Mr. Yarmuth doesn’t live here anymore (But Ms. Northup is invited to set up shop)

Jul 11, 2006 at 7:25 pm

They say election season really doesn’t heat up till after Labor Day, but I think the race for Kentucky’s 3rd District Congressional seat got started a little earlier.

You may have seen the news last Wednesday about Rep. Anne Northup’s visit to the LEO headquarters on Fourth Street. Ms. Northup came to complain publicly about not having access to her opponent’s writings over the years.

She’s right. Old issues of LEO are hard to find, because the newspaper has never had what you’d call a real archiving system. The Louisville Free Public Library doesn’t have them. The paper began in November 1990, before the Internet really caught on, and even after it did, we’ve been hosted by various and sundry outfits that never really archived on the Web. A complete set may exist in someone’s basement, but I don’t know who or where, and I can’t imagine what condition the papers would be in by now. I’m envisioning black mold and mouse droppings.

To back up a bit, this all ties in to previous statements by Ms. Northup’s opponent, John Yarmuth, who started LEO in 1990. Mr. Yarmuth has said he’ll gladly stand behind anything he’s written if the good Congresswoman will stand behind all of the votes she’s cast during her 10 years in Congress. The Northup campaign liked the sound of that offer but couldn’t quite figure out where to find all of those columns.

LEO was under the impression that the Yarmuth campaign would handle this matter. When we learned differently, we did what seemed logical: Even though it’s not our responsibility to help a sitting Congresswoman conduct research for her re-election campaign, we agreed to share our precious back issues with the Northup folks. And, after she’d said her piece last Wednesday, I stepped up during the press conference to tell her so.

As for the office copies of LEO back issues, they are bound in those big hardcover books you probably recall from your high school or college days. Remember what it’s like to make a copy from those things? It’s easy to get about half of any page, and nearly impossible to get the half nearest the spine. And the books don’t come apart. Alas, they’re the only permanent record we have. They are important.

Given these facts, I think anyone can understand why we’re protective of the books and why we don’t loan them out. But this is a very unusual situation, and so we’re making an exception, because we think it’s the fair thing to do.

LEO did attach a caveat: To ensure that the bound copies are handled carefully and returned promptly, the newspaper has hired a security guard to accompany a Northup worker to make the copies. The books will go out of the office one at a time, and the Northup campaign will pay for the copies and reimburse LEO for the security guard, at $18 an hour. At this point, it’s impossible to know how long this procedure will take, but look for a tally in a future issue of LEO.

Frankly, all of this seemed a bit humorous, silly even, and not that big of a deal. A few things that struck me:
• It’s weird to see an incumbent on the offensive. Don’t incumbents typically adopt a stance that says something like, “My opponent? Who is that again? Does he actually breathe air?”
• Ms. Northup seems to want to make people think Mr. Yarmuth still owns LEO, even though he sold the newspaper three years ago. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: John doesn’t live here anymore. He has zero decision-making authority at LEO.
• Ms. Northup took great pains to let people know she doesn’t actually read LEO. She said it more than once during last week’s press conference. And yet, she’s pretty sure it’s a porno rag (as her campaign phone recordings allude), and she’s pretty sure John Yarmuth has written plenty of things over the years that she’ll hang on him like a bad haircut. All I can surmise from this is that someone told her that LEO really, really sucks, and she believed it. It seems she’s comfortable letting others do her thinking for her.
• When a Northup rep came to our office earlier this year to look at our back issues, he only identified himself after some time had elapsed. Now, this is not that big of a deal, and yet, in terms of crossing i’s and dotting t’s, and in terms of being open and forthright, it does matter. But sometimes the little things do get overlooked, like, say, failing to attach the legal disclaimer to political advertisements, as the Yarmuth campaign did during the primary. You can’t have it both ways.

So, there you go. We thank Ms. Northup for gussying up a Wednesday that, coming off a Tuesday holiday, was feeling like a bit of a slog. And we challenge her and her peeps to find some creative ways to cut and paste John’s old columns, and to do it quickly, so we can get all of that out of the way.

Which brings me to my conclusion, and a serious offer: If Anne Northup wants to share her views on issues with nearly 200,000 LEO readers, the newspaper will make space available to her every week between now and Nov. 1. LEO proposes a point-counterpoint between the two candidates. As I said, this is a sincere offer, and I hope to hear from the Northup campaign post haste. Because there actually are important issues to talk about in the 3rd District.

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