Political news of late has been dominated by three people – Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. They’ve certainly provided good copy, but there are some other things going on politically that you might not have heard about.
Let’s consider Kentucky, for example. The commonwealth has been the site of mostly bad news lately. Ken Ham’s “Ark Park” is getting taxpayer incentives, and the state’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, is thrilled.
But something else happened in Kentucky recently that provides at least some good news: State Rep. Tom Riner lost his primary. He’ll be leaving the state House of Representatives.
Riner’s name might sound familiar to long-time readers. In 2006, Riner, a Democrat and Baptist minister, added language to a bill dealing with state security issues declaring that “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.” The practical effect of this was that a plaque containing that language was installed at the Emergency Operations Center, and religious language was added to reports issued by the state’s Homeland Security Office.
But that was hardly Riner’s only offense. He served in the state legislature for more than 30 years. From that perch he constantly introduced bills promoting creationism, government displays of the Ten Commandments and other mixes of church and state. He's also the guy who hooked up law-defying county clerk Kim Davis with Liberty Counsel.
In January of 2009, The New York Times profiled Riner in a story headlined, “Lawmaker in Kentucky Mixes Piety and Politics.” The piece by reporter Ian Urbina noted, “For more than 30 years, Mr. Riner’s singular devotion has been to inject God into the public arena…” and pointed out that this quest has taken Riner “across the constitutional barrier between church and state.”
The lawmaker wasn’t bothered by this. He told The Times, “The church-state divide is not a line I see. What I do see is an attempt to separate America from its history of perceiving itself as a nation under God.”
Riner’s proselytizing has long roots. Friends recalled an incident in the 1970s when the musical “Hair” played in Louisville. Bothered by nudity in the show, Riner leaped on stage and disrupted the performance by waving a Bible. And the policies he promoted ran in his family. In the 1970s, his wife, Claudia, also served in the state legislature. Just like Riner, she sponsored a Ten Commandments bill. Hers required public schools to post the Decalogue, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 1980’s Stone v. Graham ruling.
Riner’s district includes parts of Louisville and surrounding Jefferson County. During a May 17 primary election, voters opted to replace Riner with Attica Scott. Scott, who faces no Republican opponent in November, will be the first African-American woman to hold a seat in the Kentucky legislature in 20 years.
As the race played out, Scott slammed Riner for his extremely conservative views.
“During the campaign it was really about highlighting that we needed a new voice and a fresh face in Frankfort,” Scott said. “We had this 34-year incumbent who was anti-LGBT and anti-women’s rights. He was a Democrat in name only and refused to caucus with the Democrats since the 1990s, so it was really about highlighting and exposing his record and lifting up my social justice agenda.”
Scott said Riner was “still stuck in the 1980s” and added, “We needed representation that was 21st Century thinking and forward thinking, and he was not that person.”
Indeed. Scott, in fact, is being charitable. Riner wasn’t stuck in the 1980s – more like the 1950s.
We wish him a happy retirement.