Rep. Ben Chandler (D)
Kentucky 6th District
With its white picket fences, horse farms and small towns, the rolling plateau of Bluegrass in central Kentucky is the part of interior America longest settled by English speakers: Lexington was founded in 1775; the town of Hopewell was renamed Paris in 1789 out of gratitude for French help during the American Revolution and in a salute to the French Revolution (though the county name remained Bourbon even after Louis XVI was guillotined). Tobacco farming started here in the 1770s, horse racing in 1787, and the first whiskey distillery, in Bourbon County, was built in 1790. Tobacco, whiskey and racehorses remained the staples of the Bluegrass economy for six generations, until 1956, when IBM built its typewriter plant in Lexington. IBM’s arrival “really was the beginning of Lexington’s industrial revolution,” as University of Kentucky historian Carl Cone put it. But capitalism, as economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote, is a process of creative destruction. The personal computer eventually outclassed the typewriter, and the IBM plant was put on the block. The big employer here became Lexmark International, an independent IBM spinoff that makes inkjet and laser printers. Another mainstay is the Toyota plant built in the 1980s in Georgetown, a town with early-19th-century houses and lush countryside just one county north of Lexington. The plant can produce 500,000 cars annually, including the new Camry hybrid, and Toyota’s $5.5 billion worth of investment has attracted auto-parts suppliers to the Georgetown area. Valvoline is among the companies that have done well locally. Lexington, which includes all of Fayette County, grew by a sprightly 24% between 1990 and 2007, and the 2000 census showed it to be the largest city in Kentucky, just ahead of Louisville. But Louisville voters decided to merge their city and Jefferson County, and in 2003, Louisville became the largest city-county again. Lexington is the host of the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 6th Congressional District of Kentucky includes Lexington and the surrounding counties—a natural unit, unlike some other Kentucky districts. Lexington casts 40% of the votes. It was the home base of the Whig Party’s great leader Henry Clay, but in the first 140 years after his death, the Bluegrass country was mostly Democratic. In the 1990s, the area became more Republican, and George W. Bush carried the district in 2000 and 2004. John McCain won the district in 2008, 55% to 43%.
Rep. Ben Chandler (D)
Elected: Feb. 2004, 3rd full term.
Born: Sept. 12, 1959, Versailles .
Education: U. of KY, B.A. 1983, J.D. 1986.
Family: Married (Jennifer); 3 children.
Elected office: KY auditor, 1991-95; KY atty. gen. 1995-2004.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1986-95.
The congressman from the 6th District is Ben Chandler, a Democrat who won a special election in February 2004. He grew up in Versailles, in the horse country west of Lexington, the grandson of A.B. “Happy” Chandler, the former governor and senator who for five years was baseball commissioner. His father owned a local newspaper. Ben Chandler got his bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Kentucky and practiced law for five years. In 1991, he was elected state auditor and in 1995 attorney general. In that job, he made a name for himself by prosecuting corrupt politicians. In 2003, Chandler ran for the Democratic nomination for governor and beat Speaker Jody Richards in the primary 50%-47%. But he lost the general election to 6th District Rep. Ernie Fletcher, 55%-45%. Chandler decided that if he could not defeat Fletcher, he would try to succeed him. He won the Democratic nomination for Fletcher’s House seat without opposition and faced low-profile Republican state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr in the general election. Both candidates supported the Iraq War and a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and opposed amnesty for illegal aliens. National Democrats strongly backed Chandler, who carefully kept his distance from Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, a liberal from California. Chandler scored an unexpectedly easy victory, 55%-43%, marking the first time since 1991 that Democrats captured a Republican seat in a special election. “It was a big, big deal,” said Chandler. “I couldn’t believe the enthusiasm I was greeted with on my arrival in Washington. My election was hailed at the time as a turning of the tide.” In the next regularly scheduled election, in November 2004, Chandler defeated state Sen. Tom Buford, 59%-40%. His victories in 2004 kept alive Kentucky’s record of electing at least one Democrat to Congress every year since Andrew Jackson founded the party in 1828, and since then, Chandler has become entrenched in what had been a safe Republican seat.
|Ben Chandler (D)||203,764||(65%)||($481,994)|
|Jon Larson (R)||111,378||(35%)|
|Ben Chandler (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (85%), 2004 (59%), 2004 (55%)
In the House, Chandler has a moderate voting record, though it is a bit more liberal on economic issues. In 2006, he proposed spending up to $32 billion over five years for grants and loans to fix the nation’s schools, but the bill died without a hearing. From his seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee in 2006, Chandler hounded Federal Aviation Administration officials about the adequacy of air traffic control staffing at Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport and nationally after the crash of Comair Flight 5191, which killed 49 people in August of that year. He criticized the National Transportation Safety Board for not holding hearings after the crash, and filed a bill to create an independent panel to review the FAA’s safety-related programs.
After Democrats won the majority in 2006, he secured a plum seat on the House Appropriations Committee. Despite opposition from Republicans complaining about the loss of local authority for school districts, the House in June 2008 passed his bill to build more environmentally friendly public schools.
Some Kentucky political pundits thought Chandler would serve several years in Congress, then challenge Fletcher to a rematch in the 2007 gubernatorial race. But he decided he liked serving in the House. “If you can maintain yourself here, if you can keep your nose clean, you will increase in your seniority and power,” he told the Lexington Herald Leader. Chandler was his party’s consensus favorite to run for governor in 2007, but after winning reelection with 85% in 2006 and after Democrats won control of the House, Chandler turned down another chance to seek the seat once held by his grandfather. He is frequently mentioned as a possible challenger to Republican Sen. Jim Bunning in 2010, but his endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama prior to the Kentucky primary as the candidate with “the best chance of bridging all of the divides that we face in this country” generated considerable local opposition.