There are a thousand stories from the back-barns of Kentucky and ten thousand more of Revenue Agents and moonshiners trying to outwit one another, but there’s only one Representative Harold Rogers. One might be enough. A single Huey Long was enough for Louisiana.
Empire-builders are extraordinary men. They are either made from heroic egos and messianic vision or they are crafted of the darker components, greed and a thirst for power. Those who know him better than I (who knows him not at all) and the electorate of the state that is home to the Kentucky Derby will have to judge this man.
That judgement is only five months and a few weeks off. But there is something off-color in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the environs in and around Corbin, Kentucky.
In between junkets to Hawaii (a state where Rogers has no constituents, but loves the cut of the greens) and setting up his son, John, in a start-up company (to which he has directed federal business), Hal comes off as an ordinary guy. Family man. There is a wry, Eastern European ex-communist saying that goes, “He who doesn’t steal from the state, steals from his family.”
In his 26th year on Capitol Hill, Rogers is the longest serving Kentucky Republican ever elected to federal office. Those before him were apparently caught sooner.
(From his web site)
In January of 2003, Rogers’ colleagues selected him to serve as the first chairman of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which is responsible for funding and oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
On the funding side, Corbin, Kentucky’s greatest benefactor has shoveled DHS money into his own version of homeland security, meaning Corbin. He’s done that mostly by the insertion of what is called in the trade, ‘intervening language’ into legislation. My dictionary defines intervening as ‘get involved, so as to alter or hinder an action, or through force or threat of force.’ By that definition, Hal Rogers is a ‘get involved’ kind of guy.
In an Eric Lipton article from the NYTimes, Lipton quotes a security analyst,
"Something stinks in Corbin," said Jay M. Meier, senior securities analyst at MJSK Equity Research in Minneapolis, which follows the identification card industry, referring to the Kentucky community of 8,000 that has perhaps benefited the most from Mr. Rogers’s interventions. "And it is the sickest example of what is wrong with our homeland security agenda that I can find."
On the oversight side of Rogers’ chairmanship, he seems to have stood idly by as DHS screwed up every single opportunity if found to be tested. The revolving door of composite ineptitude and leadership by political-hack, hit everyone in the ass but Rogers. Probably because his interests lay elsewhere. Overseeing is a tough business, when you can smell the bacon frying on the appropriation side.
Frying, by the way, isn’t an unknown process in Corbin. Col. Sanders did his first chicken recipe there in the 1930’s, but it was sixty years later that prosperity finally came to stay. Rogers, as one of those anointed by Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, found chairing committees that oversaw huge appropriations to be equally ‘finger-lickin’ good.’
He has been known (I hear, but cannot confirm) to answer, when asked what it will take to pass some particularly thorny piece of legislation, “Make mine extra-crispy.” The Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader last year called Rogers, “the Prince of Pork.”
One can only guess how far their tongue might have been in cheek.
Representative Rogers has made it his personal mission to create a new growth industry in Corbin and he states that growth will be defined by domestic security. But, in a cautionary tale for Corbin, Hal has shown himself to be available to other bidders for his services. Harold Rogers is no one-trick-pony, not by a long shot. Again, from the Lipton piece,
“Yet while the debate over card technology and printing (in Corbin) dragged on, a separate fight involving Mr. Rogers was playing out. Starting in 2004, his staff repeatedly pressed the Transportation Security Administration to hire a nonprofit Virginia-based trade association, the American Association of Airport Executives, to help handle background checks that transportation workers had to undergo to get identification cards. The trade association had no connection to Corbin, but it had longstanding ties to Mr. Rogers.
Since 2000, it has paid for trips by Mr. Rogers and his wife worth more than $75,000, including the six visits to Hawaii, four to California and one to Ireland, financial disclosure records show. Last year alone, Mr. Rogers spent a total of two weeks traveling on the association’s tab."
And so, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we say goodbye to a man for all seasons, this purveyor of government largesse, keeper of the solemn pledge to take what can be taken and bring it home . . . your man in the pocket of each and every lobbyist . . . Harold Rogers.
Your vote in November will say far more about you than him.