Private coal meet leaves voters in the dark

The members of the Kentucky Coal Association want a private audience with the two major-party gubernatorial candidates, and it looks like they will get it. Democrat Jack Conway confirmed he’ll attend a closed-door meeting with the association in October. Republican Matt Bevin has not confirmed if he’ll be there — but he attended another private session with the state’s coal executives in June, so it seems likely he’ll be back in October.

The coal group can handle its meetings any way the members choose. However, the candidates are intentionally avoiding public scrutiny on energy issues that ought to be front and center for this election. It would be in the best interest of voters, and the state overall, for the candidates to insist on a public meeting.

The president of the Kentucky Coal Association, speaking recently to a political program for cable station CN2, downplayed the lack of transparency.

“When you meet with candidates who are seeking an executive position like this, you want them to be very unfiltered in their discussions,” Bill Bissett said. “And like it or not, these are folks running for office. Every word they say is analyzed and critiqued . you want to hear from them directly.”

Indeed, we would like to hear what Conway and Bevin would tell people who own and run mines that they can’t tell voters.

Both candidates are pro-coal. There’s no doubt about that. Bevin is a strong critic of President Barack Obama, and that includes the president’s energy policies. Conway, in his role as attorney general, has sued the Environmental Protection Agency over Obama’s programs to reduce carbon emissions.

The problem with a closed-door meeting between the candidates and the representatives of the coal industry is that it pushes the public out of a discussion about the future of the state.

Of course, it is more difficult for the candidates to have news reporters present because they will ask follow-up questions that require explanation and accountability. Shutting out the public, and reporters who represent the public, frankly means that the candidates and the coal industry don’t want to account for certain topics that will be discussed.

Being transparent and accountable to voters is not the easy way to run a campaign. But it is what voters should expect.

Conducting a private session with an industry that has so much at stake is the wrong approach for the gubernatorial candidates.

Every Kentuckian is affected by coal and has an interest in knowing what the industry’s leaders want from the next governor.

By participating in a private meeting with coal executives, the candidates give the impression that they will not say in public what they will say in a private meeting with the coal executives.

Even though we know this kind of double-speak happens in campaigns, we still believe it is important to point out why it’s wrong and why voters should join the news media in expecting more transparency from the candidates.

Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville

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