Senate candidates ignoring SOAR

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

December 5, 2013

PIKEVILLE — Although next week’s “Shaping Our Appalachian Region” summit at the East Kentucky Expo Center is being promoted by Democratic and Republican leaders alike as an important first step toward growing Eastern Kentucky’s economy and improving its quality of life, it appears not to have registered a blip on the radar for the three major candidates for U.S. Senate.

The Floyd County Times has confirmed with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office and with the campaigns for Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell in the Republican primary, and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate race, that none of the candidates is currently planning to attend Monday’s SOAR summit.

The summit is part of a bipartisan effort between U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Gov. Steve Beshear to bring together Eastern Kentuckians from all walks of life to help craft a plan for improving the region’s economy in the wake of continuing declines in the coal industry. At last report, over 1,500 have registered to attend.

“Everyone in this room knows how the economic pressures of the last few years have hurt the growth and development of Appalachia and intensified hardships for families here,” Beshear said during an October press conference announcing the summit. “For Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky to catch up and move ahead we need new strategies. What are those strategies? Well, that’s what we want to find out.”

But while senators represent the entire state in Congress, a regional meeting to discuss the economic future of one-third of the state appears not to have made a mark on the calendars of any of the three candidates, all of whom reside in Central Kentucky.

Bill Steurer, communications director in McConnell’s Washington office, said the senator would be unable to attend the SOAR summit, but would be in Pikeville on Friday, to hold a hearing on the impact of proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would limit carbon emissions from existing coal-burning power plants.

“The EPA has refused to hold a hearing in coal country, so I decided to organize a session in Pikeville so that those affected by the War on Coal will finally have a chance to have their voices heard,” McConnell was quoted as saying in a release Monday.

However, CN|2 Pure Politics reported Tuesday on its blog that McConnell will be attending a campaign fundraiser in Maryland on the same day as the SOAR event.

Grimes campaign staffer Charly Norton said Thursday that, while her candidate would not be able to attend the SOAR summit, she is running “to be a voice for all Kentuckians, especially the hardworking families in Eastern Kentucky.” She noted that, since October, Grimes has visited Floyd, Pike, Lawrence, Boyd, Carter, Rowan, Breathitt, Letcher, Montgomery and Whitley counties.

On Wednesday, Bevin campaign staffer Rachel Semmel said while her candidate’s plans for Monday were not yet final, the difficulty in making it work with his calendar made chances of his appearance “unlikely.”