Friday, August 13, 2010

Paul downplays E. Ky. drug problem, draws fire

After being taken to task recently for comments on farm subsidies and mine safety, Kentucky Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul has again taken a stand that may prove controversial for Kentucky voters. Paul told The Associated Press that the drug problem in Eastern Kentucky was not "a real pressing issue." The comment in late July "expands on his previously stated position in favor of cutting federal funding for undercover drug investigations and drug treatment programs," the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. "Many officials say both are badly needed in Appalachia, a hotbed for marijuana growers and drug dealers selling prescription pills and methamphetamines."

Democratic nominee Jack Conway favors using federal money to tackle the region's drug problem, as Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers has done. Paul told AP that Eastern Kentucky voters are more concerned about fiscal and social issues. "They're socially conservative out there, so am I. Jack's not. They're fiscally conservative. I am. Jack's not. ... I think we'll swamp him." In 21 Eastern and Southern Kentucky counties, local officials reported 114 overdose deaths during the first two months of this year, Karen Engle, head of the Operation UNITE anti-drug task force, said recently.

Operation UNITE was started  in 2003 by Rogers, who has endorsed Paul. It is funded by $2 million from the state and $4.3 million from the federal government, largely through Rogers' earmarks. "Paul has pledged not to request earmarks, and he said he isn't worried that voters would be upset about losing Operation UNITE," the Herald-Leader reports. Paul said of UNITE, "I don't think most people in Kentucky have heard of it." Jackson County Judge-Executive Tommy Slone, a Republican, said while many local voters are worried about socially and fiscally conservative issues, Paul's comments discredit their concerns about drugs. "Apparently [Paul] just doesn't know, or he wouldn't make that statement" about drugs not being a pressing issue, Slone said. "It'll hurt him if he says that because there's a lot of people up here that's been affected by these drugs." (Read more)

UPDATE, Aug. 14: Paul's campaign tells the Herald-Leader's Bill Estep that he does consider drugs a serious problem. Here is the story.

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