Prominent Kentucky Republicans are urging grassroots efforts to expand GOP influence in Frankfort by flipping the last two Democratic constitutional offices in the upcoming election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Governor Matt Bevin and Congressman James Comer joined incumbent officers and Republican office-seekers at the First District Lincoln Reagan Dinner Saturday night in Murray.
Where the previous year's event took a "maintain and move forward" tone gearing up for the midterms, this year's event was more enthusiastic, following significant gains by Republicans in west Kentucky legislative districts last November. With the 2019 primary just around the corner, Republican candidates attempted to set themselves apart, while upholding a collective goal of flipping the Attorney General and Secretary of State seats. Two of the three candidates primarying Governor Bevin also took to the stage.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell outlined his signature achievements over the past few years, including seating Supreme Court justices and filling judge vacancies across the country at a rapid pace, specifically with young judges who will potentially serve long terms.
In reflecting on accomplishments under the Trump administration, he said while he loves the tax bill, people change tax law every time the political wind shifts, but “there’s not much you can do about a lifetime appointment.” His goal is to leave no vacancy behind.
McConnell outlined federal support for various issues specific to west Kentucky: appropriation for dealing with invasive species - namely Asian carp, hemp language in the recent farm bill and federal funding for the expansion of 641 in Calloway County - which he credits to the efforts of his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (who was in attendance). "So in the addition to my job of setting the agenda for the country in the Senate, I try to never leave Kentucky behind,” he said in a follow-up interview.
Before describing his message for his 2020 reelection campaign, McConnell made this endorsement to applause: “Job one in 2019 is to reelect Governor Matt Bevin to a second term.” Bevin is being primaried by three Republicans - two were in attendance.
Looking ahead to his own upcoming reelection bid next year, McConnell said, “My argument to the people of Kentucky is: my service makes a difference. Every member of the Senate has a vote, but every senator is not equally able to affect the outcome of things.” In a follow-up, he said, the "overwhelming message" he'll take to voters in 2020 is his position as Majority Leader in the Senate allowing Kentucky to "punch above its weight" and that he's the only congressional leader not from New York or California (referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and both House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California).
McConnell said to applause the Senate will vote on the “Green New Deal” (a controversial plan proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, which would reshape the economy in an effort to eliminate carbon emissions). Putting the measure to a vote would force Democrats to take a stand on the issue and potentially divide the party.
“If you’ve read anything at all about the Green New Deal, you know it’s a prescription for disaster,” McConnell said. “Shutting down the economy. Killing jobs. And the irony of it all is everyone agrees it’d be a good idea to reduce carbon emissions. And by the way, the Americans are doing a better job of that than any other country with technological advances, not by shutting down the economy.”
McConnell dug into “the hard left,” and decried the “For The People Act” that passed in the House that he said would “take your tax money and give it to a candidate you’re not even for to fund his campaign. You get to fund the attack ads and buttons and bumper stickers and balloons and the like.” The partisan bill would make sweeping voter reforms and is a largely symbolic gesture by House Democrats with almost no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law by President Trump.
McConnell called “Medicare For All” - “Medicare for none,” warning the system would be drained by additional people coming onto the roles. Some Democratic candidates for president are supporting the Sen. Bernie Sanders proposal. McConnell said, “That will never happen as long as I’m Majority Leader of the Senate.”
He closed with a call for sustaining a Republican dominance in Kentucky. “All of that is really on the line this year. We need to go out there this year and take out every Democratic candidate for statewide office. All of them. Take them out this November.”
Congressman James Comer
1st District Congressman James Comer noted Republican gains in his district in the November election, stating that 26 of the 28 state legislators in his district are now Republican. “I look forward to working with everyone in this room to see we have a 100 percent Republican representation in Frankfort,” he said.
On achievements in Washington, Comer said he’s proud to have passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Farm Bill and to have voted for President Trump’s border wall. But, he said, there’s still work to be done on issues involving overspending, the Chinese trade relationship and border security.
Citing a comment by Senator Bernie Sanders who called President Trump “the most dangerous president in modern American history,” Comer said, “Who would he be a danger to? And I thought, well there are some people: drug dealers, able-bodied Americans who sit at home and draw welfare, people who are in our country illegally, and doctors who perform live birth abortions - partial birth abortions. He would be a danger to those. So I guess there are a few people that Bernie Sanders is correct in his assessment of Donald Trump But if you’re an American, tax paying citizen I will say with confidence that Bernie Sanders and every Democrat running for president is who I feel like is a danger to the future of America.”
