Ashley Judd’s announcement Wednesday that she would not challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014 proves that she is smart enough to know who her real opponent would be: Ashley Judd.
Judd really is incredibly smart. She earned the Dean’s Scholar Award at Harvard for her work in the Harvard Law class, Gender Violence: Law and Social Justice, and graduated in in 2009 with a master's degree in public administration. She could very easily have skipped higher education and her involvement in numerous social causes (numerous!), and settled for being a big-time movie star from a famous Kentucky family that traces its roots to the Mayflower, but she is too smart to “just be” anything.
Image: © Lexington Herald-Leader/ZUMAPRESS.com
Judd said on her official blog, “I have never been intimidated by the prospect of serving Kentucky—and I remain unafraid of the Washington insider political machine that has controlled this Senate seat for three decades.”
I believe her. Nothing in her character suggests she backs down from a challenge, but it was likely not McConnell that caused her to walk away. I’m guessing it was the Kentucky voters she has been wooing in recent months who politely showed her the door.
I like to think I was born and raised in Kentucky, but it is only recently that I have realized this is not true. I grew up in a very small area of the state, wanting travel and adventure and higher education and, for whatever reason, thought I had to go “off” to find it, that these things did not exist here. I was mistaken.
It is only at the half-century mark that I have returned, and am discovering Kentucky's unique history, culture, opportunities and personalities—not to mention its unparalleled natural beauty—for the first time. I have found that people are polite, good-hearted, and tolerant of my foolishness—but my place in the community has not been saved for me. Being a true Kentuckian is not a birthright, but a privilege earned though mutual perseverance through hard times and standing alongside kin at funerals and church suppers and on picket lines. It will take more than my mere presence and a few seasons of Justified to catch me up.
It will take a long time before I have earned the right to interfere in the business of any one of the 120 counties here—each nearly a sovereign country. I may not be a smart woman like Judd, but even I know not to think I can swoop in and start making policy.
If people in Kentucky were a hateful lot, Ashley would be the Judd Kentucky loves to hate. I love her myself, but that may just be because she and I have something in common—heart in the right place, but (maybe, a little bit) head up the ass.
I am no McConnell fan. It is my opinion that he has learned to play the people of Kentucky for the benefit of special interests that want what outsiders have always wanted: more profit from Kentucky’s natural resources. Judd’s motives may be more high minded than those of McConnell, but in some ways she is just the opposite extreme of the same disconnect.
One does not have to go very far back in the state's history to learn how self-sustained communities—cash poor, but rich in food and water and shelter and music and art and family and…) were devoured by a country with an insatiable hunger for energy. The profits went north, and the economy went south. People became dependent on the company store, and most still are. Stopping the destruction of the state's natural resources would be swell. And Judd wants very much to help.
It is awesome that Judd advocates against the destruction of Kentucky’s mountaintops and subsequent poisoning of our water, but most here don't have the opportunity to, as she has said, “winter in Scotland.” We have to live the best we can with what we have, and there's the disconnect.
In a (very) unofficial opinion poll, I asked two “real” Kentucky women I greatly admire to weigh in.
The first is my 40-something sister, Carla Rae. She has raised her kids as a single mom and is putting them both through college. I asked if she would have voted for Judd:
“Nope. I don't understand anyone who has lived in this state, and knows how little opportunities there are for employment and the need for an alternative energy source—that is so abundant in this part of the country—can want to take away those opportunities, and keep those communities that were dependent on the coal industry for their only means of supporting their families. There were more than 600 jobs lost this last year in the Harlan, Jackson Community. That's a lot of government assistance added. And while I know there are environmental issues, they exist in most industries. Not to mention she's only from Kentucky during the basketball season…”
I then asked my 30-something niece, Candice, who lives in downtown Lexington and was a reporter for the newspaper there before going back to school, if she thought Judd would have won the Senate seat:
“She would have done very well in Louisville and Lexington, but I think—and I suspect she ultimately realized—that her political beliefs and activities would be a liability throughout the rest of the state. Kentucky progressives long for a candidate with the charisma and financial backing to take down Mitch McConnell, but it will take more than a familiar face wearing a UK logo. Incumbents reign. Anyway, being a humanitarian actress sounds way better than being a senator."
Judd is smart. I hope she will stay a course in Kentucky that will earn her the right to run and win in the future. She has the clout and resources, the smarts and the balls, to actually solve problems here. (Hell, she and Johnny Depp and George Clooney could put their beauty energies together and create an environmentally sane energy industry that could employ every coal worker in Kentucky.)
It was not very long ago that voters dismissed Hillary Clinton’s legitimate right to a political career. Judd may have to court voters a little longer before they let her get to first base.
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