Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Being frank about criticism of Andy Barr's constituent outreach

The Official Media Partner of the Elisabeth Jensen for Congress Campaign -- also known as the Lexington Herald-Leader -- recently came out with a hit piece on Congressman Andy Barr, lashing out at his constituent communications, in particular being critical of his mailings to residents of his district through a process known as "franking."

Since this blog caters to the politically astute, there's no need to go into depth about Barr's history, or that of his predecessor. But a brief refresher is always good.

Republican Barr defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler two years ago. Chandler is the grandson of A.B. "Happy" Chandler, one of the most revered political figures in Kentucky history. Happy Chandler never knew a stranger and was always accessible.

But when Ben Chandler cast a few votes in Congress that riled up his constituents, he went into hiding. At a time when members of Congress were being grilled over subjects like Obamacare and cap & trade at town hall meetings, Chandler started avoiding the public.

Even with the Kentucky General Assembly drawing a new district for him that appeared to be more friendly in terms of the number of Democrat voters, Chandler couldn't survive the public's wrath two years ago. Barr came close in a district more friendly to Republicans in 2010, but he put Chandler out of office two years later in a rematch.

One of Barr's campaign promises was to be more available and accessible to the voters. He's kept that promise, through written communications and in public events.

But we think we know the real reason the Herald-Leader was so critical of Barr's mailings.

While Barr has used the U.S. Postal Service for his written communications, Ben Chandler used to have the Herald-Leader distribute his newsletters as advertising supplements in their newspapers. The paid advertising was even distributed in counties outside the Sixth District. The loss of that revenue couldn't have set well with the crew at Main and Midland in downtown Lexington, hence the criticism of Barr mailing his newsletters rather than running them in the newspaper.

There's a big difference in the two types of communication. No real money is involved when an official "franks" a mailing. There's no real additional cost involved, since the mail is going to run anyway. There is an additional charge for newspaper inserts. It would be interesting to see a comparison between the real cost of a Barr mailing vs. a Chandler newspaper supplement.

It's no secret that the Herald-Leader is hostile to Barr and his campaign. We fully expect a Jensen endorsement as November approaches. But the newspaper should at least be transparent as to why it's being critical of Barr's outreach efforts.

Pachyderms have long memories. We remember Chandler's newsletters. And now you've been reminded too.

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