About 50 people, including several from Letcher County, rallied in front of the Somerset office of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers on Oct. 14 to protest what they say is a lack of representation in Congress on their behalf.
“We want good jobs, clean water and air, and safe and healthy families. We want competent, honest, and transparent representation in our government,” said Doug Doerrfeld of Elliottville in Rowan County, acting as master of ceremonies during the “Kentucky Deserves Better” rally. “Right now we don’t have these things. But we have the opportunity to demand them and make a good future for ourselves.”
Several young people spoke and charged that Rogers’s policies are not giving them hope for being able to stay in eastern Kentucky to fulfill their dreams.
Ada Smith of Letcher County claims that policies promoted by Rogers do little to help the region or give young people a reason to stay. “I’m not surprised when my friends tell me they’re moving away,” she said.
She and other speakers, many of them members of citizen action group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, noted that several of the poorest counties in the nation are in Rogers’s district, and that his district was recently rated 435th — or next to last in the nation — on a broad variety of quality of life indicators.
“Rogers has shown little concern about the long-term poverty of the region,” Smith said. “We need to bring real solutions to the table.”
“I have a vision for my future that’s harder and harder to realize,” added Cody Montgomery, a non-traditional student at Morehead State University from Magoffi n County. “The reason that I am having doubts about not only my future, but that of the entire 5th District, is directly related to Rep. Rogers. Over the past 30 years Rep. Rogers has pushed an agenda that has fallen far short of nurturing the people of the 5th District.”
Montgomery talked of the government assistance that helped his grandmother raise him, programs such as food stamps, SSI and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) that are now threatened with severe cuts under Rogers’s leadership.
The speakers said that Rogers and his Senate colleague Mitch McConnell hold important positions of power in Congress and are in a unique position to help Kentucky. Rogers is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
Instead, they charge, Roger has used his position to push policies that will hurt people in his district and throughout Kentucky. Those include the elimination of federal job training programs, changes that make college less affordable, cuts to low-income heating assistance, and protections for tax breaks for the wealthy.
Stanley Sturgill, a retired coal miner form Harlan County, called out Rogers for supporting cuts in more than 30 education programs “when your own district suffers in all aspects of education.”
The speakers also claim that Rogers has presented no proposals for creating jobs or helping the economy.
After the rally, participants entered Rogers’s office to deliver letters to Rogers or other items that symbolize what’s important to them about Kentucky or their community. Erica Urias of Pike County left a bottle of her family’s well water, while others left books and photographs.
Rogers was in Washington at the time of the Somerset rally, but did issue a response to the criticism defending his record.
“From day one, I’ve worked tirelessly with thousands of volunteers, educators, students, business entrepreneurs and community leaders to improve the unique southern and eastern Kentucky environment while carefully balancing the need to create good-paying jobs, boost available suitable land, and develop lowcost energy resources for both the Commonwealth and our nation to be competitive,” Rogers said in the statement.
Added Rogers, “We’ve made tremendous strides through programs like Eastern Kentucky PRIDE in improving water quality, removing straight pipes, and cleaning up illegal dumps. Concurrently, I’ve worked with miners and mine companies to create safe jobs and minimize environmental impacts while collaborating with business leaders to diversify our job base into technology, small manufacturing and health care sectors. As a result, rivers have been restored, elk graze on our hills, schools are improving, and communities are growing in the hills of Kentucky and the future is bright.”