Is there no stopping Frankingstein monster?

herald-leader ColumnistAugust 10, 2014 

FRANKFORT — Eight days after the Fancy Farm Picnic speechifying and four days removed from former President Bill Clinton's drop-in visit on behalf of Alison Lundergan Grimes' U.S. Senate campaign, what could possibly prompt a columnist who writes (mostly) about Kentucky politics for every other Sunday's Herald-Leader to say, "We'll get to those topics later"?

Let me reintroduce you to Republican U.S. Rep. Andy "Frankingstein" Barr, the primary subject of my July 27 column, who heavily abused his congressional franking privilege by spending more than $190,000 of taxpayers' money sending out self-promotional mailings and conducting telephone town hall meetings during his first 15 months in office (more than 10 times that of any other Kentucky member of the U.S. House).

Checking the land-line voice mail at home the evening of July 29, two days after the column appeared, I heard a message that began, "Hello, this is Congressman Andy Barr. I called you to participate in a live telephone town hall meeting to give you an opportunity to ask questions about the issues that are most important to you."

Sorry I missed the call. It would have given me the chance to ask, "Why, Congressman Frankingstein, do you suck up so much 'welfare for politicians' by using tax dollars to supplement your re-election campaign? And by the way, do you drive a 'welfare Cadillac'?"

This past Monday's mail brought yet another franked communication from Congressman Frankingstein, this time a letter with his signature substituting for postage, thus shifting the cost to taxpayers.

In it, he described some of the wonderful things his office has done for a few of my fellow Franklin County residents. (I assume constituents in other parts of the 6th Congressional District received letters similarly targeted to their home counties.)

I'm proud Congressman Frankingstein's office has been going to bat for Franklin County farmers seeking tobacco settlement payments, Franklin County veterans wanting proper care from the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Franklin County charitable organizations awaiting Internal Revenue Service approval of their non-profit status and the Franklin County constituent whose tax refund was more than a year overdue. However, I would be far more proud of Congressman Frankingstein if he had not wasted so many tax dollars patting himself on the back in campaign-style mailings for doing these most basic of constituent services.

In an election year, congressional franking privileges end 90 days before voters go to the polls in November, a deadline we passed a few days ago. Still, given his recent flurry of activity, I wouldn't be surprised if Congressman Frankingstein sucked up more franked "welfare for politicians" in the past four months than he did in his first 15 months in office.

But the real thing here is this: If you were Rep. Andy Barr and got called out for sucking up "welfare for politicians" by a curmudgeonly old newspaper columnist, wouldn't you make darn sure the curmudgeonly old columnist's household got removed from your franked calling and mailing lists immediately rather than give said curmudgeonly old columnist the further ammunition (and time) it took for an aging brain to settle on the "Congressman Frankingstein" label?

Sure, you would. But Barr didn't. Enough said about paying attention to detail.

All of which leaves minimal space for Fancy Farm and President Bubba's visit.

Grimes won her Fancy Farm faceoff with Sen. Mitch McConnell easily by delivering a strong speech stressing the differences between them on the economic issues she needs to stress to have a shot at ousting him and by making these comparisons she also needs to stress: "One of us represents the Washington establishment; one of us represents Kentucky. One of us represents the past; one of us represents the future."

By contrast, the incumbent Senate minority leader's speech didn't have nearly the bite we've come to expect from him.

McConnell and fellow Republican U.S Sen. Rand Paul left the stage, and presumably the picnic, immediately after Paul concluded his speech. After all the speaking was over, KET cameras caught Grimes still on stage shaking hands and posing for pictures with supporters. Good touch on making the point she's in touch with Kentuckians while McConnell isn't.

It's a long, long way to November. But Democrats had to come away from Fancy Farm feeling a bit better than they did after the latest Bluegrass Poll results came out a few days earlier showing McConnell leading for the first time in this campaign, although still within the margin of error.

Political speeches almost always are scripted. But what struck me about some of the "down ticket" Republican speakers was they appeared to be reading scripts they might not have seen until shortly before walking to the podium.

Maybe it was because I had jotted this down in my notes that I perked up when, late in the program, Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen opened his remarks by saying, "I think all of the Republicans did a great job reading their speeches." After perking up, I watched and listened as Edelen delivered the best speech of the day.

Grimes' campaign is using Clinton far better than Conway did in his 2010 Senate race against Paul. Conway brought Clinton in for rallies in Lexington and Louisville. The Grimes campaign recognizes Clinton is great for fund-raisers in these urban areas. But for rallies, you take a former president who carried this conservative state two times in the 1990s to the conservative areas of the commonwealth, such as Hazard in the coalfield hills of Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday.

I suspect the campaign will try to get him to visit Western Kentucky on Grimes' behalf before November.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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