The Quest for Hometown Security
Sunday, December 25, 2005
SOMERSET, Ky. -- The evidence of Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers's leverage over the federal budget has accumulated over the years in the poor hill country of his Appalachian Kentucky district here.
There are high-tech industrial parks, railroad freight facilities, economic development offices, even a parking lot at a lakefront resort, all funded by federal tax dollars. Particularly striking is the Center for Rural Development, a grand building in one of the nation's poorest regions.
The center, dubbed the "Taj Mahal" by some residents, has a soaring ceiling, a wall of windows and a performing arts theater. On a pedestal in the lobby sits the Harold "Hal" Rogers Leadership Award, an etched-glass bust of the powerful Republican lawmaker.
Rogers is now tapping a new source of money for his district. As chairman of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, he has encouraged contractors to move into his district and announced millions of dollars in anti-terrorism research at Kentucky colleges and universities. He has taken credit for $206 million in homeland-security-related funding for the state.
"I'm two people," Rogers said in an interview. "I'm a national legislator, and I'm a local congressman."
In Kentucky's 5th Congressional District, Rogers has become an almost mythical figure, a former state prosecutor so formidable that he sometimes runs for reelection unopposed. For a time, the state renamed the Daniel Boone Parkway to honor the lawmaker for securing federal money for highways in the state.
With his white hair and smooth-as-bourbon mountain accent, the 13-term lawmaker from Somerset presents himself as a gruff populist watching out for the nation's taxpayers and his congressional district. He describes himself as "one of the strongest critics of wasteful spending."
But the Lexington Herald-Leader, one of the state's largest newspapers, has called him the "Prince of Pork." And so much federal money for high-tech homeland security projects has flowed to southeastern Kentucky that he and others have taken to calling the area "Silicon Holler." In announcing some of the funding last year, Rogers issued a news release headlined "New Initiatives Seek to Combat Terrorism, Bring Jobs to Kentucky."
First elected in 1980, Rogers was named to the House Appropriations Committee in his second term. In 1995, he was named chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, state and the judiciary. That made him a member of the "College of Cardinals," an elite group of lawmakers who are able to bend the federal budget to their will.
In 2003, Rogers became the first chairman of the new Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, a position that gave him immense sway over federal anti-terrorism projects. Seeking to keep his party in power and become chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, he had started the Help America's Leaders Political Action Committee (HALPAC).
Last January, Rogers was defeated for the chairmanship by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.). But HALPAC continues to raise money, and Rogers said he is considering another run for the post.
Registered at a Washington law and lobbying firm, HALPAC is actually anchored in Somerset, documents show. The man who signed the paperwork creating HALPAC on April 8, 2002, was Clay Parker Davis. He is Rogers's friend and president and chief executive of Citizens National Bank in Somerset.