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ISSUE: Working together to make good law
OUR VIEW: Unanimity in Frankfort is rare
After 20 years in the state legislature, Rep. Jimmie Lee is well known in his hometown and the halls of power in Frankfort.
While he’s seldom reluctant to answer a question or speak his mind, Lee also is not the type of legislator who grabs for a microphone or craves the spotlight. But sometimes praise cannot be denied.
When local interest in unified government surfaced, Lee listened to concerns about fairness and voter influence. After working with all interested organizations to arrive at a compromise that turned potential adversaries into advocates, Lee accomplished something extraordinary in the state capital: Unanimous consent.
A bill to revise state law concerning a consolidated government passed the committee process and was approved by the Senate and twice in House without receiving a single “no” vote.
In large measure that was Lee’s doing. His fair-minded ways and persuasive talents got the job done.
Now when any county’s voters consider the question of unification, residents of a city control that city’s fate. The residents in unincorporated areas also will be counted as a separate unit and their collective will considered.
Previously, the law was deficient. It could have allowed a scenario in which a smaller city or town would be forced to accept an outcome that its voters rejected. Thanks to the legislative revision, no large collection of neighbors can hijack a smaller group’s town by forcing consolidation at the ballot box.
That’s good law. Even if Hardin Countians never consider governmental unification, that’s still good law.
The fact that Lee found the allies and support necessary to pass an amended version of the measure with 100 percent support was worthy of note. The Kentucky League of Cities acknowledged his effectiveness last week during an Elizabethtown City Council meeting.
Lee’s talents in Frankfort have been recognized in other ways.
Last year, he was twice honored for his work on behalf of society’s most fragile members. The National Adult Day Services Association awarded its Sen. John Heinz Memorial Award to the Elizabethtown Democrat and he was the first Kentuckian to receive the Jacob K. Javits Award from the American Psychiatric Association.
All these recent honors recognize a simple truth.
“Rep. Lee packs a punch,” said James D. Chaney, chief governmental affairs officer for KLC.
It’s a punch that local voters have recognized for two decades. After being re-elected without general election opposition, Lee will return to the General Assembly for his 11th term. Public servants such as Lee are the best argument against term limits.
It’s also a punch that’s important to Hardin County because Lee’s tenure, talents and influence make a difference locally when funding measures are being resolved and government priorities are set.
Lee is not ready to water down his influence by mentioning any interest in retirement from the state House. But it’s clear that at age 75, he’s closer to the end of his term than the beginning.
That’s why he’s been quietly courting someone to mentor. While it might seem a bit presumptive to folks who follow the Republican banner, Lee wants to find a worthy successor who can be coached in the ways of politics and the ways of Frankfort. He wants someone experienced enough to handled the rigors skillfully but young enough to earn seniority in the House chamber just as he has done.
That foresight and concern for this community also deserves to be praised. By seeking the greater good, Lee demonstrates the attitude of a true servant leader.
The right person to follow in his shoes might be out there. But for the next two years and possibly beyond, the local community can be thankful that in addition to legislative savvy, Jimmie Lee has been blessed with good health.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise's editorial board.