U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and Nancy Jo Kemper, his Democratic challenger, are spending the last weekend of the campaign shaking as many hands as they can across Central Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.
Saturday morning found Kemper greeting about 40 volunteers crowded inside Fayette County Democratic Party headquarters on South Broadway. Everyone — Kemper included — was assigned a Lexington neighborhood and handed a package of door-hangers promoting Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s election. Then Kemper made a brief speech to rally the troops.
“We’ve got to affirm that we’re proud Democrats, the party that stands for the little people, the people that never have a chance,” she said. “We’re the people who are always going to put human need above corporate greed. We’re the people who are going to work for peace and justice in our world. We’re the people who are going to build the safety net that is going to be there when people have hard times that are unexpected, and that can happen to any of us.”
Don’t dismiss followers of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump when you meet them, Kemper added.
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“Be kind,” she said. “If you run into Trump supporters, listen to them. Because underneath their anger is something really important, and that is that government isn’t working for them. So tell them to send people to Washington and to the statehouse in Frankfort who will care about them, who will listen to them, who will be their advocate and who are not going to be bought by money.”
Nancy Vanderwel, a recent transplant to Lexington from Seattle, congratulated Kemper on her performance two weeks ago in a debate with Barr televised by KET. Vanderwel told Kemper she made Barr look foolish by correcting him on the minimum wage, pointing out that adults, not teens, are more likely to earn it. Kemper favors raising the minimum wage; Barr opposes it.
“She really cares about regular people,” Vanderwel said after meeting the candidate. “What upsets me about Andy Barr is all the outside money that propels him — especially the big bank money. I don’t think he does much for people unless they give him money.”
Another Kemper volunteer was John Stempel, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. Stempel, who had foreign service assignments in Iran, India and Africa, said Barr doesn’t seem to understand foreign policy, and yet he runs attack ads against Kemper because she supports last year’s international agreement to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.
“The truth is, the Iranian nuclear deal is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” said Stempel, author of “Inside the Iranian Revolution,” a memoir of his time in Tehran during the late 1970s. “Despite what Andy Barr says in his generally false and misleading statements, the money goes to the government, not to the ayatollahs, and it takes away their weapons.”
Two hours later and 40 miles to the east, Barr strode from table to table greeting people at the Town and Country Minute Market in the small Montgomery County town of Camargo.
Barr, who is seeking a third term in Congress, asked his constituents what problems they’re having with the federal government. One man mentioned veterans’ benefits; another complained about farm regulations. Barr listened, nodded and offered suggestions. An aide distributed her business card around the room so people could follow up later with his district office.
Tim and Dede McCarthy, who run a dog rescue in nearby Mount Sterling, asked Barr about Facebook posts they’ve seen online criticizing him for supporting horse “soring,” or the illegal practice of deliberately injuring a show horse’s front feet to get it to step higher in an exaggerated style known as “the Big Lick.”
“Well, of course that’s just ridiculous,” Barr replied. He told the couple that he’s co-sponsoring one of the competing measures in Congress to further crack down on soring. Satisfied, Dede McCarthy said she would return to Facebook to correct Barr’s critics. She added that she appreciated Barr for being so easily approachable. She and her husband have spoken with the congressman several times in the past.
“A lot of people claim these guys in office are inaccessible, but I think they’re easy to find, even when it’s not an election year,” Tim McCarthy said as Barr moved on to the next table. “All you’ve got to do is figure out where they’re going to be — like a lunch or whatever — and then go there yourself. I think some people are waiting to have them show up at their front door.”
Barry Frazier, a lender at Peoples Exchange Bank in Mount Sterling, thanked Barr for his continued efforts to repeal parts of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a set of banking regulations Congress passed after the 2008 financial sector collapse.
“I believe there’s reason for some regulatory intervention,” Frazier said. “There was some predatory lending out there, and things were running a little bit loose. But Washington got overzealous. They created this massive regulatory burden that was really meant for the too-big-to-fail banks, but it wound up covering all of us.”
For example, Frazier said, the Dodd-Frank Act requires an appraisal for any property used as collateral in a loan. That sounds reasonable, he said, except that small banks in farming communities, like his, extend annual lines of credit to farmers who put up their farms as collateral. That means farmers must pay $2,000 to $3,000 every year for a new appraisal “even when we’ve known this farmer and what his property is worth for 20 years,” Frazier said.
During a quick break, Barr said voters this fall are telling him that government regulations have destroyed jobs in a number of industries, including coal mining. Barr blames the Environmental Protection Agency and President Obama’s clean air initiatives for making coal less competitive as an energy source.
“The decline of coal jobs to the east of here continues to impact car dealerships, the small businesses, the convenience stores and the gas stations like this one,” he said. “The trickle effect of the decline in coal jobs east of here has come into play in communities like Montgomery County, like Wolfe County, like Menifee County ... because of the decline of people coming in to shop from places like Perry County and Knott County and Harlan County.”
The Affordable Care Act is also worrying families across the 6th Congressional District, Barr said. The congressman has voted dozens of times, along with his House GOP colleagues, to repeal Obama’s signature health care law.
“Obamacare continues to be very unpopular because it is making life harder for people with skyrocketing premiums, higher deductibles,” Barr said. “And even where overage has increased, what we’ve seen is that our rural hospitals have suffered a declining level of charitable care and increased bad debt because of these high deductibles that are simply uncollectible. And now, for so many of my constituents, they’ve lost their health plan for the second and third time because of the collapse of the (Kentucky Health Cooperative).”