The Chatter: Democratic lawmakers weigh in on Chao coal controversy, new poll shows McConnell ahead

08/13/2014 12:13 PM

UPDATED: Democratic state lawmakers want former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, to immediately resign from her position on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies after reports of the group’s anti-coal agenda.

Coal Association President Bill Bissett received a letter requesting him to denounce the groups actions and demand Chao step down from her position on the board, according to a Yahoo! News report .

The letter came from eight Democratic state lawmakers, including: House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, Senator Ray Jones, Representatives Leslie Combs, John Will Stacey, Brent Yonts and John Short, as well as Representative-elect Chris Harris.

The demands come after Yahoo! News reported that Chao was a member of the board at Bloomberg Philanthropies which in 2011 invested $50 million into the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign — and their “effort to retire one-third of the nation’s aging coal fleet by 2020.” The investment was announced before Chao joined the board in 2012.

In the letter sent Tuesday, the lawmakers also asks Bissett to call on McConnell and his wife to give back the money that she earned from her position with the group, which was $9,400 according to a 2012 filing by the group detailed in the story.

In the letter, the eight Democratic lawmakers write:

“As Kentuckians with long histories of championing a strong, vibrant coal industry in the Commonwealth, who work with the Kentucky Coal Association, we call on you personally and on the Kentucky Coal Association directors to denounce the Bloomberg board’s disgraceful action and call on the McConnells to return the money they have pocketed from this and any other anti-Kentucky coal organizations.

We also urge you to join us in demanding that Ms. Chao resign immediately from the Bloomberg board.”

In response, Bissett wrote a letter to the eight lawmakers which he said has been sent in hard copy to each of the legislators as well as an electronic copy to House Majority Leader Adkins’ personal email.

In the letter, Bissett said that he understands the Kentucky U.S. Senate race can “force politicians to act along partisan lines.” But Bissett said the Kentucky Coal Association board had reviewed the letter from the lawmakers and decided that because of the timeline of Secretary Chao’s membership in relation to the decision to give money to the Sierra Club, they stood behind her on the issue.

“The Kentucky Coal Association and its board are supportive of Secretary Chao’s service on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Wells Fargo,” Bissett wrote to the lawmakers. “Since her appointment, her involvement as a proven pro-coal person has given Kentuckians someone ‘on the inside’ of those boards who can express our views and explain the social and economic harm that has been caused in the past.”

In a statement earlier in the day, Bissett said the Kentucky Coal Association has not received any such letter from the lawmakers but noted that if the group of lawmakers has an issue with Secretary Chao’s actions, they should direct their efforts toward her.

“While we appreciate the pro-coal positions and past actions of many of the elected leaders who signed this letter, it is important to focus on the severe economic damage that President Barack Obama and Senator Harry Reid have caused Eastern Kentucky and our coal industry,” Bissett said. “While I understand the need for these elected officials to support candidates of their own party, it is also necessary that KCA correct the public record.”

The Associated Press , reported last week Bissett said he has no doubts about McConnell’s support for the industry.

In response to the latest story, the McConnell campaign said the article was just another distraction.

“Alison Lundergan Grimes and her liberal allies are stooping to the lowest levels of desperation in their quest to implement the Obama agenda, but attacking a high achieving Kentucky woman only further proves Grimes’ hypocrisy on women’s issues,” McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said in a statement.

The campaign of Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes has not yet commented on the coal controversy. And in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader Monday, McConnell said he would suggest not bringing family into the campaign—hinting that he would be prepared to bring the past of Grimes’ father Jerry Lundergan into the campaign.

“If they want to start bringing family into it, if I were Jerry Lundergan’s daughter, I’d have second thoughts about that,” McConnell told the Herald-Leader.

New poll shows where voters stand ahead of 2014 and 2015 races
A new poll from Public Policy Polling shows U.S. Sen. McConnell with a four point lead over his Democratic opponent after the primary and an interesting front runner in the 2015 Republican primary.

The new poll from Public Policy Polling has Senator Mitch McConnell ahead with 44 percent to Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’ 40 percent while 7 percent of voters said they would vote for Libertarian candidate David Patterson who filed to run Monday.

The McConnell lead is a change from the group’s last poll in April where Grimes had a one point advantage over McConnell. Another change for McConnell in this poll versus the last poll is his popularity with a slight drop in the number that have an unfavorable opinion of the senator.

As for another important race, the poll shows an interesting front runner in the Republican primary for the governors race in 2015.

McConnell’s primary challenger, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, leads the pack with 25 percent even though he is not in the race at this point. Next up is Agriculture Commissioner James Comer with 20 percent, followed by Republican candidate Hal Heiner with 18 percent and Republican Cathy Bailey—who is still considering the race—with 11 percent.

In a head-to-head match up of the candidates who are in the race currently, Heiner actually leads Comer by 6 percent with 50 percent undecided. In a statement, Heiner said he is encouraged by the lead the poll gives him over the only other announced candidate in the primary.

“Every day, Kentuckians tell me they are looking for a Governor from outside the Frankfort political establishment who has the type of business experience necessary to attract and grow good paying jobs for Kentucky families,” Heiner said. “It is apparent that our message is gaining traction, and I appreciate the tremendous amount of support we have generated in the last five months.”

According to the poll Attorney General Jack Conway—the only Democratic candidate in the race currently—has a lead on all Republican candidates but the firm said some of the head-to-head match-ups are close and many voters are undecided.

Grimes highlights Clinton visit in new web ad
After bringing former President Bill Clinton to eastern Kentucky, the Grimes campaign is looking to highlight the visit as well as Grimes’ job plan in a new web ad.

The online ad, released Tuesday, uses footage of an event held this month where Clinton and Grimes visited Hazard, Kentucky. In their speeches at the event, each spoke about Grimes’ jobs plan and echoed remarks often made by the candidate about Senator McConnell not believing it is his job to create jobs in the state.

Those remarks, which are highlighted in the ad, stem from a newspaper story from the Beattyville Enterprise where McConnell was asked what he is doing to bring jobs to the area of the state the paper is located to which McConnell answered by saying economic development was more the job of state lawmakers, not federal.

“So one candidate says ‘its not my job to create jobs’ and the other candidate from the get-go of her campaign put out a jobs action plan and it is good, I’ve read it,” Clinton says in the ad.

At an event in eastern Kentucky one day after the Grimes and Clinton event, McConnell told the crowd the people of the state would not fall for the Grimes’ campaign tactics and noted that each time the former president has come to the state to stump for a Democrat running against McConnell, the five-term senator has defeated the candidate.


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