A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rural Blog: Former aide to Mitch McConnell takes helm at Appalachian Regional Commission

The Appalachian Regional Commission, long a target of Republican presidents, has a new chief executive with strong ties to the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has helped secure its funding.

Tim Thomas attended the East Kentucky Leadership Conference in Hindman Thursday. Former Gov. Paul Patton of Pikeville is at right (Photo by Al Cross)

Tim Thomas, a former McConnell field office director, was confirmed recently as federal co-chair of the commission, which comprises the governors of the 13 Appalachian states. This week he made his first trip to the region as co-chair and gave an interview to Becca Schimmel of Ohio Valley ReSource, which covers Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Thomas “said he can see a day when the [ARC] is no longer needed,” Schimmel reports. “But that’s not something he expects to come any time soon.” Thomas told her, “It will not happen on my watch, it will probably not happen on the watch of my successor, but I can see that day on the horizon. My vision for ARC is to see the day that this agency can shutter its doors because its goals and objectives have been reached in large measure.”

Thomas, a native of Lyon County in West Kentucky, “wants to focus on diversifying the economy by helping small business and entrepreneurs in the region as well as helping to deal with the opioid crisis,” Schimmel reports. “Those familiar with the ARC say Thomas will need political savvy to make that happen.”

“One of the advantages I think Tim Thomas has is his connection with McConnell and that leadership and his ability to go to these other federal agencies and get their attention,” Ron Eller, Appalachian author and historian who recently retired from the University of Kentucky, told Schimmel.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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