GLI Chief Calls For Uniting Rural and Urban Kentuckians

GLI's Kent Oyler
GLI’s Kent Oyler

From GLI’s Kent Oyler…

“We See You; Do You See Us?” That was the profound quote from former Kentucky Governor Paul Patton as he discussed Kentucky’s urban-rural divide at the recent Leadership Louisville Best of Leadership Summit. Wow! We See You; Do You See Us? Those words should be a wakeup call for those of us in urban areas that have for years grumbled about the export of capital and political power to the rest of the state.

Whether it is “fair” or not, the reality is that the balance of political power, and the accompanying share of the state’s $19 billion biennial budget, does not lie within the urban areas, despite the fact that by some calculations 70%+ of Kentucky’s 4 million people are urbanites. The harsh reality is that transformation of our Commonwealth into one that can compete effectively with other progressive states along our borders requires a coming together of urban and rural interests; an imperative that requires realization of our state’s motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

Collaboration between the larger cities and state government is the topic of the 2015 Bingham Fellows class. They are exploring the causes and effects of our collective unwillingness to work together in Frankfort to make Kentucky economically and socially healthy. They have their work cut out for them.

A good place to start would be in asking those of us who reside in the cities to try to truly understand the perspective of those that live in rural areas. You know, Covey’s proverbial “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” To show respect before expecting it back.

Surely the rural areas are aware of what is going on in Louisville and Lexington — they may read the C-J and Herald-Leader and many watch Louisville and Lexington TV stations — but do we pay any attention to them? Do we know their leaders? Do we care about their news?

We must realize that the cities and farms across the Commonwealth are in this fight together. If there is an enemy, it resides beyond our borders. We must divide and conquer, not divide and fall.

We must seek a reasonable and forward-focused balance of power. Getting to know and respect each other is not capitulation; it is common sense and a smart strategy for moving our state to a place where true change and collective prosperity is possible.

Let’s change the narrative. Let us engage with the political leadership that hails from around the state. Let us let the rural legislators know that we in the cities need and respect them. Let us work together to make the pie bigger by adopting an abundance mentality. Let us see them.

Let both the urban and rural interest understand that Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri and the other states that we compete with for jobs and talent are happy to see us fight amongst ourselves. Let us no longer be divided in the name of petty politics and personal gain. More true than ever; United we stand, divided we fall.