By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio
In a little-noticed skirmish in the Kentucky House this week, a surprise attempt was made to derail the appointment of a Democratic former state senator to the Kentucky Board of Education.
The 11 voting members of the Kentucky Board of Education are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly. Confirmations usually pass quietly, with little debate. But occasionally, an appointee will run into trouble. Last year, without comment, the Senate refused to consider the appointment of former Jefferson County Teachers Association director Steve Neal. In his place, Gov. Beshear appointed former Senate Majority Leader David Karem (pictured).
Karem was appointed to a four-year term on the school board, and has been serving since last April. During his 33 years in the General Assembly, Karem was a strong education advocate and a driving force behind passage of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. So, it was a surprise to many House members when Republican Rep. Jim DeCesare of Rockfield rose to challenge Karem’s appointment. Citing state law, DeCesare says Karem has a conflict of interest because of his position as director of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation.
“The Waterfront Development Board is an entity of the City of Louisville, the County of Jefferson and the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” says DeCesare. “So, it’s my opinion, Mr. Speaker, he does not meet the qualifications, due to his employment.”
Scrambling to counter the argument, Majority Leader Adkins produced a 1995 attorney general’s opinion allowing Karem to serve as both a state senator and director of the Waterfront Development Corporation.
“That opinion, Mr. Speaker, held that since the director did not make policy for the corporation, it was not the type of office covered by the constitutional provisions prohibiting the holding of both a state and a city office,” says Adkins.
That was good enough for most House members, who voted 92-7 to confirm Karem’s appointment. All seven opponents, including Rep. Joseph Fischer of Ft. Thomas, are Republicans. Fischer, like Rep. DeCesare, says it’s nothing personal against Karem.
“A very outstanding legislator, lawmaker, civic leader,” says Fischer. “But the question is, did that service create a conflict with his appointment to the board of education?”
Karem doesn’t think so. In fact, he says there’s not just one legal opinion protecting his service on the Waterfront Development Corporation – there are two.
“Two separate attorney generals came to the same conclusion,” says Karem.
The 66-year-old Karem says he just wants to continue serving the people of the commonwealth, and one of the most productive ways to do that is to complete his term on the school board.
“The kids in the state of Kentucky are our absolutely single most important resource,” says Karem. “So anything we can do to insure kids get the best possible education is a needed public service.”
State Board of Education Chairman Joe Brothers says the seven Republicans who opposed Karem’s appointment are certainly within their rights, but the rest of the House voiced overwhelming support for Karem, whom Brothers says is doing a great job.
“He is very knowledgeable and has excellent background for the assignment,” says Brothers. “As far as his service on the board, it’s been exemplary.”
Gov. Beshear echoes that, reaffirming his support for Karem’s confirmation, which now moves to the Senate.