Rep. Harold Rogers (R)
Kentucky 5th District
Mountainous eastern Kentucky has been a unique place since Daniel Boone came through the Cumberland Gap in 1775. As Virginians poured through and created their version of a Tidewater civilization in the Bluegrass country, the people brought their assertive egalitarianism, loyalty to family and community, and passionate willingness to defend honor by feuds or violence. Most of the inhabitants of the mountains today are descendants of the Irish Protestant and Border Scot families who settled there in the two or three generations after Boone. Handed down were living memories of the old ways of doing things from an era when there was little contact with the outside world. The first agent of change here was the Civil War; the second was the great United Mine Workers organizing drives in the coal mines in the 1930s. The Civil War made the mountains and the Cumberland Plateau a stronghold of the Republican Party. This was never slave territory—hardly any blacks have ever lived here—yet communities and families were riven by the rebellion of the South. Today, the counties around Somerset and Corbin in south central Kentucky cast some of the highest Republican percentages in the nation, election after election.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Early in the 20th century, vast seams of coal were discovered under the Kentucky mountains. Representatives of eastern capitalists (including the young Franklin D. Roosevelt) began prowling these hills, hiring town lawyers to buy up mineral rights from unsuspecting farmers, building industrial slum towns in hollows and creek beds beneath glowering, heavily forested mountains. Coal mining was harsh and deadly work. Mine accidents, black lung disease and simple exhaustion killed tens of thousands of miners, while low wages and company stores kept them poor. Then John L. Lewis’s United Mine Workers came in, and open warfare followed, with neither mine operators nor union organizers reluctant to use violence and threats. The union mostly won in eastern Kentucky and in the short run raised wages and built hospitals for miners and their families. In the longer run, the impact of the UMW was a phasing out of many jobs in the mines in return for job security and health benefits, as use of oil expanded. Today, there are just over 400 mines in Kentucky, compared with 25 years ago, when there were 2,000. Politically, the UMW counties in the eastern part of the state became heavily Democratic.
In the mid-1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson came to eastern Kentucky and cited the poverty here in pushing for his Appalachian and anti-poverty bills. The high energy prices of the 1970s sparked strip mining, and eastern Kentucky’s economy moved upward. High coal prices in 2004 stepped up the pace at existing mines, but the big mining companies that increasingly controlled production were wary of opening new mines. Mountaintop mining has become common, requiring huge machines and few workers. Most eastern coal counties have lost population since 1980, and counties off the interstate highways have a hard time attracting new businesses. But life here today is much closer to the ordinary American standard of living than it was in Johnson’s time. Income levels are low, but so is the cost of living. Religion remains important here. The Pulaski County Fiscal Court in 2008 voted to appeal the ruling of a federal judge who had tried to stop the county’s display of the Ten Commandments. And this part of Kentucky has produced stars in that quintessentially American medium, country music—Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakum, Crystal Gayle. The Hillbilly Days Festival draws 100,000 people every June to Pikeville.
The 5th Congressional District of Kentucky includes much of the Cumberland Plateau and most of the eastern mountains, a mixture of heavily Republican and heavily Democratic territories. There are huge political differences here between counties separated by just a mountain ridge or two, evidence of the depth of Civil War and United Mine Workers political loyalties, and only somewhat modulated by the recent trend toward Republicans in the coal country. The 5th District, created in the 1991 redistricting, combines most of two former districts, one Democratic and the other Republican. But overall this is a solidly Republican district—it voted 61% for Bush in 2004 and 67% for John McCain in 2008.
Rep. Harold Rogers (R)
Elected: 1980, 15th term.
Born: Dec. 31, 1937, Barrier .
Education: U. of KY, B.A. 1962, J.D. 1964.
Family: Married (Cynthia); 3 children.
Military career: Army Natl. Guard, 1957–64.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1964–69; Pulaski–Rockcastle Commonwealth's Atty., 1969–80.
The congressman from the 5th District is Harold Rogers, a Republican first elected in 1980. Rogers grew up in Wayne County, went to the University of Kentucky, served in the National Guard, then practiced law in Somerset. He eventually bought the Citizens National Bank in Somerset. In 1969, at age 34, he was elected Pulaski-Rockcastle Commonwealth attorney. In 1979, he was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. The following year, when the 5th District congressman retired, Rogers was one of 11 Republicans in the primary. He got the nomination with 23% of the vote (Kentucky has no runoffs), and then easily won in November. His toughest race came in 1992, after redistricting. At first, his likely opponent was 7th District incumbent Rep. Chris Perkins, a Democrat and the son of longtime Rep. Carl Perkins. But then Perkins suddenly retired from Congress, just before it was revealed that he had 514 overdrafts at the House bank when such overdrafts were developing into a major Washington scandal. Rogers ended up facing state Sen. John Doug Hays of Pike County. Rogers won with 55% of the vote. He won 71% in his old 5th District, which cast 52% of the new district’s votes.
