HAZARD — Reactions were mixed across the country following the Nov. 6 re-election of President Barack Obama. Here in Eastern Kentucky, the overwhelming sentiment has been fear over what the next four years will mean for the local coal industry.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the Appalachian region has been an area dependent upon a large coal market, and many blame the President and more stringent regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency for its downturn over the last two years. Others, however, argue that a mild winter coupled with cheaper alternative energy from natural gas have had more of an effect on the coal industry.
Just as polarizing as the issue of federal regulations in the coal industry is the President himself. President Obama made other significant changes on issues such as health care with the so-called affordable care act. While many disagree with an insurance mandate that the legislation includes, others feel that the new law could help improve the overall health of the country and allow more people to have access to health care services when needed.
President Obama, who in 2008 made history when he became the first African American elected to the office, was able to win both the popular vote and electoral college during this year’s election, defeating opponent Mitt Romney 332 electoral votes to 206. Despite this, Kentuckians cast over 60 percent of their votes for Romney. Of the 120 counties in the commonwealth, only four picked the President over Romney. In Perry County, Romney received over 78 percent of the vote.
Now that the election is over, many in Eastern Kentucky fear what a second Obama term could mean for jobs in the already declining coal industry. Shauna Hyden, of Chavies, said like many others she worries about employment in the coalfields, and she was hoping that Obama would not be re-elected. “I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t get back in,” she said, adding that she and her family have felt the difficulties hitting the coal industry.
“My husband, he just recently got laid off in June from Arch (Coal), and it has been really hard on us,” Hyden said the day after last week’s election. “He was kind of wanting to get back into the coal business, but now he is afraid to.”
Hyden said that her biggest fear for the next four years is for her family, and that at the moment their future is up in the air. “That was what I was most scared of this morning when I heard that he was back in,” she added.
Hyden is not alone in this fear. Hazard resident Andrea Turner said that she is also worried about the future of coal.
“A lot of people are disappointed, especially in this area because of the coal jobs,” Turner said. “It has been affecting them for the last four years, and it is just going to get worse, I am afraid.”
Ronnie Everage, also of Hazard, noted that he is worried about that what the next four years will mean for Eastern Kentucky’s economy. “Miserable for Eastern Kentucky for sure,” said Everage. “The coal industry is destroyed.”
Everage did add, however, that he is hopeful that Kentucky will be able to rebound by using some of the other natural resources in a more significant way. “We have got a lot of good log woods, timber, and stuff like that, and many natural resources,” he noted.
Derek Campbell is a Perry County native and student at the University of Kentucky, and said that he fears that the people of Eastern Kentucky are losing hope due to the re-election of president Obama. “Our families have been forced just to make ends meet more and more over the past four years, and now with the re-election of this president we are losing hope as a people,” said Campbell. “As we have seen just days after the President’s re-election, TECO Coal has just laid of 90 more men.”
While Perry County had a widely pervasive stance on this election in favor of Republican candidate Mitt Romney, over 2,000 voters cast their ballots for the President. Several of these voters said that they appreciated the President’s bottom-up approach to creating economic growth.
Johnny Bryant, a resident of Bulan, said that he saw the President as relatable to the every-man since he is an example of working from poverty to the presidency.
“I’m not a rich person, and Obama was a poor kid who worked his way up in life,” said Bryant. “Romney has never known what it was like to be poor so he doesn’t understand anything about what it’s like to wonder where your next meal is going to come from. He is for the rich. I think if Obama can get the [House] and Senate to work with him, he can and will move this country forward.”
Bryant is also a veteran and said that he believes in a strong military, but also acknowledges that wars are no longer fought the way they once were. He said that is another reason he supported Obama since he took a more technological stance on American defense.
Whitney Patrick is also native of Perry County, but now lives in Bowling Green. She sees the President’s economic plan as working for the poor. “He is wanting to tax rich people more like they did back in the 90’s. I don’t think that is so bad,” said Patrick. “I didn’t see Romney wanting to do that. He’s doing this so poor people don’t get taxed more next year.”
President Obama will be sworn into office for his second term during the presidential inauguration on January 21, 2013.