FRANKFORT – In 40 years in Congress, US MP Harold Dallas Rogers has brought far-reaching changes in southeast Kentucky – all for the good of his state and his constituents, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said Thursday.
But the Somerset Republican known simply as “Hal” to friends and neighbors hasn’t changed, said Stivers, R-Manchester.
“You don’t call him Mr. Rogers. You don’t call him Congressman Rogers,” Stivers said, speaking in a ceremony in honor of the 5th District Congressman Thursday. “You call him Hal.”
On Thursday, Rogers, 83, became Kentucky’s longest serving member of Congress after 14,852 days, surpassing the late United States Representative Bill Natcher, who died in 1994 after serving 14,851 days in office, who held the 2nd bureau.
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Rogers has been elected for 21 consecutive terms since 1980 to represent the 5th district of the state, which includes 30 counties in southeast Kentucky.
To mark the occasion, the Kentucky Republicans, along with some Democrats, held a ceremony in the state’s Senate Houses.
Among the speakers was Jim Host, founder of Host Communications; University of Kentucky, President Eli Capilouto; Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Mac Brown; and Rogers himself, who received standing ovations over and over again during the hour-long event.
Rogers downplayed his oversized role in Kentucky politics and accomplishments.
“I’m just a country boy from rural Wayne County,” he said.
And he said that after being elected 21 times to represent his district, he was not ready to retire.
“In my case, 40 years is not enough,” he said. “I have more to do, more questions to ask, more things to do, more people in need.”
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Capilouto, to describe Rogers’ influence, said about a year after coming to Kentucky that he had driven from Lexington to speak for Rogers at an event in his district. As he was leaving Somerset, Capilouto said he was stopped by an officer who saw an expired license plate on his car.
The officer was unimpressed by Capilouto’s statement that he did not know the expired license plate because it was a British car and that he was the university president.
“He didn’t care who I was,” recalled Capilouto.
But when he mentioned that he had been in town at Rogers’ invitation, the officer’s attitude changed, Capilouto said.
The officer immediately sent him on his way and advised, “Take care of it when you return to Lexington,” said Capilouto.
Capilouto and other speakers commended Rogers for his many efforts to help Kentucky, including leading the fight against opioid addiction, before most others realized the severity of the epidemic.
“He was the Paul Revere of the opioid crisis,” said Capilouto. “He called us to action.”
Some of the initiatives Rogers is known for include providing millions of dollars in federal spending to his district, providing resources to fight addiction, cleaning up the environment, and promoting tourism and economic development.
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A press handout from his office extolled Rogers’ role in curbing government spending through 40 years of serving on the House Budgets Committee when he was five years old chairman.
But Rogers was known in political circles for many years as the “Prince of Pork” for the federal generosity which he showered with many impoverished communities in his rural district.
A 2010 Politico story reported that Rogers had petitioned more than $ 200 million in the two years before he became chairman of the committee.
Still, speakers on Thursday said Rogers’ unwavering focus on projects for the benefit of Kentucky had made significant improvements to his home state.
“His legacy, his touch, will continue to influence generations of Kentuckians,” said Capilouto. “It’s those deep roots, deep roots that are always firmly anchored in Kentucky.”
You can reach Deborah Yetter at [email protected] Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by signing up today: www.courier-journal.com/subscribe.