FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky lawmaker who was the subject of critical newspaper editorials and cartoons last year is striking
State Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, is pushing legislation that
would essentially bar editorial writers and cartoonists from the
House and Senate floors.
The western Kentucky Democrat was ridiculed last year in
newspapers for attempting to quash a coal mine safety bill and for
claiming global warming is a hoax. One editorial cartoon showed
Gooch in a hot tub with King Coal.
Gooch's bill would list editorial writers and cartoonists as
lobbyists. In Kentucky, lobbyists aren't allowed in the House or
Senate while lawmakers are in session.
Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson
said Gooch's bill is an obvious First Amendment violation that he
doesn't expect to pass into law.
"If I had to classify it, I think it's harassment," Thompson
said. "It's a way of getting back at those who use the printed
word to make comments about Rep. Gooch and perhaps other elected
Gooch, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment
Committee, said his intention was not to bar editorial writers and
cartoonists from the House and Senate. He said he would be willing
to change the legislation to give them access.
Calling himself a supporter of a free press, Gooch said he
recognizes the role of journalists as government watchdogs. But he
said some Kentucky editorial writers and cartoonists essentially
use their positions to lobby for or against legislation. He
declined to name anyone in particular.
Gooch pointed to the intense pressure the media put on lawmakers
to pass a coal mine safety law last year. That law nearly died in
his committee before being resurrected.
"It was evident that if this committee did not produce an
outcome that was favorable to the press, they were almost to the
point of character assassination," he said. "That's beyond
lobbying. That's almost extortion."
David Hawpe, editorial director at The Courier-Journal of
Louisville, called the bill "patently unconstitutional."
"Mr. Gooch has invited all the criticism he has received,"
Hawpe said. "He has richly deserved all of the criticism."
Gooch said some of the more vicious attacks were clear abuses of
a free press.
"It's almost as if they want to silence you," he said. "They
want to hurt your credibility. They do it by either trying to make
you look stupid or corrupt."
Mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard said if Kentucky newspapers
hadn't pressured Gooch and other lawmakers, they would not have
passed the law making coal miners safer.
"I guess Rep. Gooch has never heard of the First Amendment,
which is disturbing," Oppegard said.
The legislation is House bill 468.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)