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Dear Mr. President: Readers tell what they want from Obama

After the November presidential election, we asked Herald-Leader readers to tell us what they would say to Barack Obama as he prepares to become the next U.S. president.

More than 70 people responded.

Some readers said they wanted Kentucky to be seen as more than a state that went full-throttle for Republican John McCain, more than the homestead of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

But it went deeper than that, showing that Kentuckians worry about our state's future — and the fragile foundations, both educational and economic, on which it rests. Readers say they want Kentucky to have a piece of those "green jobs" the candidates were always talking about during the election, to bring a vibrant economy back to a state where the economy often fails to thrive in the best of times, implement universal health care and assure that Kentucky's educational progress does not continue to dangle solely on the aging Kentucky Education Reform Act.

It's a tall order.

But then, voters invested tall hopes in the senator from Illinois.

■ Carl Shoupe of the Harlan County community of Benham wants to know whether Obama really believes the election-cycle propaganda about clean coal.

Shoupe and other readers who wrote us argue that "clean coal" is a misnomer. "It's easy to say 'clean coal,' but they forget about the extraction process."

Even if technologies are developed to make coal cleaner-burning, or usable in synthetic fuels, mining has not been good to either Kentucky's environment or its economy, Shoupe argues.

Says Shoupe, a third-generation coal miner and former union activist, now disabled, "I watched my grandfather die with black lung, I watched my father die from black lung. ... The coal industry has not put anything back into Eastern Kentucky."

Shoupe works with both Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in their drives to move Kentucky into greater environmental responsibility.

Although the first ton of coal was mined in Harlan County in 1890, the communities in the area where Shoupe lives — including Cumberland, Benham and Lynch — still struggle economically.

A telling irony: The United Mine Workers building in the Harlan community of Klutts is now used as a food bank. It serves more than 800 people.

■ Benjamin Bynum of Georgetown wants the president-elect's commitment to education to help lift Kentucky from its persistent, and economically hobbling, lack of educational achievement and the resulting perpetually tepid economy.

Bynum is the director of Reading Camp, a non-profit organization that works with elementary-age children who fall behind in reading skills. Bynum, a Centre College graduate and former teacher, worries about how many Kentuckians remain apathetic to education progress — simply because they can't envision how it would help them, their children, their communities.

Bynum thinks his program helps students learn to attach goals to education, but he's also troubled that Kentucky isn't economically positioned to make broad progress. "Kentucky is part of the coal world, and I worry that if we go to green energy, Kentucky will be even further left behind."

■ Candace Woods of Lexington also has a few words for the president-elect. They start with a request to bring home American troops from Iraq and end with a plea to get serious about universal health care.

Woods served with the Army in Iraq as an administrative specialist for a military police company. Now living in Lexington with husband Jason and daughter Kayla, 3, she's ready for her country to be done with the war, which tears at her a little bit more every time she hears about it.

"Every time I hear about somebody over there doing good, it makes me so proud," Woods says. "The people who did not make it back, it hurts my heart, because they're like family to me."

Still, she says: "We can't baby-sit the Iraqis forever. They have to learn to defend themselves and be on their own."

Woods also worries about expanding health care and wonders what will happen to all that high-toned debate about universal health care, now that the debates are over and the election past. As a veteran, she qualifies for health care, but her in-laws don't. Her mother-in-law has cancer, and her father-in-law "has to work himself to death just so they can pay for her medication."

■ Retiree Alan Son of Lexington has a different top priority: It's the economy, and the disincentives he sees to restarting the American economy, which seems to be toppling on the weight of its own poor structure.

Son thinks the president-elect should jump-start the economy by radically rethinking the tax system. Workers claiming overtime shouldn't have to pay tax on it, he thinks, and small-business owners and homeowners improving their houses should also get a few breaks, Son thinks.

Son also wonders whether merely getting out of Iraq is enough of a long-term strategy for the American military: The president-elect should make sure, he says, that "before we pull out of our military obligations that we know where we're going next time."

Son wonders whether the United States will pull out of Iraq only to step up its military manpower in Afghanistan, if the country will jump from quagmire to quagmire.

Not every reader fretted about the big issues.

One wanted the personal help of the president-elect in scoring a cheap souvenir of Obama's election. He wanted the post-Election Day Chicago Tribune, by first-class mail, and complained that the cost of having it overnighted would be $11. The reader thanked the president-elect in advance for Obama's anticipated personal cooperation in obtaining that particular newspaper, cheap.

There was the family that wanted the president-elect to know that it had contributed $5 to his campaign, the woman who wanted Obama to know that she had helped deliver Wolfe County for him, and the Paintsville man who wants the president-elect to give him a holler: "My plan for an Industrial Revolution will ignite employment and manufacturing jobs all across America while eliminating our dependence on OPEC."

And there was Steve Barnes of Lexington, who urged the president-elect thus: "Please bring your 'A' game and become the Tiger Woods of world leaders."

Kentuckians are never short on sports metaphors: We slam-dunk the point, every time.

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