Remember a few months ago when there was move afoot to do away with the runoff provision for Kentucky gubernatorial candidates? That was during the short session of the General Assembly when it was highly anticipated that none of the candidates in the Democratic primary would receive the minimum 40 percent of the primary vote to eliminate a runoff between the top two vote-getters.
On the Republican side, the possibility of a runoff wasn't as great, but it wasn't out of the question.
We said then and still hold that eliminating the runoff during the campaign - just like changing the rules during the game - was the wrong thing to do.
But now the primary is over. Thankfully, the state will not have to endure five weeks of lead-up to a June runoff election in either primary. Gov. Ernie Fletcher made quick work of two opponents in the Republican primary, while Steve Beshear managed to take almost 41 percent of the vote in the crowded Democratic field.
The Fletcher and Beshear campaigns will begin ramping up before we know it in preparation for the November general election but not before late summer. Blessedly, it will be relatively quiet in June and July and well into August.
What Kentucky needs to do soon is scrap the runoff provision altogether. Times and political realities have changed in Kentucky, and the reasons for putting the runoff in place no longer exist.
The runoff provision dates to 1992's gubernatorial election reforms, when governors of Kentucky were given the opportunity to succeed themselves. Paul Patton was the first to do it. Under the changes, if no governor-lieutenant governor slate received at least 40 percent of the vote in the primary, the top two slates would meet in a runoff election 35 days later.
The trend in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s had Democratic candidates for governor winning the primary with between 33 percent and 37 percent of the vote, often when turnout was light. Since the Republican Party was unable to field strong candidates in those days, the winner of the Democratic primary was practically assured of moving into the Governor's Mansion in November.
It was the consensus in 1992 that a higher threshold was necessary in the primary to win a party's nomination, hence the 40 percent requirement.
With the ascendancy of the Republican Party in Kentucky, the gubernatorial landscape has changed. Beshear knows he will not be facing token GOP opposition in the fall.
Scrubbing the runoff will save the state $5 million to $6 million in election costs, which counties have to pay. That's a good reason by itself to eliminate the runoff.
It should be noted that Beshear, with his 41 percent of the vote, beat second-place Bruce Lunsford by 20 percentage points - a real thumping. If Beshear's share had been 39 percent and Lunsford's 23 percent, it would have still qualified as a thumping. That would have hardly justified a runoff, but under the rules, it would have occurred.
Kentucky will have another governor's election in 2011. There's a good chance the May primary then will be just as hotly contested as the 2007 primary. If so, fine. The winners will advance to the general election. And just like this year, the second-place finishers won't get, nor deserve, a second chance.
- Owensboro (Ky.) Messenger-Inquirer