Typically both use their favored medium to by-pass reporters who might offer their critics an opportunity to respond or to correct some facts misquoted by the author of such comments. They sometimes even use it to criticize the media, sometimes calling out reporters by name. I know because I more than once was that reporter.
Still, usually — unless he unloads on teachers again — I don’t pay an inordinate amount of attention to these things, either Trump’s twitterings or Bevin’s videos. But one recent Bevin production caught my notice.
In it are listed policy issues on which he and his gubernatorial opponent Andy Beshear disagree. Neither issue is much affected by what the Kentucky Governor does or doesn’t do or much affects ordinary citizens in their ordinary day-to-day lives.
Bevin sang the same song at Fancy Farm, rattling off the same issues that do draw a contrast between himself and Beshear — and against nationally prominent Democrats against whom Bevin and other Kentucky Republicans — even candidates for small, rural legislative districts —run against or at least campaign against.
But what struck me about the latest Bevin pitch is its reliance on an old union organizing song, especially while a group of unpaid Kentucky miners are blocking a rail line in an attempt to force the bankrupt coal company to pay them their back wages.
Those are the folks I would’ve expected to hear singing “Whose side you on, Whose side are you on.” Instead, it was the governor who led the charge to pass a Kentucky Right to Work Law and repeal its Prevailing Wage Law. It’s a governor who appointed as his Energy and Environment Secretary a former executive of a coal company caught hiding thousands of pollution violation violations.
Reportedly, the song was composed in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a United Mine Workers organizer in Harlan County. The Harlan County Sheriff, acting on behalf of the mining company, entered the Reece home looking for him after dark. Though Reece had been forewarned and had escaped, the sheriff’s men apparently terrorized the Reece children. When they’d gone, Florence Reece composed the words to the song on the back of an old calendar and it’s been a union organizing anthem ever since.
Never thought I’d hear a libertarian leaning Republican business man using lines from the song to criticize a “socialist” Democrat for liberal positions like fair wages and working conditions. Pete Seeger must have been rolling in his grave.
Of course Bevin has a problem in his quest for a second term: he’s not much liked by the voters of Kentucky, including more than a few Republican voters. Polling and focus groups have likely made it clear to the Bevin campaign he can’t turn around those numbers in just three months. So he has to make his opponent less popular than he is. And like Andy Barr last year, lean on Trump.
He does the first by linking Beshear to national issues and national Democrats who tend to be less popular in conservative Kentucky than in most of the country. It’s why you will rarely hear Beshear’s name from Bevin this fall unless it’s accompanied by Bernie Sanders’ name and those of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York or Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, two favorite Trump targets as well. (Apparently Nancy Pelosi is no longer deemed liberal enough or foreign enough to frighten Kentucky voters that their property will be confiscated by the state.)
And if you think I’m overstating things, take a look at Beshear’s itinerary the day Sanders came to Kentucky. Beshear was nowhere to be found. When Amy McGrath announced she wants to take on Mitch McConnell, she was quick to assure Kentucky voters she supported some Trump policies.
Why, if you hadn’t lived your whole life here you might not have known whose side any of them were on.
Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.