December 14, 2006


Bible-toting Bluegrass Boychick Eyes Kentucky Governor’s Mansion (Jennifer Siegel, Dec 15, 2006, The Forward)

Jonathan Miller — the Jewish, Harvard-educated state treasurer who has recently all but declared that he will run for governor of Kentucky — has already developed a sure-fire opening for his stump speech: He talks about Jesus Christ.

The Christian New Testament and the Jewish Talmud share a “really similar story,” ... [...]

Heavily evangelical Kentucky might not seem to be particularly fertile ground for Jewish Democrats — indeed, the state supported President Bush by a margin of 20 percentage points in 2004 — but Miller is, in fact, the least prominent member of a homegrown Jewish political triumvirate. The mayor of Louisville, Jerry Abramson, was first elected in 1985 and is arguably the most popular politician in the state, having captured more than 80% of the vote in November. John Yarmuth, who was previously best known as a liberal political columnist for the Louisville Eccentric Observer, recently defeated Republican Rep. Anne Northrup in a race for the city’s congressional seat.

While all three men are the first Jewish citizens to hold their respective positions, it is notable that Abramson, 60, and Yarmuth, 59, both won election in relatively moderate Louisville. With more Catholics than most southern communities and a history of strong union activity, the city has more in common with Midwestern neighbors like Cincinnati than with Kentucky’s deeply conservative rural areas. If Miller mounts a campaign for governor, however, he will need to succeed throughout the state, in a way that Tennessee Democratic Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. failed to do with his recent campaign to become that state’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction.

“In terms of statewide politics… Kentucky politically is a choice between conservative and more conservative,” said Michael Baranowski, a professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University. “You have to have good positions on guns, gays and God, and if you don’t, you’re going to make life tough for yourself as a candidate.” A Reform Jew from Lexington who first discovered his passion for elective office by serving as treasurer of his local Jewish youth group chapter, Miller has firsthand knowledge of the social conservatism of rural Kentucky. Both in his book and in his standard tour speech, he tells the story of how, during his 2004 re-election campaign, he traveled the state’s poverty-stricken backcountry. Armed with information about how he could help the state’s poorest residents, Miller knocked on doors, only to find himself asked repeatedly, “What’s your position on gay marriage?”

It is a question that Miller sidesteps in his book. A centrist who was named a rising star by the Clinton-allied Democratic Leadership Council — his book’s afterword was written by Al Gore — the treasurer gives the impression of a straight-A student who never has the wrong answer.

The books he referenced earlier would help him find the right answer to that question.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2006 7:25 PM

I laughed when I eread Ms. Siegel's description of Louisville as a politically "moderate" city! Perhaps now, since the city and county (Jefferson) are now one political entity, but Louisville moderate? Not exactly.

Posted by: Dave W at December 15, 2006 11:08 AM

Louisville is very liberal. Just read the letters to the editor on any given day in the Courier-Journal.

Posted by: Bartman at December 15, 2006 2:00 PM