Latest News

Andy Barr: Walking a fine line for Congress

Garland Hale Barr IV walks several fine lines as he runs for Congress.

Barr is proud of his work as attorney for former Gov. Ernie Fletcher. He's also quick to note he wasn't among the Fletcher aides indicted in an investigation of the administration's merit-hiring practices, and he counseled ethics.

"I was a voice of compliance within the administration," Barr, 36, a Republican candidate in the 6th Congressional District, said last week in an interview.

Barr, known as "Andy" to friends, is a lawyer/lobbyist and past congressional staffer but says he would represent a break from the "career politicians" found in Washington.

Barr tells anti-government Tea Party activists he wants 12-year term limits and a ban on "pork barrel projects" to dislodge entrenched congressmen. But he said he wouldn't hold Kentucky's senior Republican lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, with 54 years in Congress and billions of dollars in earmarked spending between them, to those standards.

Based on his political support and campaign fund-raising reported so far ($305,422, with new finance reports due next week), Barr arguably leads the six 6th District candidates in the May 18 GOP primary. The winner faces U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, on Nov. 2.

In the interview, Barr rebuked Chandler for losing touch with Central Kentucky during four terms in the House. He cited Chandler's vote last year for a "cap and trade" policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal and other fossil fuels, arguing it could cripple Kentucky's coal industry.

"I think the fact that the congressman votes 95 percent of the time, more than nine out of 10 times, with (Democratic House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi is indicative of the fact that he's out of step with his district," Barr said.

On health-care reform, Barr said he agreed with Chandler's vote against the final bill in March. But he said Chandler voted for early procedural motions that helped the bill along, and Chandler won't commit to voting to repeal the bill, as Barr will.

Instead of the sweeping bill that passed, Barr said he favors targeted approaches: tax-deductible health savings accounts, tax breaks for individuals' insurance, group health plans to share costs among the self-employed and small employers, and caps on damages awarded in medical liability lawsuits.

"It's not enough to just repeal this thing," he said. "We have to offer a realistic alternative to what the president and the Congress have just passed."

Young conservative

Barr is the scion of an old, successful Lexington family. Barr Street downtown reportedly is named for an ancestor who owned land there.

He graduated in 1992 from Henry Clay High School and earned degrees at the University of Virginia and University of Kentucky College of Law. Before law school, he spent two years in Congress as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo.

Politics fascinated him. In college, he interned for McConnell and the Republican National Committee in Washington. He wrote pugnacious columns for The Virginia Advocate, a conservative campus publication, chastising President Bill Clinton for evading the military draft and calling him the "coward-in-chief." (Barr himself never served in the military.)

In 1993, as a 19-year-old college student in Key West, Fla., Barr was charged by police with possession of a fake Mississippi driver's license. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to provide eight hours of community service, according to court records.

In 1999, Lexington police charged Barr, then 26, with public drinking in front of Wildcat Drive-In Liquor on North Broadway, according to court records. His attorney got the charge dismissed four months later.

Barr declined to explain the circumstances behind those charges.

"I have exercised sound judgment for the majority of my adult life," he said. "I have not always exercised perfect judgment."

When Barr applied for state government jobs under Fletcher, he checked "No" on the sections asking if he had "ever been convicted of violating any law" other than "minor traffic violations." Barr said he believed his Florida conviction was "minor" and did not merit disclosure.

Governor's lawyer

Barr and Brad Cowgill, colleagues at the law firm Stites & Harbison, represented gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher in 2003 when a rival challenged the residency of Hunter Bates, Fletcher's original running mate. A judge ruled against Bates, who dropped out.

Following the election, Cowgill and Barr joined Frankfort's first Republican administration in a generation. Cowgill was budget director. Barr held three posts, starting as the governor's speech-writer and ending as his deputy general counsel.

He impressed other Fletcher aides, many of whom have endorsed his campaign.

"Andy is an outstanding young man," Cowgill said recently. "I have a very high opinion of him. He works extremely hard. He's bright and very conscientious."

Between stints in the governor's office, Barr was general counsel for a state agency, Local Initiatives for a New Kentucky, or LINK, that was a focus of the attorney general's merit-hiring investigation in 2005 and 2006.

LINK employees played a key role in satisfying local Republican leaders who wanted state merit jobs for family and friends, according to records released in the investigation. They politically promoted Fletcher in their assigned regions and told their supervisors about local news coverage critical of the governor.

LINK's director was indicted — the indictment later was dismissed — and LINK representatives were named as unindicted co-conspirators. Fletcher disbanded LINK, saying, "Some appeared to have been overzealous and too eager to please."

Barr was not charged in the investigation or accused of wrongdoing.

Barr said he conducted ethics training for his LINK colleagues in his role as their lawyer. He said he warned them about a state ethics ruling that slapped previous Gov. Paul Patton's administration for letting insiders promote people for merit jobs.

Once prosecutors convened a grand jury, Barr said, "my job was to make sure that people were cooperating with the investigation."

Ten Commandments

Toward the end of Fletcher's term, Barr wrote legal opinions for the governor.

In one, Barr built a defense for Fletcher's order to post the Ten Commandments in the state Capitol rotunda, along with the Star-Spangled Banner and other historic texts. Barr said the texts shaped the American legal system, and, taken as a whole, the display — which remains today — does not illegally promote religion.

"The Ten Commandments are part and parcel, are the foundation of our law and our system of government," Barr said last week.

That's nonsense, responded Rabbi Jonathan Adland, plaintiff in a successful Kentucky lawsuit against posting the Ten Commandments by itself in government buildings.

Only a few commandments have any equivalent in modern law, Adland said. Most deal with religious offenses, like worshipping false idols or taking the Lord's name in vain, he said.

"They are religious doctrine, and our government is not supposed to be in the business of endorsing religious doctrine," Adland said.

Opening doors

Fletcher lost his bid for re-election in 2007, returning Barr to Lexington's legal community. Barr handles civil litigation and government relations at Kinkead & Stilz, where last year he reported about $105,000 in salary. He reported about $4,500 from teaching constitutional law at UK.

Simultaneously, Barr became a lobbyist. Last year, he lobbied in Frankfort for CC Intelligent Solutions Inc., a Raleigh, N.C., software company hoping to sell its product to Kentucky state government. Barr won the company an interview at Secretary of State Trey Grayson's office, but no sale resulted.

"He was quite effective at helping us get a meeting to display our product. The only problem was that Kentucky has no money," said Ted Paczek, the company's business development manager.

In 2008, Barr married Eleanor Carol Leavell, executive director of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship.

He also devotes time to charity. Until launching his campaign, Barr was board president of Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, which provides public and private funds to local child-protection efforts. He's still on the board.

How Barr got involved with the nonprofit reveals his generous nature, said Jill Seyfred, its executive director.

Years ago, while Barr wrote Fletcher's speeches, the governor declared April to be Child Abuse Prevention Month in Kentucky, Seyfred said. Barr devoted himself to this cause based on his brief contact with the nonprofit while preparing the declaration, Seyfred said.

Invited onto the board, Barr organized events, helped raise tens of thousands of dollars and tapped his vast social network to recruit other young professionals, she said.

"He has a sincere interest in Central Kentucky," said Seyfred, who added that her group is not authorized to endorse anyone's campaign. "He was born and raised here, he went to law school here, and he recognizes that people in his age group are the future leaders of Central Kentucky."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader