Al Cross: Is there still room in politics for cool guys like Larry Hopkins?
The devolution of American politics, led by the Republican caucus in the United States House, can be told in the stories of two caucus members, 30 years apart: Larry Hopkins of Kentucky and Paul Gosar of Arizona .
“Nice guy” was the most-heard description of Hopkins, who passed away on Monday, November 15. Three days later, Gosar’s colleagues censored him for posting a cartoon that showed him beheading Representative Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez of New York City and then heading for President Biden.
Gosar’s latest outrage is just the most recent example of uncivil and unacceptable behavior that has been normalized by Donald Trump and his cronies. Democrats have crossed the line as well, but the refusal of all but two House Republicans to censor Gosar shows how much their caucus has fallen since Hopkins left him in 1992.
A crude caricature is not a threat, but it is emblematic of the larger threat we face: politics, a potentially violent war, driven by outright lies and lies. That leaves little room for compromise, which was how members of both parties got things done when Hopkins represented the Bluegrass region in Congress.
His daughter, Shae Hopkins, said of him: “My dad always believed in working with colleagues across the aisle for the benefit of all. His deep respect for our government and his wonderful sense of humor were hallmarks of who he was as a legislator and as a person. “
Hopkins was too nice a guy for politics today. He was a Lexington State Senator who was fortunate enough to enter Congress in 1978 after Democratic State Senator Tom Easterly from Frankfort narrowly upset Rep. John Breckinridge in the primary. Easterly was too liberal for the 6th District, and Republican leaders persuaded former State Auditor Mary Louise Foust to step down as the GOP candidate and replaced him with Hopkins, who won big.
In Congress, Hopkins quickly became the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee and was known for his bipartisan work investigating the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983 and passing the important Military Reorganization Act of 1987. .
Had he stayed in Congress he would have become president of the armed forces when Republicans took the House in 1994, but a GOP takeover seemed far off and Hopkins ran for governor in 1991 on the basis of the reasonable expectation that he would not have a primary. But it drew a late challenge from Larry Forgy, who had dropped out in 1987 when he was virtually guaranteed the nomination.
Hopkins struggled to be both a candidate and a congressman. When asked why a 1988 reference biography about him said “USMC, Korea,” he replied, “I was in the latter part of the Korean conflict. I was not there as a combat soldier. He was a Marine on American bases in 1954-56; the conflict ended in an armistice in 1953. The Korean era of veterans’ benefits ended in 1955. It was also discovered that years before, Hopkins had exaggerated his education, so that for many voters , he looked silly or devious.
His congressional duties prevented him from campaigning full time, which was a boon to Forgy, who was running as a reformer with a $ 300 limit on campaign contributions at a time when the limit per election was of $ 4,000. If Forgy had set a limit of $ 500, he probably would have won. Losing to Hopkins by 1,945 votes, or 1.2% of the total, he established himself as the 1995 candidate, while Hopkins ran for the general election weakened considerably by the primary. He tried to do a show on the personal finances of Lieutenant Governor Brereton Jones, but after Hopkins had to recognize 32 overdrafts in the House “bank” which was not really a bank, he lost big and his money. political career was over.
Hopkins’ lone loss shouldn’t mask the examples of good humor and cooperation he was known for.
In the current polarized environment, it was refreshing to see Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville join Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green and Hal Rogers of Somerset with current Bluegrass seat holder, Republican Andy Barr, as he paid homage to his predecessor.
“Above all, Congressman Hopkins took pride in his work down the aisle and the relationships he had with all of his colleagues,” Barr said. “In these divided times, let us be inspired by the legacy of Congressman Larry Hopkins to unite and solve the problems of our time, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans who love all of us. country.”
Nice words, but it’s the same Andy Barr who recently used the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme on social media that was misinterpreted by a sports reporter from a crowd chanting “F— Joe Biden”. Times and technology have changed, but it’s hard to imagine Larry Hopkins, or almost anyone of his time, doing this. And much worse is coming.