Real leadership for Appalachia necessary in upcoming elections

Brace yourselves; election season is coming. We’re already seeing political ads claiming this candidate is taking us to hell in a hand basket, or that candidate is going to single-handedly save Kentucky.

Photo by flickr user circulating.

Photo by flickr user circulating.

Unfortunately, so far there have been few candidates with any solid plans for helping eastern Kentucky. With SOAR receiving so much news coverage, I had hoped that we might get some new ideas and discussion about real, lasting economic transition. Instead, it’s just been the same rhetoric about the so-called “War on Coal,” which gets us nowhere. A recent op-ed in the Lexington Herald Leader by a former eastern Kentucky coal miner expresses some real frustration about the power coal operators have in the political process here:

It’s true that I’m pretty tired of the coal corporations and coal barons telling our elected leaders what they can and cannot do. But I am absolutely sick and tired of political leaders — or candidates — who let them. We are starved for leaders who will look out for Eastern Kentucky instead of doing what the coal companies tell them. We are ready for leaders who will help us build the bright future we deserve here. There are people in every county working to develop the next economy here in Eastern Kentucky. Slowly but surely — and with precious little help from our elected leaders — we are working to create new jobs in energy efficiency, local food, shops and markets, and more. It’s hard work filled with risk but also built on hope. We need more political leaders with the courage and the conviction to do what’s right for Eastern Kentucky, not what is allowed by the coal association.

It doesn’t matter what the industry is, having one powerful business interest calling the political shots is bad for democracy. It is now more important than ever for politicians to listen to their constituents, and that citizen voices are heard. If one industry can tell candidates what they’re allowed to do and say, what does that mean for a process like SOAR? It’s still early in election season – we haven’t even had the primary yet – so there is time for candidates to step up and lead for eastern Kentucky. We need candidates who will be brave enough to tell the hard truths about our region and to resist the easy path of pointing fingers and laying blame. We need candidates who will be strong enough to stand up for all of eastern Kentucky. Appalachia is full of visionaries and innovators – we need to see more of them on the ballot.