issues that then show up when people are in jail and have criminal issues, so let’s change them. Let’s give them hope, let’s give them economic opportunities, let’s give them an education.
“And you know what? It applies here. It applies in Clay County.… If it can work there, it can work in other places.
In the interview, Stivers shared the credit with many others in Louisville, including his fellow Legislators, but he was obviously the key player.
“He entered this project with a ‘I want me to listen, I want to learn more about these issues’ program and together find a way to use his position to help,” said Senate Democratic Leader Morgan. McGarvey of Louisville, who worked with Stivers on both bills and several others.
“Robert is from the mountains, but he’s really a Kentucky state senator and I think he cares about all parts of the state,” McGarvey said. “He wants to do the right thing for the right reasons. “
But even for the Speaker of the Senate, it took the entire 30-day session to draft, rewrite, and pass the complicated TIF bill, and some members of the Louisville Democratic House hesitated when asked to vote a half an hour before having to adjourn. .
“I’m not sure if a gentleman from Clay coming to Louisville’s West End has Louisville’s best interests at heart,” said Representative Mary Lou Marzian of the Louisville Highlands.
When Stivers and a bipartisan group announced the plan on February 23, Representative Attica Scott, whose district includes much of the West End, told the Courier Journal: “Apparently it’s part of this game that Stivers is playing with. Black. I don’t know why, but he’s trying to play white savior.
Scott sponsored a bill that would have banned no-go warrants but was never heard. I asked Stivers what he would say to the argument that using Scott’s Bill as a vehicle recognized her lived experience as a black woman and showed a degree of bipartisan and biracial respect that, according to many African Americans, is often lacking in whites.
“I don’t disagree with the view that she has a different focus… but unless you can have the expertise – and that sounds really arrogant, but the knowledge base to do it, it gets enough. difficult, ”said Stivers, noting his many years of legislating and practicing criminal law. “I can take that as a valid criticism, and my failure, I guess, to think about it, but I felt I was in a better position.”
In other words, he had the power, and he used it.
Power can be misused, as the Republicans in the legislature have done by reducing some powers of the governor, who is currently a Democrat. (Do they really think the State Fair Board is primarily about agriculture?)
But in a legislature and state more divided than ever between urban Democrats and rural Republicans, it may have taken a lawmaker from the whitest, most Republican part of Kentucky to find common ground on the divisive issue. this nation since its founding. : race, and all that follows.
Stivers shows why small town lawyers often become legislative leaders; they deal with people from all walks of life and know that today’s adversary is tomorrow’s ally. He was also instrumental in passing bills to create a Legislative Commission on Race and Access to Opportunities and to help the historically black Simmons College in Louisville.
The TIF Bill “reaches out a hand that says, ‘We’re here to help,’ said Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Vine Grove, whose district includes much of southwest Jefferson County. “It’s so different here than it seems to be in Washington; the people here are sincere and want to do the right thing.