, Corbin, KY


July 22, 2013

Kentucky politics matching outside heat

CORBIN — The suffocating heat and humidity of a Kentucky summer that has settled on the commonwealth this week was accompanied by some hot political developments.

So while you’re fleeing the oppressive weather, here are some things to ponder.

Alison Lundergan Grimes distanced herself from Barack Obama’s coal policies this week. She told reporters Obama has “overreached” on coal regulations and that she supports Kentucky’s miners.

That didn’t prevent U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell from placing Grimes’ photo next to Obama’s in a web video entitled Kentucky Powers America. It has plenty of images of hard-working Kentucky families and miners while the senator says Obama “and his allies” have declared war on coal.

Kentucky Coal Association Bill Bissett told CNHI News last week the coal industry and the families who depend on it for a living will be watching and listening closely as Grimes tries to navigate the coal issue.

While Grimes told reporters she supports Kentucky’s coal industry, a Harlan County magistrate, David Kennedy, stood nearby listening intently. Kennedy, a coal supporter first and Democrat second, said he was pleased with Grimes’ answers and would say so when he gets back home. But a Republican county official from the same region, who didn’t want to be quoted by name, said any Democrat will have a hard time separating himself from Obama’s coal policies with voters in the coal fields.

McConnell says Kentucky voters would be unwise to trade his “influence” and position as Senate Republican Leader for a backbench freshman. But he suffered a hit to that image with a deal brokered in Washington last week by Republican Sen. John McCain which allowed votes on seven Obama executive branch nominees.

McConnell claimed he was kept abreast of negotiations with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer. Reid was threatening to invoke the “nuclear option” on the filibuster of those nominees by changing Senate rules to require only 51 votes to confirm them.

But national reporters wrote stories indicating McCain “went around McConnell.” If that sticks in Kentucky, Democrats will use it to undermine McConnell’s claim to power and influence on behalf of the commonwealth.

While Grimes talked about coal, Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer talked about running for governor in 2015. The announcement earlier in the week by Republican Second District Congressman Brett Guthrie that he won’t run for governor, Comer said, gives those thinking about it more time to organize and meet with donors.

Asked if that included James Comer, the first-term Agriculture Commissioner smiled and said yes. He was quick to say a decision is at least a year away, but he clearly sees Guthrie’s disavowal of interest as improving his own prospects.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson is apparently considering running as well and has told friends he’ll decide soon, likely before or right after Fancy Farm which takes place on Aug. 3. If Abramson were to get in the race, it can’t be good news for a couple of other aspiring Democrats.

Abramson remains very popular in Jefferson County and it would be difficult for Attorney General Jack Conway, who also lives in Jefferson County and shares Abramson’s base in the state’s most populous county, to overcome the former Mayor’s popularity there.

Presumably, Gov. Steve Beshear would support his lieutenant governor should Abramson run. That might undermine the hopes of Auditor Adam Edelen, Beshear’s former chief of staff. Abramson’s entry would complicate the others’ fundraising as well.

Comer is right. It’s all a long way off. But it gives you something to think about as you sit by the air conditioner.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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