Comer is on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which recently questioned Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on why he approved including the citizenship question on the 2020 census. The Census determines the number of U.S. Representatives in each state, billions of dollars in federal appropriations to local levels, the shapes of federal and state districts, etc. The question is: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Critics claim the inclusion of this question was politically motivated and will discourage noncitizens from participating. Congressman Comer said he’s 100% in support of the question. Comer said this question was on Census from 1820 to 1960 (read about the history of this question: here and here). “We talk about border security. The Democrats say, ‘Oh, we don’t need border security. There aren’t that many illegals living in the United States.’ I don’t know how many illegals are living in the United States, but I want to know. So we’ve got a census that comes around every 10 years. Let’s ask the question." He suggested Democrats are trying to cover up a voting scheme in California and Texas. “So I’m going to work to see that question gets on the Census because I believe that every working, tax paying American has a right to know,” he said.
Governor Matt Bevin
Governor Matt Bevin joked that kids visiting Frankfort sometimes ask him, “‘Is it fun to be the governor?’” Which he responded, “No,” to laughter. “I wish I could tell you it’s a hoot. It is not.” He said being governor is analogous to being in the barn in the springtime. “Especially if it’s been a long winter. Stuff just piles up.” He said “this is a season of shoveling,” in the state and in Washington.
“We’ve been shoveling for three years and change. We’ll shovel for the remainder for the remainder of this year. Hopefully you’ll give us the opportunity to shovel for four more years. And I really do believe at some point, some future governor is going to get to ride the pony. I’m hoping there’s a pony actually under this pile because I’m an optimist. I’m an optimist. I believe I’m hearing some whinnying coming from down in this pile somewhere.”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard, we’ve got a pension problem in Kentucky,” he said. “‘And I’ve had somebody say to me ‘well you’re just saying that for political reasons.’ Really? How’s that working for me? How’s that winner? I mean, that’s a political loser if you talk about it for political reasons. We’re not talking about it because it’s expedient. It’s not helping further people’s popularity. No one likes it.”
In a follow-up interview, when asked about his reelection message to teachers (many of whom have rallied in Frankfort over Bevin’s handling of pension reform and other education issues), Bevin said, "The vast majority of teachers and people who are state retirees - or are hoping to someday be state retirees are very supportive. I'm the only governor that's ever fully funded their pensions. Despite what people tell you. Nobody's ever led the charge on this. No previous legislature's ever done it. This one wouldn't have done it if I hadn't demanded it and put it into my budget." He added, "For every person who's scared and or confused, there are dozens and dozens that are grateful that somebody's actually fighting to fund their pension."
He said in the follow-up interview it’s "a legal and moral obligation" to deliver on the promise made to state employees, "And the only way it's going to happen - the only way - is to change the structure for future employees. If you promise future employees what current and past employees have had then you're lying to everybody. Because it is not financially possible to keep doing in the future what we have done to this point." Bevin noted that lawmakers who voted against his plan saw greater losses in the 2018 election than those who favored his plan. "The people of Kentucky get it. They want change. They want to save the pension system. And we still have supermajorities in the House and Senate because the people of Kentucky get it and they want someone to actually fight and do the dirty work. And that's what I have done and that's what I'll pledge to continue to do."
Bevin discussed his position on his administration’s controversial work requirements for Medicaid policy, which the Trump authorized and which has been subject to lawsuits. “It’s a function of getting able-bodied, working-age men and women back to work. I used to say that I wanted everyone in Kentucky that wanted a job to have a job. Now I would say that I want everyone in Kentucky to have a job whether they want one or not,” he said to applause, then adding an exclusion for people who are “gainfully retired.”
“It is insane to me that we think such people should not be expected to do something.” Kentucky was among the first wave of state governments to ask for this requirement. As Bevin describes the policy: to work 20 hours a week, volunteer 20 hours a week or undergo job training 20 a week. “We want people to have the satisfaction, the dignity, of doing for themselves. But there has to be opportunity,” he said and described recent job growth in the state.
Bevin teased an economic development announcement coming in a couple of weeks about a company “you would know” that would come to a rural town of 2,000 people. Over the next 18 months, he said, 2,000 construction workers will be employed to build a facility more than $1.2 billion and will employ more than 400 full-time people. These jobs, he said, will pay $70,000 a year with benefits. “These are good jobs.” He also described meeting with a CEO of a company looking to put 1,000 jobs averaging $127,000 a year somewhere in the country and potentially coming to Kentucky (he said it’s narrowed down between Kentucky and another state).
Wrapping up, Bevin called on the audience to ask which candidates would they want on the other side of a table negotiating on their behalf, who would they trust to run their business if they had to leave their business to one of the candidates for a period of time, who would they trust to look out for the livelihood of their employees, community and family.
On President Trump, “He gets stuff done,” Bevin said. On Trump’s family, he said, “They get stuff done because they love America. He genuinely loves America. Does he have a methodology that seems to irritate some? - Waa - I mean, seriously. The point is, he gets stuff done… And he does it for the right reasons.”
Bevin said Democrats and socialists are counting on America to be passive and not “hustle.” He urged the audience to support candidates in the upcoming elections and not become apathetic. “This is ours to lose. Let’s not lose it in 2019, 2020 or the years beyond that. The tide is turning in Kentucky. Great things are ahead of us. The future is bright indeed.”
Kentucky Primary Election Day is May 21.