A legacy lives on
Nothing fake about Lowell Reese and his news
By Jeff Jobe
Although I am entering my 30th year of newspapering, I haven’t always been the well-rounded, down-to-earth seasoned professional you know to be the defender of South Central Kentucky.
There was a time when I was so discouraged by the political party of my grandfather that I actually turned a blind eye to my new political party.
It wasn’t intentional, but possibly a sad reality driven by what was beginning to unfold regarding the national Democratic Party. But it was a few years before I took the words of former President Ronald Reagan as more than his own but a foundation on which I would perform the duties of my job as newspaper publisher. He once said he made a career in government by “trusting but verifying” those with whom he worked.
In today’s society, the issue of “fake news” is becoming a topic of very intense discussion. It seems some try to push the blame on the clearly blatant fake news on the Internet and social media.
However, if we are to be completely honest we need to look at our front pages as well. I can give numerous examples and perhaps someday I will sit down and finish one of the books I anticipate writing when I saddle up and ride off into the sunset.
But lets just look at one example: I was running for State Representative and some media outlets in my chosen hometown were either duped and manipulated or they were part of an excellent example of how “fake news” becomes “news.”
Several news organizations in the community were alerted that the sitting Democratic governor was coming to town; oddly, this newspaper was not alerted – perhaps it had something to do with the ploy to generate “news” that was really just publicity. Sure enough, the entire student body of the county high school joined school administrators for a glorious announcement from the governor that a small work project would improve a section of the highway near the school. There were cheers and applause as though the governor had just announced the construction of a huge new superhighway. The plot worked because when the governor comes to town people listen. People take note when the governor praises a legislator for bringing help to the local community. The invited media complied and the result was front page headlines and top radio news stories. Interestingly, that was the last time anyone heard about the Roseville Road improvements and nothing has since been improved either.
Near the same time, that governor rolled into town once again, at taxpayer expense, to visit the a local youth organization’s new building. Once again there were words of praise about local elected officials who worked to make things possible and even promises to provide more help for such projects – if only the voters cast a ballot for his guy. Again, media coverage that hyped a non-event featuring empty words was the result. Community volunteers and invited members of the public confirmed both events were nothing more than publicity stunts that generated “fake news.”
If there is man in Kentucky who covered news in a non-fake manner it is the former publisher Lowell Reese. He passed away on April 15, 2016 but without a doubt because of his work Kentucky has benefitted. It is Lowell Reese and his work that influenced me and opened my eyes to the new party I had chosen to embrace and trust.
You see, Reese exposed and began writing about what has become knows as the “Greed Bill.” He was the first to cover the dastardly corrupt realities of HB 299 that the Republican Governor, the Democrat Speaker of the House, and Republican Senate President allowed to quietly be signed into law.
This bill allowed a legislator to use as few as three years of full-time government work as a basis to establish a full-time retirement and benefits. You may remember the very next year a mass exodus of long-serving part-time legislators. If you have a memory for the irony, you will also remember the very next term the Democrat Governor even gave highly-sought-after cabinet positions to long-standing Republican legislators.
This bill was used to buy loyalty, to take care of their own, and open possible seats the Democrats could win to regain control to the Kentucky State Senate.
Reese wrote about it and I picked it up myself a few months later. It was an eye opening experience. I actually drove to Frankfort and met with Reese and he gave me hundreds of documents used to calculate retirements and the names of those who would benefit most.
Honestly, no state is as devious as our own for making such things happen. Republicans and Democrats happily agreed to pad their own pockets for what I suspect is one of the most unethical moves the General Assembly has ever made.
Although Senate Bill 3 goes a long way to honor my friend Lowell Reese by utilizing his work in establishing this long sought after transparency law and Governor Matt Bevin, Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover and Senate President Robert Stivers are to be commended for making it happen; this bill hasn’t addressed the problem for the overpaid part-time legislators currently enjoying unearned full-time retirements and benefits.
I’m not sure anything can be done to fix the wallet-padding done by those early dirtiest legislators who sold out but because of the work Lowell Reese has done, his legacy lives on as a publisher dedicated to real news.
Jeff Jobe is founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing, Inc. His commentary reflects his personal views and does not reflect the views of personal or professional associations and affiliations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his previously published commentary at www.jobeforkentucky.com