, Corbin, KY

State News

December 10, 2013

SOAR summit met with wait-and-see attitude

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

As organizers kicked off a mountain summit here to discuss ways to diversify the eastern Kentucky economy, the dominant sentiment seemed to be a mixture of skepticism and hope.

More than 1,500 braved wet roads and fog to get to the East Kentucky Expo Center for the early morning sessions of SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region), a region-wide planning exercise convened by Republican U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers and Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

But while Beshear, Rogers, state House Speaker Greg Stumbo and state Sen. President Robert Stivers all promised to “put politics aside” and to listen to all in the region, most in the crowd had a wait-and-see attitude tempered with optimism.

“We’re all going to have to work together,” said Lawrence County Judge/Executive John Osborne, whose county has been hit hard by the closing of the Kentucky Power Company’s Big Sandy electrical generator.

“If we don’t stop fighting each other, we won’t get anything done,” Osborne said, meaning the two political parties. He was hesitant, however, about working with environmentalist groups, who he said “don’t seem to work with us very much.”

State Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said he’s hopeful but is also realistic because of limited public finances for such needed infrastructure as a four-lane highway and developed, flat land on which to locate industry.

“You can’t bring heavy industry to a region without interstate transportation and developable land,” Jones said.

The other component lacking in the region, Jones said, is a public, four-year university.

Stumbo has tried for the past two legislative sessions to bring the University of Pikeville, a private school, into the state system of public universities. But, in an era of budget cuts, including to higher education and the existing public universities, he’s been unable to muster enough support to pass such legislation.

Before the summit even began, Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies based in Whitesburg, wondered aloud and in an op-ed piece for the Lexington Herald-Leader if it was realistic to expect solutions from the same class of politicians and industry types who “got us here.”

But Davis also said the night before the summit that he is hopeful this time office-holders like Rogers and Beshear are sincere.

Beshear welcomed attendees Monday and told them the issues facing eastern Kentucky “aren’t political ones” but issues which hold back all of Kentucky, not just eastern Kentucky. He said organizers are “here to listen.”

Rogers and Stivers also said politics should be put aside in the search for common ideas to produce a brighter, long-term future for eastern Kentucky.

“We will blur the lines; we will put aside the politics,” Stivers said to applause from the crowd.

Still, some were doubtful.

Stanley Sturgill of Lynch, a member of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, was arrested last year in Washington for refusing to leave Rogers’ House office when he and others sought an audience. He was also in a contingent of environmentalists who occupied Beshear’s office three years ago.

“I can’t understand a man arresting me one day for wanting to change things and then stand up in front of a crowd of 1,500 people and say he wants to do the same thing I wanted to do,” said Sturgill. “But I’m listening, and I’m optimistic. We’ll see.”

Sturgill hopes the 41-person planning committee made up of mostly business and industry representatives will listen to groups like KFTC as well.

“I’m hopeful they will,” Sturgill said. “But we’ve worked a lot in this area over the years, and so far, they haven’t listened to us a whole lot.”

But Beshear began the day saying, “We’re here to listen,” and there were group sessions scheduled for the afternoon organized around a variety of subjects and strategies.

Some were excited by experiences of the Minnesota iron range where the state returns two-thirds of mining taxes to the region. A trust fund was established in the 1970s which now totals $142 million, interest from which funds re-investment in the area.

But the mood remained of many remained doubtful.

“It’s been a lot of talk so far,” said state Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro. “We’ll see.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

Text Only
State News
  • Grimes comes out firing on McConnell

    Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State who is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in this fall’s elections, went after the five-term incumbent in a speech here to a convention of local county officials.

    July 11, 2014

  • Conway, Comer address judge-execs

    It might have been a preview of next year’s Kentucky governor’s election — but county officials here for a convention probably didn’t expect one likely candidate to endorse a potential opponent.

    July 11, 2014

  • McConnell, Grimes parade cases

    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes know a good place to look for votes when they see it.

    July 7, 2014

  • McConnell, Grimes disagree on contraception case

    Kentucky’s Republican congressman praised Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations may opt out of a requirement to provide employees contraceptive coverage through insurance plans.

    July 1, 2014

  • Beshear sings praises of Affordable Care Act

    Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told a Washington conference Tuesday that Kentucky’s embrace of the Affordable Care Act has been “life-changing” for thousands of Kentucky enrollees and “transformative” for Kentucky.

    June 18, 2014

  • Kentucky actually fares well under new EPA regs

    Kentucky politicians and the coal industry howled about the latest installment of greenhouse gas emission regulations issued last week by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

    June 16, 2014

  • New EPA C02 regs examined

    Given their complexity and potential impact in coal-dependent states like Kentucky, there’s considerable confusion about new carbon emission regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    June 16, 2014

  • State budget officials predict ‘significant shortfall’

    With only 20 days left in the 2014 fiscal year, state budget officials announced Tuesday Kentucky faces an “inevitable” and “significant” revenue shortfall in both the General and Road Funds.

    June 11, 2014

  • Grimes ad blasts Obama for coal policies

    Mitch McConnell is no longer the only U.S. Senate candidate running against Democratic President Barack Obama.

    June 5, 2014

  • Legislative leaders blast carbon regs

    President Barack Obama’s efforts to rein in carbon emissions, blamed by science for changes in the climate, continues to draw harsh criticism from both political parties in Kentucky.

    June 5, 2014