Kentucky automobile dealers were surprised, confused and saddened Thursday by Sen. Mitch McConnell's opposition to a financial bailout of the Big Three automakers.
"I have never been as disappointed as I am today," said Versailles Ford dealer Jack Kain, who was chairman of the National Association of Automobile Dealers Association in 2005.
Kain said he and other industry representatives met with Kentucky's congressional delegation on Tuesday in Washington and came away feeling that McConnell wouldn't oppose the bailout.
He told them, however, that there were several versions of the bailout bill being circulated in Congress and that he would have to read the final one before he could be certain, Kain said.
Ron Jackson, president of the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association, said it's "hard to know" why McConnell is opposing the bailout, but "the manufacturers have to have this money."
The collapse of even one of the Big Three would be "devastating to this state" and its auto dealers, who are independent business people. They would be left without a product to sell.
Thousands of jobs could be lost at dealerships and at auto assembly and parts plants around the state, Jackson said. The surviving auto makers would be hurt.
"I don't think anybody in the industry thinks they (automakers) should be given a blank check," he said. "I think there have got to be requirements ... that will make them wake up to what the current situation is."
Added Jackson: "I sincerely doubt that he (McConnell) is questioning the need for the money. It's got to be something else, and I don't know what that might be."
Based on his meeting with McConnell, Kain said the senator's decision might be based on any of several factors, including the high wage scales of American auto makers compared with Japanese companies, a misunderstanding of how the auto industry works or the failure of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout to stimulate the economy.
"This money is not trickling down to Main Street as it should be," Kain said. "It's not working," so McConnell might be reluctant to vote for another bailout.
Dealerships are going to be lost without a bailout, which Kain prefers to call "a bridge loan."
"For the dealers and for Main Street, I am disappointed," he said.
Reach Jim Jordan at (859) 231-3242 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3242.