Op-Ed

Paul's gaffes better than Mongiardo's endorsement

Maybe I've been at this journalism gig too long. Maybe 35-plus years spent in close proximity to the political process made me too cynical, too prone to reading between the lines.

Maybe that's why I was so underwhelmed by Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo's belated endorsement of Attorney General Jack Conway's U.S. Senate candidacy.

Then again, maybe I was underwhelmed because no reading between the lines was necessary to realize tepid falls short of describing the five-paragraph statement that lacked a single word of praise for the man who defeated Mongiardo in the Democratic primary. Icy comes closer.

By contrast, the statement Conway issued in response heaped praise on Mongiardo as "a leader who has always had the courage to stand up for his convictions," as someone who "walks the walk" in addition to talking the talk and who "has always stood up for the hardworking Kentucky families who are being hammered by this recession."

One could only wonder who was endorsing whom.

And I continue to wonder why someone close to Mongiardo, who now has narrowly lost two U.S. Senate races but who also helped the Democratic Party retake the Governor's Office, hasn't grabbed him by the lapels, got in his face and said, "Dude, don't sacrifice any future political hopes on the altar of bitterness."

Because intentional or not, the bitterness oozed out of Mongiardo's statement. It showed in the way he lumped his endorsement of Conway with the endorsement of three state Senate candidates and in the dig he got in about "political insiders and party power brokers."

Hey, I'm into honesty. And I've never shied away from saying what I think about political insiders and party power brokers in this column. But my job doesn't involve popular elections that can be influenced, sometimes heavily, by said insiders and power brokers. Mongiardo's political future, assuming he wants to have one, does.

That future would look much brighter to me today if he had manned up about the primary loss, thrown a little perfunctory praise Conway's way in the endorsement and showed up Saturday to embrace his party's Senate candidate on the stage of the Fancy Farm Picnic — even if the praise and the embrace weren't heartfelt.

Too late for that now.

Mongiardo should have taken a cue from the leading Republicans (including a primary loser) who gritted their teeth and quickly rallied 'round Rand Paul even though he wasn't their preferred candidate and is prone to saying some seriously weird stuff.

The loose-lipped Paul is truly the gift that keeps on giving — to the Conway camp. His gifts are one strange sound bite after another on everything from civil rights to his belief that water quality and drug trafficking should be local issues. According to a profile in Details magazine, Paul also thinks mine safety should be handled at the local level.

"You live here, and you have to work in the mines," the magazine quotes him as saying at a campaign stop. "You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those (mining) jobs."

So, Paul thinks someone who is out of work in an area where any job is hard to find will shun a mining job because it might be unsafe? That just shows how clueless he is about the history of mining in Kentucky, a history rich with instances of miners working in unsafe conditions, even the illegal "dog hole" mines that were the worst of the worst when it came to safety.

And also rich with instances of mine owners using violence to thwart miners' attempts to organize so they could influence working conditions. Maybe Paul could read up a bit on how "Bloody Harlan" got its nickname.

In the Details profile, Paul is also quoted as saying mountaintop removal mining needs a better name because "we're not talking about Mount Everest, We're talking about these knobby little hills that are everywhere out here."

Knobby little hills? The Appalachian Mountains, among the oldest mountain chains in the world, are just knobby little hills to Paul?

Conway's campaign may need to rent extra space to store all of the sound bite gifts Paul is sending its way.

Six years ago today, this space was devoted to my thoughts in support of same-sex marriage. Glad to see a federal judge in California agrees with me.

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