A veteran journalist is standing by a report that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said it wasn't his responsibility to bring jobs to one Kentucky’s poorest counties.
The Beattyville Enterprise asked McConnell what he was going to do to bring jobs to Lee County at a luncheon last week.
McConnell said that isn't his job in Washington, adding that economic development is an issue for state government.
The eastern Kentucky county has an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent and a median household income of just over $22,700 annually. It is considered one of the poorest U.S. counties.
When Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes pounced on McConnell's jobs comment, an office spokesman sent WFPL a statement saying the senator's message was "lost in translation."
"The senator was speaking in English and so was I," says Beattyville Enterprise editor and general manager Edmund Shelby. "So there was no chance for it to be lost in translation. It was a very straightforward piece, I will back it 100 percent."
"(McConnell) said that economic development is a Frankfort issue and that is not his job and it’s the primary responsibility of the state commerce cabinet. And then I said, 'Well, what about public works projects?' And he said yeah he's interested in them coming here, but he said that's mostly a state issue as well. And then he volunteered that it’s his responsibility for protecting jobs by pushing back against the Obama administration."
McConnell is involved in a slugfest with Grimes that many polls indicate will be a tight race this fall.
Grimes has made fighting for middle-class families a centerpiece of her candidacy, supporting a raise to the minimum wage and unveiling a 20-page jobs plan. She also contends that McConnell has lost touch with average Kentuckians since first being elected in three decades ago.
McConnell defended his record on jobs in Washington in a statement, however, pointing out support for Right to Work legislation among other measures.
From McConnell's office:
"Encouraging positive economic development and job growth is at the center of what I do every day. At the federal level I support policies to try to improve the economy as a whole which in turn will help preserve and create Kentucky’s jobs. These efforts include supporting an end to President Obama’s War on Coal and repealing job-killing Obamacare.
Along with Senator Rand Paul, I was proud to sponsor the Economic Freedom Zones Act, which would spur economic growth in areas such as eastern Kentucky. In my travels across the Commonwealth, I hear too often how government is blocking job creation. It’s up to all of us—at the federal, state, and local levels—to fix that. We must ensure that our utility and tax rates remain low and we must enact a right to work law. The better the atmosphere the state sets for job creators, the more effectively Kentucky can compete against other states to add and retain jobs."
McConnell's office has asked to publish a response, which the paper has agreed to run in next week’s edition.
As a former Kentucky Press Association president, Shelby says he is used to elected officials pushing back against stories. But this is the first time a sitting U.S. Senator has done so publicly.
"I guess I'm impervious to it," he says. "They can say what they want. I know what was asked. The senator knows what was asked and he knows what he said."