FANCY FARM, Ky. – The United Mine Workers of America union is endorsing Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race, in a move aimed at blunting Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s relentless effort to associate her with the anti-coal policies of the Obama administration.
The union, which abandoned its Democratic traditions by not endorsing President Obama for re-election in 2012, had planned to consider an endorsement in the race at meetings next month. The plan changed in an effort to have more impact on the race.
“Timing is everything in politics,” said Steve Earle, the union’s Midwest vice president and Kentucky political director, said before the political speaking at the Fancy Farm Picnic. “Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.”
Grimes announced the endorsement in her speech at the picnic, only her second joint appearance with McConnell since entering the race over a year ago.
Earle said, “There’s a lot of people supporting coal, but not a lot of people supporting coal miners, and Alison’s going to be a strong voice for coal miners in Washington, D.C., and for working families all across Kentucky.”
Earle said the union is trying to arrange for its president, Cecil Roberts, to appear with Grimes and former President Bill Clinton at a rally Wednesday in Hazard, Ky., a key town in the Central Appalachian coalfield hit hard by market forces and also by the Obama administration’s moves to control water pollution from surface mines and air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Roberts said in a UMWA press release after the speaking, “Ms. Grimes is not only a strong supporter of coal and the coal industry. She is the only candidate in this race who is also a supporter of coal miners. She cares about their health and safety on the job. She cares about what happens to them once they retire after a career of dangerous, backbreaking work. She cares about what happens to their families, and what can be done to make their communities stronger.”
McConnell and Grimes have embraced the coal industry with similar fervor in public settings. McConnell has said he is not for new laws on coal-mine health and safety because a reform law was passed eight years ago and more time is needed to see if stronger laws are needed.
The UMWA no longer represents any working miners in Eastern Kentucky, but has some non-miner members there, and it represents workers at one mine and processing facilities in Western Kentucky, where the industry is healthier.