Thursday, July 10, 2008

Independent Takes on Safe GOP Incumbent in Kentucky

The most electorally secure member of Kentucky's Congressional delegation, republican Hal Rogers of the Fifth District (Appalachia), finally has an opponent.

But it's not a Democrat. Jim Holbert is an Independent.

The only one of the five incumbent congressmen running for re-election who didn't draw a Republican or Democratic challenger now will face independent Jim Holbert of London, who officially filed his paperwork with the Secretary of State's office July 7.

Holbert is a helicopter pilot. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear recently appointed him to the Kentucky Airport Zoning Board to fill a term that expires Aug. 8, 2008.

Rogers, one of the most senior members of the U.S. House appropriations committee, is seeking his 15th two-year term in Congress. He has easily won his seat back in recent elections.

Rogers originally won election and re-election in the "Old Fifth," the deeply republican counties of south-central Kentucky. But when the 1991 redistricting added the most solidly Democrat counties of the former 7th district of eastern Kentucky to the new Fifth, Rogers was suddenly vulnerable. He won Appalachia's loyal democrats the old-fashioned way: pork. Bacon jobs, ham steak roads, tenderloin water plants.

Today, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in pork Rogers delivered to the mountains, he's as insulated from party identification as any republican in Congress. That's why he rarely draws serious Democratic opposition. This year, he didn't draw any Democratic opposition at all.

You know your state Democratic Party is in deep trouble when the independent candidate who had the balls to challenge the most secure Republican in the state has a platform that is more progressive, liberal and what used to pass for Democratic than the state party's own platform.

Holberts wants to withdraw immediately from Iraq, restore the Constitution, repeal NAFTA, stop globalization, stop imprisoning non-violent offenders, create jobs, support renwable energy, balance the budget. Of course, he's also anti-immigrant and pro-flat tax, and believes in the myth of "clean coal," but that still positions him to the left of Blue Dog Democrats.

Rogers' district is chock-full of experienced, well-known Democratic politicians who certainly had a better chance of knocking off Rogers in this Democratic year than novice Heather Ryan has of beating incumbent Ed Whitfield in the First District. Or than John Yarmuth had of beating incumbent Anne Northup in the Third District in 2006, which he did handily.

Yet come the filing deadline on January 30, they were nowhere to be found.

Nor will they be anywhere to be found come November 5, if the anti-incumbent tsunami hits eastern Kentucky and sweeps Independent Jim Holbert into the seat Democrats could have had.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.