Tired of yelling at their televisions during the news, four men from Central Kentucky each hope to join Congress to block what they see as President Barack Obama's socialist, ruinously expensive agenda.
To get there they must face one another and two much-better-funded rivals in the May 18 Republican primary for the 6th Congressional District. The winner has to oust four-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, on Nov. 2.
Adding to the challenge, they're attempting to win with scant campaign funds and without promising to bring projects back from Washington if elected. In fact, they pledge to abolish federal funding for local projects, arguing that the national government already is trillions of dollars in debt.
"We'll be at political events and sometimes the local officials, like the magistrates, will sidle up to us and say 'Hey, if you win and go to Congress, we'd like to talk to you about some projects we want.' And I say, 'You must not understand what we're saying here. We're not going to be doing that,' " said candidate John Kemper III of Lexington.
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Beating Chandler won't be hard because angry voters are hankering to dump career politicians, the candidates predicted. "My cat could beat Ben Chandler this year," said candidate Perry Wilson Barnes of Nicholasville.
The true battle is the Republican primary in two weeks, they said.
So far, much of the attention has gone to one candidate, Garland "Andy" Barr, a Lexington lawyer who served former Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Barr has most of the money — $411,659 as of March 31 — and support from local Republican Party leaders.
Another candidate, retired coal executive Mike Templeman of Frankfort, has raised $150,398, but mostly from his own pockets.
The remaining four GOP candidates tout their lack of money, official endorsements and political experience as proof of their authenticity.
If Barr is the nominee, Central Kentucky is blowing a rare opportunity to elect a citizen-legislator beholden to nobody and uninterested in climbing the political ladder, said candidate Matt Lockett of Nicholasville.
"He is the party establishment's chosen candidate," Lockett said. "We have to be careful who we send to Washington. It has to be a truly independent voice. Just changing the letter after our congressman's name from D to R isn't enough."
Perry Wilson Barnes
Barnes, 73, is the oldest candidate and the only one previously to seek office (the Nicholasville City Commission, unsuccessfully). He is a retired General Electric Co. calibration and maintenance specialist who operates a mail-order dance and exercise record business.
Barnes said he felt a religious calling to run for the House. Every day, he said, he grew more upset by Obama and the Democratic-led Congress as they broadened government power far beyond anything the Founding Fathers imagined in the 18th century.
He ticked through a list of recent legislation, including the cap-and-trade plan that Chandler voted for to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the stimulus spending package, and health care "reform" and financial services "reform" — he made air quotes around the word "reform" with his index fingers — that he said would pay for future Wall Street bailouts.
"A lot of this is just about expanding government, and it's obviously unconstitutional," Barnes said. "I would expect it to get struck down by the Supreme Court if it's not repealed first."
Barnes criticized Chandler for his costly foreign junkets to Australia and the Galapagos Islands, among other exotic destinations.
But he also takes a dim view of powerful Kentucky Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset. Both men campaign on the billions of dollars in earmarked spending they divert to Kentucky.
Barnes and some of his neighbors have reopened a vacant storefront in downtown Nicholasville as the nonprofit Main Street Playhouse, now showing musical productions. Barnes said the theater does not take federal grants. Communities should support such projects themselves if they want them, he said.
"I'm not going to bring back wheelbarrows full of money or big styrofoam checks to present at these ceremonies. We need to keep our money here at home, not send it all to Washington and get some of it back to buy votes," Barnes said. "I can't imagine Hal Rogers getting along with that."
John Kemper III
Kemper. 46, is a big, brawny man, a walk-on linebacker for the University of Kentucky football team in the early 1980s.
He's a home builder and developer in Lexington who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a year ago with $4.1 million in assets and $4.9 million in debts. Kemper said the recession and failed land deals hurt him. Making no excuses, he said he's following a court-supervised, five-year repayment plan.
Kemper divides people into two categories, risk-takers and the fearful. He counts himself as a risk-taker. It's risk-takers who start businesses, create jobs and improve communities, and when they fall short, they assume responsibility, he said.
"I put my money where my mouth is, invested in myself and I paid the price," he said.
Like the three other less-funded GOP candidates, Kemper said his No. 1 issue is the exploding federal debt — currently $12.8 trillion — and the need to make immediate, sweeping cuts in government spending.
"It's a Catch 22," Kemper said. "People say they want lower taxes and less government. But if you get elected in the 6th district and you oppose earmarks, down in the 5th district there's Hal Rogers cranking out earmarks all the time. Pretty soon your voters are asking, 'Why aren't you doing that for us?'"
"Until the American people realize there is no free lunch, nothing is getting solved," he said.
Kemper said he's also an abortion opponent who wants the procedure outlawed and doesn't see how compromise is possible on this issue. "I call it the American Holocaust," he said.
Lockett, 35, is a funeral services salesman in Nicholasville and a former Southern Baptist associate pastor.
Lockett said Obama moved the United States to "European-style socialism" with the federal government bailing out banks, assuming ownership of major corporations and mandating health coverage.
Lockett blames both political parties for spending the country deep into debt. Kentucky's congressional delegation actually boasts about how much taxpayer money it spends, he said.
"For so long, that's been the Kentucky politician's mindset," he said. "Go to Washington and grab all the money you can and never mind the consequences. Our thinking is all wrong."
Lockett said he is skeptical that any one congressman, however earnest, can change things. Especially in the House, with 435 members and a powerful seniority system, a rookie lawmaker usually gets to sit on his hands for years.
So he co-founded the Conservative Freshmen Coalition. It presently has 33 members running for Congress across the country. Each signed a pledge to vote as a bloc — if elected — in favor of gun owners' rights, lower taxes on small businesses and constitutional amendments requiring term limits for members of Congress and a balanced budget, among other positions.
The hope is that enough coalition members will win in November to wield independent influence as a group in the next Congress, Lockett said.
Pendergrass, 49, is an emergency-medical pilot in Georgetown and the owner of an air-charter company.
Most waking hours, Pendergrass said, he's either working or racing between his jobs. He's attended some campaign events in his pilot jumpsuit — not to show off, but because he didn't have time to change.
His biggest complaint with Congress is that it's dominated by lawyers, who are more than half of its membership, rather than business owners or workers who punch a time clock. As a result, laws are passed with no comprehension for how they destroy jobs, he said.
"Manufacturing is gone now. Small business is all we have left holding this country together and employing people," Pendergrass said. "We need to do everything we can to help small business and reduce the burdens on it."
Pendergrass said he has supported himself since he was 12 and is disappointed that so many Americans have come to depend on the nanny-state.
Most federal spending goes to unaffordable entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and welfare — that must be seriously cut, he said.
"Either we stop the spending or this country is going to explode down around itself," he said.
Like the other GOP candidates, Pendergrass said he wants illegal immigrants to be deported and the U.S. border secured. However, he said it's sad that even in a time of high unemployment, jobs remain open for illegal immigrants.
"We're told that Mexicans will do the jobs that we don't want to do," he said. "Well, I've dug ditches. I've baled hay. I've done it all. There are jobs out there if people are willing to work. But if you get a government check every month, you have no incentive to work."