MAYBE THE FREE MARKET CAN PROTECT MINERS, TOO…. After 29 miners were killed at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch coal mine — at a non-union site run by a company that preferred to ignore regulations — it’s tempting to think regional candidates for public office wouldn’t have the chutzpah to support deregulation.

Kentucky’s Rand Paul, however, is not your normal extremist candidate.

Reform-minded lawmakers in both the House and Senate are pushing legislation to bolster the work-safety protections for miners working underground. But don’t try to convince Rand Paul.

The Republican running to replace outgoing Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in the coal-mining hub of Kentucky said recently that Washington has no business formulating mine safety rules.

“The bottom line is: I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules,” Paul said at a recent campaign stop in response to questions about April’s deadly mining explosion in West Virginia, according to a profile in Details magazine. “You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.”

“I know that doesn’t sound … I want to be compassionate, and I’m sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?”

Investigators still hope to determine the cause of the disaster, but Democrats in Congress intend to pass stronger regulations to prevent more deadly incidents from happening again. Republicans are resisting, and Rand Paul continues to stake out a pro-industry, anti-worker position.

More to the point, Paul is running on a platform of ignorance — he’s not qualified to shape federal policy, so send him to Washington, where federal policy is written, so he can avoid shaping federal policy.

Since the industry is doing such a bang-up job*, I’m sure coal miners will have nothing to worry about if Rand Paul is in the Senate looking out for them.

* edited for clarity

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.