You can give U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, this: He truly believes that charity begins at home.
Home, for Rogers, doesn't just mean his congressional district, the second poorest in the nation, or even the state of Kentucky. It almost literally means home: his family, his closest allies and strongest supporters.
Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves' stories about Rogers unconscionable funneling of money to pet projects that build up his political capital or enrich his financial backers and family members would always be distressing, but are now particularly so.
Friday, when the first of Cheves' stories appeared, another headline on the front page read: "Jobless aid restored, but employment outlook dim."
Inside the paper were pictures of mattresses placed end-to-end on the floor at the Hope Center's emergency center for homeless people. The facility, with 118 beds, regularly gives shelter to 200 people a night. Center officials believe the economy has increased both the number of residents and the length of their stays. In addition, they note, it's close to highways that bring in people from Central and Eastern Kentucky.
Thank goodness the Hope Center is building additional capacity because, only the day before, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had told Congress the economy is "unusually uncertain" and unemployment will likely remain high.
Rogers and those who speak for him tell us it is absolutely coincidental that one of Rogers' major campaign donors, J.C. Egnew, is chairman of the board of the Somerset-based non-profit National Institute for Hometown Security, which has benefited from $52 million in federal earmarks orchestrated by Rogers. And as chance would have it, Egnew also owns a tent-making company that has gotten millions in federal orders. NIHS' commercialization director, Shannon Rickett, also just happens to be chairwoman of the Republican Party in Rogers' 5th Congressional District.
Likewise, we're assured it's just happenstance that Rogers has gone ape over federal funding to protect cheetahs in Namibia while his daughter is grants administrator for the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Rogers knows we're poor in Kentucky; but does he have to add insult to injury by acting like we're dumb, too?
These aren't coincidences unless politics and human nature have undergone some radical and isolated transformation in the 5th District.
Although not quite so clear, it hardly seems a coincidence that, while Rogers heaps federal funds on a favored few, the many go wanting. The 2007 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 27.6 percent of all Rogers' constituents, and 35.8 percent of the children, lived in poverty, by far the highest for any congressional district in Kentucky. Median household income was $26,824, a pittance compared to Rickett's $80,000 a year.
It's instructive to note that Rogers was among the House Republicans who voted against extending benefits for the long-term unemployed despite the fact that his district includes counties with some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Kentuckians are suffering, few more than his constituents, but Rogers continues unabated in viewing the federal treasury as a checkbook to benefit his closest allies.
No one man, not even a powerful congressman in his 15th term in office, could change the economy of a region, much less a state or the country. But it's no coincidence that Rogers' district has remained mired in an economic nowhere land while a favored few have benefited from the congressman's position.