Chandler Threatened With Slander Suit Over TV Ad

Sep 24, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. --  A coal executive who has become one of the most recognizable faces in the 6th District congressional race threatened Monday to file a slander suit against U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler over an ad running on Lexington TV stations.

River View Coal Vice President Heath Lovell originally showed up in a hard-hat and miner's garb in a TV ad earlier this month supporting Republican challenger Andy Barr in the heated race. Since then, the Chandler campaign has been running a spot claiming Lovell is not a miner.

An attorney for Lovell sent a letter to Chandler Monday demanding that the ad be taken off the air. Attached to that letter were certificates showing Lovell is a certified miner for underground and surface coal operations in Kentucky.

"Your commercial contains intentional statements about Mr. Lovell that are false and injurious to his reputation and good name and ability to work in his profession and have exposed him to public scorn and ridicule," Louisville attorney R. Kent Westberry wrote in the letter.

In a third TV ad that began airing Monday afternoon, Lovell defended himself. "How dare you attack me, calling me a liar," Lovell said in the ad. "This isn't a lie. This is my life."

Chandler campaign manager Eric Nagy contends that the original Barr ad that featured Lovell was misleading.

"We stand behind our ad exposing Lovell as a coal executive from western Kentucky instead of an Estill County coal miner," Nagy said in a statement. "We were hardly the first ones to call out Barr for his deceit - the Lexington Herald-Leader, the New York Times, and MSNBC have all skewered his campaign for this masquerade."

In the original ad, Lovell blames Chandler, President Barack Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for "devastating" the coal industry with stringent regulations.

In the ad, Lovell laments that coal trains have nearly stopped running in the tiny Estill County town of Ravenna, which is in the 6th congressional district. Lovell, however, is from Morganfield in the 1st District.

Coal issues have played big in the matchup in the Lexington-based 6th District even though most of the state's mines are miles away in the more mountainous Appalachian region.

Both candidates know mining issues matter in Lexington, which has a sizeable bloc of Appalachian transplants as well as offices for the Kentucky Coal Association and several major mining companies. The city is also home to environmentally concerned voters who bitterly oppose the effects of mining on water quality and the Appalachian landscape.

Chandler and Barr are engaged in what is expected to be Kentucky's most competitive general election congressional race. Barr, a Lexington attorney, sought a rematch with Chandler after losing a squeaker to him two years ago.