Rep. Ed Whitfield (R)
Kentucky 1st District
The point where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi—the intersection Huckleberry Finn and Jim missed in the fog—must have struck early settlers as a site for a great city. But no Pittsburgh or St. Louis grew up on this fertile black soil. Instead, the Kentucky land west of the dammed-up Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, bought from the Chickasaw Indians by Gen. Andrew Jackson and Gov. Isaac Shelby in 1818—the Jackson Purchase, it is still called—was settled by farmers. Most people here today are the descendants of these farmers, with memories of earlier generations living in family lore. Just to the east of the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers is the Pennyrile (after pennyroyal, a common variety of local wild mint), a land of low hills and small farms, where you find the west Kentucky coalfields. There is Lyon County, founded by Matthew “Spitting” Lyon, who earned his epithet as a congressman from Vermont for spitting on a fellow member of Congress; he later represented western Kentucky from 1803 to 1811. The Land Between the Lakes, the boating and recreational haven created by the damming of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers just before the debouch into the Ohio, is the fastest-growing area in these parts, as the Jackson Purchase and the Pennyrile struggle economically. A uranium enrichment plant operated by the company USEC in Paducah has been under federal cleanup since 1988 and slated to be closed; in the meantime, the government has been slow to compensate workers stricken with radiation-related sickness.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 1st Congressional District of Kentucky is made up of the Jackson Purchase and much of the Pennyrile, plus a line of counties stretching some 200 miles east of the Mississippi in the mountains along the Tennessee border and then north toward the center of the state. There is a distinctive Southern atmosphere here—in the crops that are grown, in the historically low wages, and in the fact that the big city with the most influence locally is Nashville, not Louisville. Paducah has made some strides to reinvent itself with an artist-relocation program that has boosted development and made the small Ohio River town a U.S art destination. Turkey hunting also has become a big business here. The Army base at Fort Campbell, which is home to the 101st Airborne Division, has expanded with the activation of a Special Forces battalion.
The Jackson Purchase and the Pennyrile are ancestrally Democratic; Paducah produced one of the most enduring Democratic politicians of this century: Alben Barkley, whose career from 1912 to 1956 included 14 years in the House, 24 in the Senate and four as vice president. But the hills far from the Mississippi are Republican country, and this, combined with the Republican trend that reached north from Dixie to Paducah, has made the 1st District seriously contested territory in state elections—and one of the longtime Democratic rural areas that went solidly for George W. Bush in 2000 (58%) and 2004 (63%). In the close Senate election of 2004, Republican Jim Bunning won 48% in the Jackson Purchase. In 2008, John McCain won the district with 62% of the vote.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R)
Elected: 1994, 8th term.
Born: May 25, 1943, Hopkinsville .
Education: U. of KY, B.S. 1965, J.D. 1969.
Family: Married (Connie); 1 child.
Military career: Army Reserves, 1967–73.
Elected office: KY House of Reps., 1974–75.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1969–79; Owner, Rhodes Oil Co., 1975–79; Cnsl., Seaboard System Railroad, 1979–83; V.P., CSX, 1983–91; Cnsl., Interstate Commerce Comm., 1991–93.
The congressman from the 1st District is Ed Whitfield, a Republican elected in 1994. Whitfield grew up in Hopkinsville and Madisonville, in a family with Pennyrile roots going back to before 1800. He served in the Army Reserves, practiced law in Hopkinsville and was elected to the Legislature in 1973 as a Democrat. After one term in Frankfort, Whitfield ran an oil distributorship in the west Kentucky coalfields, then in 1979, moved to Washington to become an executive for the Seaboard and CSX railroads. He was legal counsel to the chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission from 1991 to 1993, then returned to west Kentucky to run for Congress. The district long had been represented by quiet, long-serving, conservative Democrats. But the one-term incumbent, Tom Barlow, was a free-spirited supporter of the Clinton administration. Encouraged by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Whitfield ran as a Republican, turned aside criticism that he was carpetbagging and concentrated on attacking Barlow’s vote for Clinton’s first-term budget and tax increase. With help from the mountain counties and running strongly in the Pennyrile, Whitfield won 51%-49% in the big Republican sweep of 1994.
|Ed Whitfield (R)||178,107||(64%)||($1,052,635)|
|Heather Ryan (D)||98,674||(36%)||($21,203)|
|Ed Whitfield (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (60%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (65%), 2000 (58%), 1998 (55%), 1996 (54%), 1994 (51%)
In the House, Whitfield has a moderate-to-conservative voting record and a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. One major concern has been aid to workers exposed to radiation at the uranium plant in Paducah. He overcame objections from the Bush administration to cleaning up the site, which is projected to cost more than $3 billion and last more than another decade. Whitfield is trying to work out a deal that keeps USEC’s plant operating. He voted for normal trade relations with China after the Chinese agreed to lower tariffs on imported tobacco, and he supported the tobacco buyout bill, which handsomely benefited local farmers. Bush in 2005 signed into law a bill Whitfield authored to discourage “doctor shopping” by prescription-drugs addicts. It established an electronic data base that the states can use to monitor people who cross state lines to buy pharmaceuticals. A thoroughbred owner, Whitfield co-sponsored legislation in 2006 to ban the killing of horses for meat. The House overwhelmingly passed the bill, but it died in the Senate. He also has encouraged industry leaders to restrict performance-enhancing drugs given to racehorses.
When Republicans were in the majority, Whitfield was chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee at Energy and Commerce. He held hearings on private data brokers who collect telephone records without customer permission, on the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet and on medical insurance for horse jockeys.
Whitfield has entrenched himself to the point that he is no longer much of a Democratic target. In 1996, when lawyer Dennis Null opposed him, Whitfield carried 18 of the district’s 31 counties, including Paducah, which he lost in 1994. He won his first re-election 54%-46%. In 1998, former Rep. Tom Barlow ran again, and Whitfield won 55%-45%. Since then, he has won easily. He defeated Barlow a third time in 2006, increasing his winning margin to 60%-40%. And in 2008, he beat anti-war protester Heather Ryan 64%-36%. This longtime Democratic stronghold now seems to be a safe Republican seat.