Barr's country club membership comes under scrutiny

07/06/2010 06:24 AM

Garland “Andy” Barr, the Republican 6th congressional district candidate, dismissed questions about whether his membership in the historically all-white Idle Hour Country Club in Lexington could be a political liability in his race this fall against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler.

Andy Barr, Republican candidate for Congress

During a wide-ranging interview with cn|2 Politics on Friday, Barr said his membership at Idle Hour — which admitted former University of Kentucky and Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Sam Bowie as its first African American member in November — isn’t relevant to the campaign.

And Barr said any effort to turn it into an issue is an example of  “traditional petty politics.”

“I think if that’s what is being said it’s an indication of how desperate or concerned they are that my candidacy is competitive, that it’s a winning campaign,” Barr said. “It shows they want to divert attention away from the real issues in this campaign … Those kinds of tactics that focus in on the petty issues, those non-issues, I think that voters are going to punish that.”

On Sunday, though, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt wrote a piece saying that Barr’s membership there “puts a potentially embarrassing mark” on Barr’s resumé. Isenstadt mentioned how the Kentucky Human Rights Commission investigated the club in 1999. That investigation was dropped in 2008 because the commission failed to find anyone who said they were turned away because of race.

The Washington Post ran an article on Wednesday looking at traditionally segregated social clubs in Kentucky and prominently featured Idle Hour.

Barr said his membership at the social club is one piece of his diverse civic life.

“My family has been a member for a long time,” Barr said. “It’s not an issue. It should not be an issue. I’m a member of a lot of organizations in Central Kentucky. I was born and raised in Central Kentucky. And I love my community.”

He then listed the organizations he works with: the board of Prevent Child Abuse KentuckyLeadership Lexington Steering Committeeand the board of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, which will be dedicated to African American contributions to the thoroughbred industry. It is named after Murphy, a Bourbon County native who was an African American Hall of Fame jockey and won three Kentucky Derbies in the late 1800s.

Chandler’s campaign has declined to comment on the issue.

The race is shaping up to be Chandler’s most difficult re-election race since winning the seat in a special election in February 2004. For instance, last month, CQ-Roll Call changed its outlook for the race from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic” to reflect the potential competitiveness of the race.

And just last week, Barr got a boost when the National Republican Congressional Committee bumped him up into its top tier of candidates, called “Young Guns.” That opens the door to additional national fund-raising and resources.

And Barr said he didn’t expect his connection to Idle Hour to stunt momentum for his own fund-raising.

“I can tell you we are exceeding the goals that were set for us by a large margin,” he said. He declined to say what the goals were. “We’re doing well,” he said. “Here’s what I can tell you, is that we are on a pace of fund-raising that will exceed what we need to communicate our message to the voters of Central Kentucky.”

Chandler, at the last campaign finance reporting deadline, was sitting on a warchest of $1.7 million.  The candidates must report to the Federal Election Commission by June 15.

- Ryan Alessi

Coming later this week: The start of an occasional series on the candidates’ positions on the top issues they will be debating this fall.

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