In Kentucky, coal is king. And now, it seems, coal operators are trying to crown their princes in this year's mid-term elections.
The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader recently broke a story about coal companies pooling their money to defeat "anti-coal" candidates.
In a letter obtained by the Herald-Leader, Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group, urged companies to meet about forming a group aimed at defeating Democrats they perceive as "anti-coal."
Mentioned in the letter were three races "of interest": Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, vying with Republican Rand Paul for Kentucky's open Senate seat; Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat, challenged by Republican Garland "Andy" Barr in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District; and Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, who is being challenged by Republican Elliott "Spike" Maynard in West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District.
Maynard is famous for his French Riviera vacation photo with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy. Maynard, who was a state Supreme Court justice at the time of the photo, wound up casting the West Virginia court's deciding vote to overturn a $50 million jury verdict against Massey.
It was at a non-union Massey mine where 29 miners died in an April 5 explosion.
ICG owns West Virginia's non-union Sago Mine, where 12 miners perished in a 2006 disaster.
Two miners died in Western Kentucky in April at a mine owned by a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners.
Massey and Alliance are among the companies ICG's Nicholson says he has been talking with about his election project.
"Between them ICG and Massey have had 41 miners killed in just two disasters," mine safety expert Tony Oppegard told the Herald-Leader. "It's disturbing to see companies that don't have strong safety records try to defeat politicians, like Ben Chandler, who have fought for stronger mine safety."
Kentucky's GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul made headlines with shockingly clueless (at best) comments about mine disasters, mountaintop mining, mining regulations and Harlan County in an interview with Conde Nast's Details magazine. Paul's campaign called the interview "sloppy reporting."
Yet, according to Details, before the primary Paul took a trip to Harlan County, legendary for coal mining and union battles there, and tried to figure out why it was famous. He guessed it was because of the town of Hazard.
"It's famous for, like, The Dukes of Hazzard," he said.
Paul also argued for "local and state" control instead of federal regulation of mining.
"Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are?" Paul said in response to a question about the Massey mine explosion.
"The bottom line is I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines."