We Eastern Kentuckians seem to get a bad rap from the national media. Nothing much is said about our home, save for the poverty or drugs or, in this latest case, the vote buying.
That’s right, in case you haven’t heard we’ve made the national media again. This time the focus came from Fox News, whose report actually should have served as an eye opener because what they reported was true, and the saddest part is that Fox could have named any number of other counties where vote buying has been a common practice through the years.
Though a vast majority of the people here don't do it, enough do that vote buying in Eastern Kentucky quite simply became ingrained into our culture over the years. I can remember people talking about it when I was younger, getting a case of beer or a bottle of liquor, or maybe a little cash. But as I grew older the instances of vote buying became more pronounced as I paid more attention. People’s driveways would receive fresh, new gravel as the election drew nearer. And then I started paying attention to the news, and people were getting indicted and convicted.
There is little wonder now, after all these years of men and women buying votes or using public money to gain influence, and men and women selling their votes, that the national media finally comes in here and reports on it.
And it seems very few counties are immune. Here in Perry County several individuals have been convicted or charged over the years. In Knott County, the judge-executive there has avoided his 40-month federal sentence only by virtue of an appeals process that has nearly run its course, and could end with the upholding of his 2008 conviction. The judge before him is a convicted felon as well.
In Breathitt County the superintendent of the county school system just pleaded guilty. In Clay County the circuit judge and several other local officials were charged. This has been a vicious cycle of corruption that we sadly have been unable to break.
Fox’s story alludes to the area’s poverty as the primary reason that people have been willing to sell their democratic rights for $25 a pop. But it runs deeper than that. It’s telling that people can dispense with their right to vote for so cheap a price. Poverty plays a role, but it’s mostly because they don’t care, and they likely weren’t taught to care by their uncles, fathers or other family members who were doing the same thing decades ago for a very small short-term gain.
Just think for a second as to what really happens when a vote is sold. Our entire political process of electing the caretakers of our hard-earned tax dollars is corrupted to the point that there is little surprise nowadays when an official is indicted. We’ve grown not to wholly accept corruption, but certainly to expect it.
That’s a sad commentary on our society, when we have lost so much faith in the democratic process that sometimes our democracy doesn’t seem so much like one. And it seems far worse on the national scale, when congressmen, senators and presidents are propped up by special interests, all of whom expect some return for the investment.
But here on the local level, where we the people actually have the chance to meet and interact with our judges and magistrates, our sheriffs and mayors, something seems so much worse when we realize that so many of our neighbors are willing to sell themselves for the sake of men and women who have only their own interests in mind.