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Fifth district congressional race finds a first-time candidate battling the dean of the U.S. House

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U.S. Clerk of the House-Rogers-Stu Johnson-Coner HalBleib
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The race for the fifth district congressional seat features a first-time candidate against the House of Representatives’ most senior member. The large southeastern Kentucky district has been a Republican stronghold for decades.

Hal Rogers first went to Washington in 1981. He’s in his 21st term and holds the title of dean of the U.S. House at age 84.

The rural fifth is labeled as the second most impoverished district in the nation. Many coal mining jobs are long gone. Still, Rogers remains optimistic the region can attract new manufacturing.

“What’s attractive about our region right now the quality of the workforce, many of them laid off from mining jobs, but also, just the fact that they want to stay home and they’ll work hard in order to do so,” said Rogers.

Several years ago, Rogers and former Governor Steve Beshear formed the Shaping Our Appalachian Region organization. Rogers said progress is being made through SOAR to re-form the area’s economy.

30-year-old Coner Halbleib is making his first run at political office. The rookie candidate says he’s always been interested in politics, he just finished up law school and felt like this is something he could do.

“Knew I was qualified. I knew I could do the job. And I said, if no one else wants to do it, why not me. So, I decided to take it on. There weren’t a lot of down sides and gives me an opportunity to get my message out,” said Halbleib.

And Halbleib, who’s from Louisville, says his message during this campaign is big but simple. He said he wants policies that provide stability in people’s lives.

“So, I think that’s through universal healthcare to where people always have healthcare no matter what and clean water. You know you can’t go through the day and turn on the tap and you don’t want the water to poison you or make you sick. So, I think things like that are big projects, but they help to create stability in everyone’s lives,” said Halbleib.

Halbleib said he favors a move to a single-payer healthcare system that eventually becomes a single provider of medical services.

Eastern Kentucky, like many regions of the Commonwealth, suffers from substance use problems. Hal Rogers noted fentanyl is a major contributor to tragic overdose deaths. The GOP congressman added it’s the number one cause of death across the U.S. in those 18 to 45.

“And it’s coming across the Mexican border from China, through the Cartels in Mexico, across the border with an illegal alien, and the Cartel running the show in the U.S,” said Rogers.

Rogers contends that the Biden administration isn’t doing enough to try to control who comes across the border. He said that includes terrorists, drug smugglers, and human traffickers.

Halbleib said eastern Kentucky should be part of a green new deal without hurting people in the short term. He noted a move to more renewable energy sources is a bit more complicated in the region. Halbleib added it is a transition away from fossil fuels.

“But at the same time make sure that people who are working in those industries aren’t financially devastated you know at the same time. So, you both provide jobs or provide a level of income commensurate to what workers experience now while also having a robust solid transition into renewable energies and into nuclear energy,” said Halbleib

Seeking his 22nd term on Capitol Hill, Hal Rogers shows no signs of hanging it up any time soon. But prior to his public service career as a lawmaker, Rogers spent some time before a microphone and not in the political realm. He said he’d like to revisit that sometime.

“Well, I tell you what I really enjoyed radio and have a hankering to get back into it. But, I’m sort of pre-occupied,” said Rogers.

The winner of the Rogers-Halbleib congressional race will represent a vast area of Kentucky for the next six years. One more election night for Hal Rogers and a first for Coner Halbleib.

Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 30 years.
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