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When Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell came to Beattyville, Ky., on April 18, Beattyville Enterprise Editor Edmund Shelby asked him what he would do to bring jobs to Lee County, which has an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent and a median household income of $22,789.
McConnell replied, “Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet,” the old name of the Cabinet for Economic Development. Asked about public-works projects, McConnell said he was interested in them, but most come from state government. Then he said he is "pushing back" against President Obama's coal policies.
Shelby put the story at the top of his front page, and it took off, becoming the topic of stories on The Associated Press and The Huffington Post. McConnell issued a statement saying, "It seems my message got lost in translation," but Shelby told AP, "He said, that and I swear those were his words. If Grimes would come to town, I would ask the same question."
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, is McConnell's all-but-certain Democratic foe in the November election. She has been stressing jobs in her campaign, and when she heard of McConnell's remarks, she pounced: "The only job that he has cared about over the past 30 years is his own. . . . It is the job of a U.S. senator to put hardworking Kentucky families back to work and to grow our middle class. He shocked not just myself but all of Kentucky when he declared that economic development is not his job."
Shelby told The Rural Blog that he didn't have a recording of McConnell's comments because he wasn't planning a full-scale interview. "It was one of those quickies. It was a real hectic day for me," he said. "I wanted to get a picture, two questions and go. . . . He just blew it."
Regardless of the politicians' rhetoric, this episode shows why every newspaper needs to be ready with pertinent questions when candidates come to town. Edmund Shelby knows and practices that; he is a veteran editor and former president of the Kentucky Press Association.
UPDATE, April 28: Executive Editor Steve Wilson of The Paducah Sun, a newspaper long friendly to McConnell, defended Shelby in a column headlined, "Mitch ought to own up to slip over jobs quote in newspaper." (Read more; subscription required)