|Harold Rogers (R)||177,024||(84%)||($796,760)|
|Jim Holbert (I)||33,444||(16%)|
|Harold Rogers (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (74%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (78%), 2000 (74%), 1998 (78%), 1996 (100%), 1994 (79%), 1992 (55%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (100%), 1986 (100%), 1984 (76%), 1982 (65%), 1980 (67%)
Rogers is now the third-ranking Republican of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He is also the ranking GOP member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. His voting record is mostly, but not always, conservative. His district has long been hungry for federal aid, so Rogers finds it difficult to maintain a conservative record on spending issues. When Republicans were in control of Congress until 2006, he supported zeroing out domestic programs, except those important to his district—the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Legal Services Corporation. Over the years, he has worked to provide $162 million to protect the solvency of the funds for the United Mine Workers Combined Benefit Fund. After he became chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee in 2001, Kentucky became the fourth highest state in transportation funding per capita. The Daniel Boone Parkway, from London to Hazard, has been renamed the Hal Rogers Parkway. “The rate of return on highway spending far exceeds most other investments and is a proven engine,” he wrote after the Louisville Courier-Journal criticized his appetite for highway spending.
Among the goodies for his district over the years have been: $100 million to rebuild the town of Martin above the floodplain, though the town’s buildings are worth one-tenth that sum; $500,000 to pave a parking lot for Lee’s Ford Marina Resort; and $15 million for a 760-seat theater and 23,000-square foot exhibition hall near Somerset. He was disappointed when the Homeland Security Department in 2007 rejected Pulaski County as the site for a $450 million bioterrorism research center. But he managed to secure $341 million for a massive concrete wall to close off leaks at Wolf Creek Dam at Lake Cumberland after the lowering of lake water levels caused a drop in tourism. The Lexington Herald Leader dubbed him “the Prince of Pork.” Rogers says, “I’m two people. I’m a national legislator, and I’m a local congressman.”
In his national role, Rogers has focused on spending for homeland security. Even before September 11, he lamented that most airport screeners were not U.S. citizens, and after Congress voted to federalize airport screeners, he kept a close watch on the new agency. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he berated the Federal Emergency Management Agency for failing to adapt its policy to reduce payments to contractors who failed to perform well and on time. In 2006, he took Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to task for a proposed budget that Rogers insisted was way short of meeting the country’s needs. His subcommittee bill’s that year was $1.8 billion above the administration’s request; Rogers also demanded that the agency rearrange some of its priorities more to his liking. He has also been a supporter of the proposal for a fence along the border with Mexico.
The controversy in recent years over earmarks, the special provisions that lawmakers slip into spending bills for their districts and states, put an unaccustomed spotlight on Rogers and other powerful appropriators, who were used to going about their business quietly on Capitol Hill. He was criticized in a 2006 article in the The New York Times detailing the problems of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, which Rogers has fought to keep in Corbin, Ky., though arguably better technology for such cards was being developed elsewhere. When the Lexington Herald Leader criticized Rogers for keeping TWIC production in Corbin, Rogers fought back by writing in a column that Corbin was one of only three government facilities with sufficient security to produce the cards, and that it made no sense to have the work done by private firms. In 2005, Rogers generated more scrutiny when he inserted into a spending bill a provision requiring the Department of Homeland Security to hire a Virginia trade association that had sponsored several trips for the subcommittee chairman. The no-bid contract was later cancelled. Rogers has continued raising significant sums of political cash from firms that have won homeland security contracts. A Washington Post article in 2005 detailed these relationships, but did not allege any violations of House ethics rules or the law. Rogers’s response was: “I’ve had a lot of fundraisers. Campaign contributions mean nothing on my watch.” Citizens against Government Waste, a Washington-based watchdog group, regularly cites Rogers as a prime offender of pork barrel spending and has accused him of misusing his position to steer millions of dollars in earmarks to campaign contributors. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also has been harshly critical of him. Rogers says that he’s created 15,000 jobs in his district and brought his constituents “peace of mind.”
Since 1992, Rogers has been re-elected by overwhelming margins, carrying even the most Democratic counties. Many Republicans urged him to run for governor in 2003, but he said he felt he could do more for the state in Congress. After the 2004 election, he was one of three senior appropriators who sought the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee. Rogers said he would impose a “sweeping attitudinal change of the entire committee,” negotiate aggressively with the Senate and impose fundraising quotas on members. All this may have pleased the Republican Steering Committee, but the chairmanship went to the more senior Jerry Lewis of California. In 2008, Rogers won re-election without Democratic opposition.