A lot of candidates for state office have made their way to Eastern Kentucky in recent months.

They all shared a pretty similar message here in the mountains: “I’ll work harder for Eastern Kentucky than any of the other candidates.”

Excuse my cynicism, but I’ve heard it all before.

I’ve heard promises. I’ve seen check presentations. I’ve heard speeches in which leaders “prophesied” that Eastern Kentucky will soon be in a time of prosperity such as it’s never seen before.

And we’re still not there.

Just a quick look at a few median household income numbers from the Census Bureau shows a wide gulf of difference across the commonwealth. According to the data, in 2021, Kentucky’s median household income was $55,629 with its most economically successful counties, such as Fayette ($61,526) and Jefferson ($61,633) being far above that.

However, in our coverage area east of I-75 and south of I-64, things aren’t going quite as well.

For example, in our coverage area, Johnson County has the highest median income, at $41,489, with Pike County having the lowest at $36,910.

It’s not surprising that the income levels would be different, especially considering cost of living numbers. But for the median in the metropolitan areas to be nearly double that of our mountain counties is pretty hard to swallow as being “normal.”

That’s especially true when considering what Eastern Kentucky has done for the commonwealth. I realize that a lot of people see us as merely a drag on everyone else, taking more in assistance than we contribute. And if you look at raw numbers, I guess that could be correct.

But I don’t care what the numbers show, because I know what the reality is.

Kentucky has made its way on the backs and lives of those in the Eastern Kentucky region.

Generations of Eastern Kentuckians destroyed their physical bodies while their families sacrificed so that power bills for those who never had to even caught a whiff of coal dust could stay low and their power needs could be reliably filled. Our coal miners have never and likely will never be adequately recognized for the contributions they made to this nation and this commonwealth.

And it’s not just in the coal mines that Eastern Kentuckians have broken their backs so others don’t have to break a sweat. Just look at the factories in central Kentucky, such as Toyota. You couldn’t throw a proverbial rock in one of those facilities without hitting either an Eastern Kentucky native or someone who still lives here but travels there to support their families.

Yeah, according to some metrics, you could potentially say we take more than we give, but I’d say that’s just a more easily palatable way of saying that the chief export we provide while receiving paltry benefits is our people.

All this could come across as pretty cynical, but I’m not being cynical. I’m being hopeful.

I’m always hopeful when the possibility of political change emerges because I still subscribe to the outdated belief that we can affect change at the ballot box.

May 16 sets the stage for an incredibly consequential general election in November. When you, my fellow Eastern Kentuckians go to the polls this year (and this is also applicable to the future), don’t pay so much attention to words as actions.

If a person on the ballot has had an opportunity to help make Eastern Kentucky’s economy self-sustaining and to change our fortunes, then we need to ask ourselves, “Have they done so?” If the person hasn’t had a position of power in this situation before, we have to ask ourselves whether the words they speak match up to their potential actions.

The days of ceremonial checks and unfulfilled promises need to end. Let’s use our powers as voters to send a message to Frankfort that we won’t be forgotten and send those who fail to deliver back to their home counties.

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