OPINION: Double-Election Whammy
By Jim Waters, Bluegrass Institute
LEXINGTON, KY - Double Election Whammy: Right-to-work war, TPP tobacco carve-out - By Jim Waters

Two policies impacted by state ballot initiatives and the presidential election itself that could also directly affect Kentuckians involve tobacco and right-to-work.

The Bluegrass State has plenty of one but none of the other.

Kentucky stood still while several states, including neighboring Indiana and West Virginia, moved forward with right-to-work policies, which protect employees from being forced to pay union dues in order to keep their jobs.

Supporters in Virginia, another neighboring state, seek on the Nov. 8 ballot to protect their longtime right-to-work law from future political whims by imbedding it into the state's Constitution.

Hillary Clinton, who believes in the "right to choose," the "right to affordable health care" and the "right to a debt free college education" not only opposes the "right to work" but has declared war on it, promising an attempt to take it away from nearly half of all Americans who enjoy its protections.

Conventional political wisdom holds that House Democratic leaders provide the major obstacle to making Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state.

However, even if the GOP takes control of the state House in the upcoming election, some Republican representatives in heavily unionized districts won't support the policy.

But that doesn't kill its momentum, which has been maintained locally with several counties passing their own right-to-work ordinances.

As courts decide whether local governments can take such action, the fact that 12 counties representing more than 600,000 Kentuckians have already endorsed right-to-work freedoms places opponents on the defensive.

If the GOP takes control of the statehouse, Democratic lawmakers from right-to-work counties, including Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, who represents Simpson County, which borders right-to-work Tennessee, and part of Warren – the first county to pass a local ordinance – will no longer be beholden to Speaker Greg Stumbo's anti-reform agenda but will be eager to beef up their conservative credentials both in Frankfort and their districts.  

Wouldn't it be the irony of ironies if the GOP taking control of the South's only remaining Democratically controlled statehouse results in common-sense Democrats putting right-to-work across the goal line?

Not even in Kentucky's wild-and-wooly political history have many stranger things happened.

What's never happened in the world of free-trade deals is singling out a specific commodity for punishment.

Until now.

The Obama administration treats tobacco like a hostile witness in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement by shutting the industry out of protections provided by the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism.

Carving tobacco out of the ISDS would prevent companies from seeking due-process legal relief when foreign governments take property without compensation or seize assets in the name of "public health."

Unfortunately, TPP's strong parts – including 18,000 tax cuts on American exports and $15 billion worth of tariff cuts – could also become victims of Obama's crusade, which does nothing to protect public health yet appeases half a pack of anti-tobacco activists.

While both Clinton and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump would likely – and rightly – send the trade agreement back to the drawing board, Obama may try to push the carve-out during the post-election lame-duck congressional session.

This could especially be harmful to Kentucky farmers, who grow more than 87,000 acres of tobacco annually and stand to benefit greatly from additional trade doors opened by the TPP.        

"For free trade to work, there simply cannot be discrimination that denies investors due process protections based solely on the political ideology of one country, or the unpopularity of a product," Americans for Tax Reform's Alexander Hendrie writes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has rightly opposed the carve-out during the campaign.

If he can succeed in holding the line during the lame-duck session, he will protect his commonwealth and country from an approach that does nothing to protect public health and a lot to hurt American jobs, farmers and ideals.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky's free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Published 08:00 AM, Saturday Oct. 15, 2016
Updated 10:50 PM, Friday Oct. 14, 2016