The politics of blame follows Jamestown plant closing

Herald-Leader Political writerApril 22, 2014 

JAMESTOWN — Welcome to Blamestown.

It has been getting crowded here, lousy with politicians, since Fruit of the Loom announced at the beginning of the month that it is closing its plant and moving 600 Kentucky jobs to Honduras.

With no easy answers or an obvious bogeyman, politicians are doing what they do best — blaming each other.

Louisville Republican Matt Bevin filmed a windy, roadside ad blaming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who blamed President Barack Obama. Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes included the plant in her stump remarks and sent out a fundraising email mentioning the closing.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul blamed taxes and regulation.

NAFTA, GATT, Bill Clinton, McConnell, Obama, "Obamacare," high taxes, Warren Buffet, high regulation — there is no shortage of laws or politicians getting the blame.

Last week at a stop in Burkesville, when someone asked Paul about the plant closing, the senator said that representatives from the company told him "unofficially" that the plant was closing because of the costs of "Obamacare" and rising utility rates as a result of the "war on coal."

Paul also said high tax and regulatory burdens played parts in shutting down the plant.

"Right now, we have an administration that's not too concerned," Paul said. "All they do is churn out more regulations. Everything about this administration is more taxes and more regulations. Does that guarantee that everything stays here? No. We've lost a lot of the textile industry. They've been at risk for a long time."

McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said in an email that McConnell is "deeply concerned with the impact the Obama economy is having on Kentucky, and unfortunately, the hard-working employees at the Jamestown plant are yet another casualty of this administration's failing economic policies."

For others, McConnell is the obvious target.

In his shaky, low-budget YouTube video, Bevin stood outside the plant and declared that "these jobs have disappeared out of this state, out of this country, because of the kind of cronyism that exists between career politicians like Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama."

The day after the announcement, Grimes' campaign fired off a news release to reporters that said, "Due to Mitch McConnell's repeated votes to ship jobs overseas, Fruit of the Loom — the largest employer in Russell County, KY — announced Thursday that they will lay off 600 Kentuckians this year, the entire work force of the plant."

The campaign cited votes McConnell cast in 2010 and 2012 as evidence of McConnell's "reckless support for tax breaks that incentivize corporations to ship good Kentucky jobs overseas," as Grimes' spokeswoman said in an email Monday.

But those votes aren't cut and dried.

A month before the 2012 vote, the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation wrote in a letter to Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan that "under present law, there are no specific tax credits or disallowances of deductions solely for locating jobs in the United States or overseas."

In both cases, McConnell and others, including some Democrats in 2010, said they voted against the measures because they would put American companies at a disadvantage.

Last month, a fact-check in The Washington Post, which took a look at an ad on the issue, said that the law in question is "a standard moving-expense deduction that is part of the tax code, whether you are moving jobs to Vienna, Virginia, or Vienna, Austria."

The Grimes campaign referenced PolitiFact, which said the 2010 bill would have closed loopholes that cause companies to move overseas. PolitiFact also said, citing a debate between Mitt Romney and Obama on the matter, that it is only accurate "in the narrowest sense possible" to say that there is no provision in the tax code that gives tax breaks for moving out of the U.S.

Grimes' campaign included the news of the plant's closing in an April 9 fundraising email that trumpeted a one-point lead that the Democrat enjoys in the latest Public Policy Polling survey, noting that the poll came out when "Kentucky families watched Mitch McConnell's leadership failures play out in real time."

House Republican leader Jeff Hoover, whose law office sits just down the road from the massive plant that will begin laying off workers in June, was infuriated to learn of the fundraising email, warning that it won't play well in a region that has been "devastated" by the news.

"I think folks will be upset about that," Hoover said.

For his part, Hoover doesn't think the soon-to-be-unemployed Kentuckians are focused on blame, worried instead about the future.

"There's such a feeling of insecurity that they don't know who to blame," Hoover said. "But I think they realize that for some time, the move has been ongoing in the manufacturing segment of our economy to move jobs overseas. I think everybody realizes that."

He added: "I think it's unfair probably to blame any one person or one vote or one piece of legislation."

And it's not all Blamestown.

Gov. Steve Beshear joined Hoover and other local politicians last week in cutting the ribbon for a new Russell Springs factory for Dr. Schneider Automotive Systems Inc., a German-based auto parts manufacturing company. The new factory is expected to employ 155 people.

"Jamestown will survive," Hoover said. "This is a terrible blow. This is a tragic situation for our economy, but we will survive."

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Email: syoungman@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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