McNay on Money

Harry Moberly: Lawmaker Making a Difference

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

I met Harry Moberly in 1979, the day before my 20th birthday. It was the first meeting I had in my new capacity as president of the Eastern Kentucky University Young Democrats. Harry was a 29 year-old lawyer, running against an establishment incumbent for a seat as state representative.

I'm Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right

-Michael Jackson

I met Harry Moberly in 1979, the day before my 20th birthday.   It was the first meeting I had in my new capacity as president of the Eastern Kentucky University Young Democrats.  Harry was a 29 year-old lawyer, running against an establishment incumbent for a seat as state representative. 
 
I always root for the anti-establishment guy. I helped Moberly get elected.  Harry and I became friends and have remained so for the 31 years since. 
 
Along the way, Moberly became one of the most powerful and influential legislators in the history of Kentucky.  His mastery of the budget process allowed him to place his imprint on almost every facet of Kentucky life.  He is retiring at the end of this year.
 
I was anti-establishment when I met Harry and, 31 years later, I am even more so now.   I'm in a "throw the bums out" mood.   I have more than an open ear to the concept of  term limits for members of Congress.
 
I feel like Washington is so screwed-up and tied to so many corrupt practices that we might be better off starting all over again.
 
Then I think about Harry.  What would have happened if a leader like him had to leave after a couple of terms?
 
Harry started legislating at a young age.  It took about a decade for him to learn the ropes and work his way into a position of leadership.
 
For the past 20 years, Kentucky has reaped the harvest of the knowledge and skills that Harry spent that first decade acquiring.
 
Like much of America, I'm down on professional politicians.  I'm tired of people getting in office to line their pockets, suck up to lobbyists and constantly run for re-election.
 
One of the reasons I like Moberly is that he was the "anti-politician, politician."  A lot of his re-election bids were close because Harry didn't like to campaign.  He would raise just enough money and knock on just enough doors to squeak by. 

He wasn't interested in glad handing.  He was interested in making things happen.  He was strong on the "constituent services" part of politics.  He never had a big campaign staff and usually served as his own campaign treasurer.
 
Every election year, I suddenly get newsletters from politicians. They spend my tax dollars telling me how well they are spending my tax dollars. 
 
Never got one from Harry.
 
Other writers can focus on some of Harry's big achievements in education reform and how he made his hometown, Richmond, Kentucky, a better place to live. 
 
I just remember how he helped to protect injury victims.
 
In the late 1990's,  an industry sprung up buying structured settlement annuities from the annuity owners.  Those companies were paying merely pennies on the dollar.   Moberly said on the floor of the Kentucky legislature that it was a "sleazy industry." Many would agree with him.
 
I'm in the business of setting up structured settlements.  I have always hated the purchasing companies for the advantages they took of the selling owner and the unfair prices they paid.
 
During that time period, I was a national officer in the structured settlement industry group.  While there, I learned of one situation where a woman, who had been raped in a hospital at age 13 and received a settlement, sold it at age 18 to a purchasing company whose commercial she had seen on television. 
 
When she found out she received a small fraction of what it was actually worth, she found her way to the National Structured Settlement Trade Association in Washington.  They referred her to me and I sent her to Harry.  I didn't think much could be done.
 
I was wrong.

Moberly was horrified by her situation and did more than help his constituent get  a refund (which she did.) He helped develop the first model legislation in the United States designed to reign in structured settlement purchasers. 
 
He helped put together a rare coalition where plaintiffs' trial lawyers and insurance companies worked for a common goal.  The presidents of the Kentucky Bar Association and the Kentucky  Academy of Trial Attorneys supported these efforts and the bill passed unanimously.
 
A great day for consumers.
 
That Kentucky bill became the model for legislation that eventually passed in almost every other state and, finally, even at the federal level.
 
For many years, it was almost impossible for settlement purchasers to operate in Kentucky, and it is still harder for them to operate in Kentucky than anywhere else.
 
Moberly didn't just solve an individual's problem.  He saw the bigger picture and used his legislative skill to keep thousands of future potential victims out of harms way.  There was nothing in it for Harry and he had to buck up against the state's most well-connected lobbyists to get it done.  He never backed down and never wavered.
 
He used a lifetime of legislative skills to make things happen.
 
Like many voters, I'm in a mood to throw out of office many of the people who supported the Wall Street bailouts.  I hope the next generation of officeholders come to Kentucky and look at the career of Harry Moberly.  I hope they follow Harry's example of making things happen instead of tooting their own horns.
 
To paraphrase Michael Jackson,  Moberly is a man who made a difference and made things right. 

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