6th District concerns go beyond coal; Chandler, Barr need to talk about pressing area needs

Who knew? Nothing matters more to the roughly 650,000 Kentuckians in the 6th Congressional District than coal and Medicare.

At least you'd think that from watching the campaigns' television spots.

If you take their ads at face value, you'd also have to conclude that both Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler and Republican challenger Andy Barr are liars.

We understand other hotly contested congressional races are probably offering a similarly dismal level of discourse. (Not that that excuses it.)

Also, political campaigns by their nature are reductionist, delivering simple messages, no matter how complex the underlying subjects.

Still, Lexington and the 18 other counties deserve better than attack ads that tell us zilch about the candidates' visions for the district or future.

We're seeing nothing inspirational or aspirational, which is at odds with a district where many people and communities aim high.

The 6th is home to three public universities, four private colleges, a seminary and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System's headquarters. Education employs many times more people than coal.

How to deliver and pay for education in the 21st century is a local bread-and-butter issue and one of the nation's biggest challenges. The percent of U.S. households with student loan debt has nearly doubled from 20 years ago to almost 1 in 5.

If Chandler or Barr have any ideas about any of that, they're not letting on.

The district is also home to Toyota Motor Manufacturing and many auto parts plants. The mayors of Lexington and Louisville are exploring ways to spin off more manufacturing-related jobs. Do Chandler or Barr have any ideas about that?

Chandler was one of 19 Democrats who voted with House Republicans to gut auto mileage standards as part of the "Stop the War on Coal Act." Is rolling back fuel efficiency best for the auto industry or the quest for American energy independence? That's something to discuss in a congressional race.

The federal government plays a lead role in public transit, something the 6th needs more of. Haven't heard anything about that.

No, it's been pretty much Medicare — each candidate would destroy it, according to the other — and a coal love-in, though, as far as we know, the district has not one working coal mine.

That's not to say coal is irrelevant. Lexington is home to engineers, lawyers and others who make livings from the industry, not to mention the Kentucky Coal Association.

The problem with both camps' repeated avowals of love for coal is they're reinforcing the mistaken notion that the good times would roll if only Washington had enough coal lovers to turn back the clock on environmental regulation.

Appalachian coal's problems are much deeper and market-rooted than that, including depleted reserves and competition from cheaper natural gas.

Political campaigns are about more than winning; they're about governing and leading. You can't build a sound future by misrepresenting the present.

Trustworthy leaders don't mislead, even in 30-second spots.