• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Chandler reacts to shooting of congressman, others

Former U. S. Congressman and Woodford County native Ben Chandler was driving to work last Wednesday, June 14, when he heard a radio report. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican and House Majority Whip, was among four people shot by a lone gunman on a baseball practice field in Alexandria, Va. "It hits close to home," said Chandler. The Kentucky Democrat said he knows Scalise and at least one other Republican congressman on the field that morning for a practice - only one day before the annual congressional baseball game, which has been played since 1909. Chandler, who played in the congressional baseball game each of the nine years that he represented Kentucky in the House of Representatives, said his initial thoughts after hearing about the shootings: "This is where the rhetoric is taking us; this rhetoric that we hear all of the time about how awful and terrible the government is." "All of the demonization of people who are trying to serve the public is ultimately going to lead to stuff like this," Chandler added. When former U. S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, whom he described as "a dear friend of mine," was shot in 2011, Chandler said his first thoughts were, "I can't believe this isn't happening more often." The grandson of former Kentucky Gov. and U.S. Sen. "Happy" Chandler, said he got several death threats while serving in Congress. And he's not optimistic things will change anytime soon because "our society is ... so polarized." "It's a real shame," he continued. "What we need is civility. And we need people who are willing to work together. And we need some moderates - some people who are more interested in making the government and the system and the country work ... (instead of) being so ideological on one end or the other" - the far right and far left. Chandler blames this unwillingness to compromise largely on a constituency also unwilling to compromise and media outlets that give airtime to "the most polarizing people," who "say the most outrageous things." This "competition run-amuck," and "rush to profit" creates a media environment where being outrageous brings in more viewers and more dollars, Chandler said. That's why TV news will pit a congressman from the far right against one on the far left to "hopefully create some fireworks," he added. Chandler blamed social media for being another factor. It allows like-minded individuals to "gin each other up," he said. That's why he always enjoyed playing in the congressional baseball game. "It was one of the few times when you could really engage in cross-party camaraderie," said Chandler, a former shortstop and second baseman on the Democratic team. He said having an opportunity to play in a Major League stadium was a "pretty cool" experience for someone who dreamed of playing professional baseball as a kid. Chandler's fondest congressional game memories include a long visit with Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, (her husband broke the color barrier when his granddad was commissioner of baseball), and watching his son, Branham, serve as a batboy. While representing Kentucky in the U. S. Congress, Chandler regularly participated in practices leading up to the annual charity game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. "It could have easily been me (on the field last Wednesday) when that (shooting) happened. I think about that all the time," he said.

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