Larry Webster: Circling the wagons for coal

More miners, less demand for coal

Contributing columnistJune 24, 2012 

Larry Webster

It was a beautiful California-ish June day at the mouth of Poor Farm Holler. For those of you don't know where Poor Farm Holler is, it is the next one below Coal Holler.

We gathered there and stood on L. L. brand asphalt. Between the audience and a modest high wall was a state highway stage-trailer, with podium no doubt rented from some local bag man. They pull out this trailer and gather everybody who is anybody up and name roads and bridges and drain tiles after people.

People like Herbie Deskins. He had been our county attorney four years when I ran against him and claimed that he didn't really want the job. He won the election and two years later quit and got in the legislature, on the since discredited theory that the legislature is on the governor path. He wore too-bright blazers to ever be governor. He dressed like it was the Derby every day, and was an old time liberal before liberal genocide.

Somewhere in the ensuing 23 years of jovial and effective lawmaking, the fires of ambition in Herbie were quenched, more likely than not by a good woman and a good mountain place near Flat Gap. By 'place' I mean a mountain farm, tended by someone with intimate knowledge of its needs, art made from rock, wood turned into shelter, its creatures respected, its waters revered, its soils treasured. Home.

Herbie got too small of a road, in my book. Past Poor Farm, over the head of Cedar and down Hurricane to Boldman, it comes out just shy of the wildlings north of the wall of Floyd County. But that was the very and sole road in the bill that our state representative and senator skillfully guided through the General Assembly, maybe saving the four-lanes for themselves. Probably had to make a deal with David Williams.

While a good singer did a modified white on the National Anthem (each word has several more syllables than written, but about half as many as a full black version), Charlie Pinson and I observed a buzzard circling Coal Holler. Then they played a tape of Happy Chandler singing his "Old Kentucky Home," full black, at Rupp Arena on senior night in 1984. Charlie Pinson claimed he had been there and I expect he had.

The local attorney who introduced Herbie listed his achievements as a House member, which mainly consisted of getting coal miners more money for getting hurt and making somebody pay for it other than the coal industry, KERA, a genuine goodie, getting severance tax back to where it come from, and helping the state get primacy in strip mining. Primacy, declared the introducer, helped preserve jobs. Interpretation: (You can get by with more if reclamation is left to political appointees of a governor.)

Herbie was favorably compared to Gov. Al Smith, a governor who ran for president and got beat by one of those Republicans with two 'o's in his name, but I can't remember which one, and went on and got into the newspaper business and ended up on KET.

When Herbie got up, colorful in tone, but with a disappointing blue blazer, he made a declaration of war, saying that natural gas and nuclear power were our enemies. That we would have to hang together in order to "mine every lump."

He circled his wagon with coal, and did not once explain that it is not Obama's fault that coal is an obsolete product and that there are stockpiles already mined that they cannot sell, and that, because of the difficulties in getting permits to surface mine, we now have more miners working than anytime in the last 25 years.

Yes, that's right. The number of coal miners has gone up under Obama. Most of the new ones are doing honorable work under the hill.

Where are liberals when you need them?

Larry Webster is a Pikeville lawyer.

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