In 2010, a lawyer named Andy Barr ran for Congress in Kentucky’s sixth district. He lost by just 647 votes, and, being a perseverant sort, he is running again this year.
The sixth district, now represented by Democrat Ben Chandler, is on the edge of the Appalachian range, and, naturally, coal is a big issue in the race. Here, Barr has sensed an advantage. In one of his campaign commercials, a couple of miners tell voters that “Obama, Ben Chandler, and the EPA are destroying us. They’re putting the coal industry out of business — and it’s just devastating.” On the screen, a chyron proclaims: “Obama, Ben Chandler and EPA: 2,000 coal jobs lost this year.”
This all sounds like pretty standard fare in election season, but for one small thing: Democrats noticed that one of the miners in the commercial was actually a coal executive named Heath Lovell — and they rather lost it. Responding to the commercial, Chandler’s campaign manager called Heath Lovell a “corporate shill,” and described his role in Barr’s campaign as “shamefully deceptive” and “an insult to hard-working Kentucky coal miners who put their lives on the line every day.” The campaign cut a commercial, which claimed that Lovell was “not a miner.” And, not to be outdone in the mindless-hyperbole stakes, Steve Earl of the Kentucky chapter of the United Mine Workers of America chimed in too, breathlessly telling the Associated Press that, “for Andy Barr to pull a stunt like this, it’s unconscionable. It’s deceitful. It’s evil. It’s sinful.”
Oscar Wilde once said that the “greatest of all sins is stupidity.” Certainly, knowing of what you speak is at a premium these days, and it appears from their reaction to Lovell that the Democratic party has perhaps spent a little too much time constructing cartoon villains. This, combined with a perfect cast of progressive bogeymen — “a CEO,” “donations to the Republican candidate,” “coal,” “mining corporations,” etc. — pushed Ben Chandler and his coterie prematurely to the fainting couch.
Still, we might look at the facts. It is certainly true that Heath Lovell is the CEO of his company, and it is also true that he is a Republican. Campaign-contribution records show that Lovell — who lists himself sometimes as a “miner” and sometimes as a “manager” of either “Alliance Coal” or of “River View Coal” — has contributed $21,400 to political candidates in the past couple of years. This year he has given $5,500 to Republicans, $2,500 of it to Mitt Romney. At a Republican fundraiser, Lovell even made a pizza with Mitt Romney and John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s.
Despite these transgressions, Lovell is also heavily involved with the operations of his business — a fact that even his being a Republican CEO cannot alter. And he’s not lying when he says that he is a third-generation Kentucky coal miner who has been working the mines since he was 18 years old: “That was my hard hat in the video,” he told the New York Times. “That was not some costume that I’ve put on. I still go underground and keep up my training.” In honesty, he added, “I still consider myself a coal miner.” So, for that matter, does the state of Kentucky, which confirmed that Lovell is a “Kentucky Certified Underground Coal Miner,” a “Kentucky Certified Mine Foreman,” a “Kentucky Certified Mine Instructor,” and a “Kentucky Certified Electrician.”
At this, Chandler shifted his attack. Oh, he said, did I say you weren’t “a miner”? I meant that you weren’t an “Estill County coal miner.” This time Chandler was right, although, given that there are no mines in Estill County and that Lovell had never claimed to be any such thing, one can hardly blame him for being guilty on both counts.
These unfortunate facts having been excavated, Barr asked the Chandler campaign if it wouldn’t mind removing the “false and defamatory ad,” and Lovell sent Chandler a strongly worded “cease and desist” letter.” Under intense pressure, Chandler agreed and pulled the ad in late September, quickly shifting his focus to the more traditional Barr-wants-to end-Medicare approach and, in doing so, restoring harmony in both the political universe and the sixth district of Kentucky — for now, at least.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.