With the departure last week of U. S. Representative Ben Chandler, Kentucky’s Republicans control all but one seat in the U. S. Congress. Chandler has been replaced in House of Representatives by Tea Party favorite Andy Barr. The last two months have been a strange time for outgoing lawmakers. Chandler lost in early November but had to remain in Washington, to cast votes and pack up nearly a decade’s worth of memories. It provided Chandler time to think about his legacy.
“Well, I want to be remembered for trying to be a voice of reason,” said Chandler. “For trying to work together across party lines. A person who was very much a moderate, who wanted to see the country pass laws and bills that would bring the country together. ”
Chandler succeeded at that goal, according to Kentucky’s only remaining Democratic congressman, John Yarmuth.
“I think you’ve got someone who was a non-ideological representative,” said Yarmuth, “who really was able to bridge conservative and progressive forces.”
The Chandlers have been a force in Kentucky politics. Ben’s Grandpa is the popular former governor and U. S Senator “Happy” Chandler. Yarmuth says that makes Ben Chandler’s loss sting all the more.
“Of course Ben has been someone who’s part of the fabric of the state and he and his family have been for obviously several generations.”
But moderate Democrats are on the decline in the south, which is partially why Chandler is now out of a job.
“Well it is sad,” said Chandler, “and it’s caused Washington to become a place that just doesn’t work very well. And you’ve seen first the loss of moderate Republicans and now the loss of moderate Democrats. We had 54 blue dogs four years ago and now we’ve got 15. And it’s a tremendous loss I think for the country.”
Another reason Chandler was ousted was over energy policy. He was blasted – many say unfairly – for his positions on coal, including his support for a bill that addressed climate change. If the cap-and-trade bill had become law, Chandler still believes it could have created jobs in the commonwealth.
“I’m not sure that the people in central Kentucky and I’m not sure that very many people in the country understood the bill entirely,” said Chandler. “It was a bill that could have created jobs, the right kind of jobs, and unfortunately it didn’t pass and ultimately we’re going to have to address that issue.”
During his time in Washington Chandler helped dole out federal dollars. He was commonly seen back in his district handing our oversized, cardboard checks. He also served on the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees…he was one of the few congress members who saw death photos of Osama Bin Laden.
“I think that’s one of the most important roles that our government has is to secure our country for the people who live in it” said Chandler.
It goes without saying that the Intelligence Committee is secretive. But the top Democrat on the committee, Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, says Chandler played a key role on it even though it didn’t garner him national headlines.
“We have a lot of volume,” said Ruppersberger. “You had issues that would go from Benghazi, to space satellites to cyber security issues. So you had to spend a lot of time, and he was a very active and important member and I’m going to miss him.”
Chandler now has many different opportunities in front of him. His name has been floated as a potential president of Eastern Kentucky University. And he can always cash in as a Washington lobbyist. All Chandler will say for now is that he’s putting politics aside for the time being.
“I don’t know what’s next,” said Chandler, “but I’ve been in electoral office for 21 years now, having served as auditor and attorney general and now nine years in Congress, and I think a break from elective politics would do me some good.”
But politics is in his blood, and Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield predicts we haven’t seen the last of Ben Chandler.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved in politics again” said Whitfield.