- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If the First Amendment had eyes, last week’s news from Kentucky would be two thumbs jammed right in them. State Rep. Jim Gooch, a Democrat who chairs Kentucky’s House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, wants editorialists and political cartoonists to register in Frankfort as lobbyists. The powerful Mr. Gooch, a favorite target of Kentucky opinion writers, is aggrieved to be depicted as a tool of mining interests as he opposed a coal-mine safety bill. One cartoon showed him basking in a hot tub with King Coal.

Not that Mr. Gooch thinks that opinion writers and editors are just another interest group seeking favor. That regrettable viewpoint would be merely wrongheaded and unconstitutional. No — Mr. Gooch’s attack on the First Amendment is much more frontal. He calls the actions of editorial writers and cartoonists who lampoon him “beyond lobbying. [It’s] almost extortion.”

“It’s almost as if they want to silence you,” Mr. Gooch complained of his opinion-page critics, seemingly unaware of the irony. “They want to hurt your credibility. They do it by either trying to make you look stupid or corrupt.”

This bill does far more damage to its author’s credibility than any political cartoon could. It suggests a new depth of unsuitability for public office. Indeed, a lawmaker who reaches to deny press freedoms to opinion writers merely because the opinions are inconvenient and perhaps contrary to his official acts is a lawmaker who richly deserves retirement.

Public life in the United States is, and always has been, a raucous affair. Debate is not merely about Mr. Gooch’s projects, political fortunes or personal repute. It is public policy, and it belongs to us all. We won’t show Mr. Gooch what the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans drew and wrote about one another, since he quite evidently cannot handle even moderately critical treatment from a few editorialists, much less the invective and personal attacks characteristic of earlier eras.

David Hawpe, editorial director of the Courier-Journal of Louisville, told the Associated Press that Mr. Gooch “has richly deserved all of the criticism.” Far from Kentucky, it is quite clear that Mr. Gooch richly deserves the latest round.

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