The political stakes are high in the upcoming midterm elections and Republicans in west Kentucky are preparing for a challenge as Democrats are looking to regain control as federal and state levels. The GOP also sees an opportunity in sharing recent accomplishments paired with conservative values to flip the last two Democratic state House seats in far west Kentucky and to gain further control over a region where Democratic support was once strong but has eroded over the past decades. This message and these goals were made clear during the West Kentucky Lincoln Reagan Dinner on Saturday night in Murray, where Wyoming Representative-at-Large Liz Cheney delivered the keynote, followed by Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton, regional candidates and others.
Wyoming Congressman Liz Cheney said the Republican party has momentum in recent policy achievements, including the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice and other judges and tax cuts. She said the Republican Party needs to continue that progress through the midterms and to flip seats in state legislatures. In west Kentucky, the last two Democratic state House seats are open in the midterm elections and Republicans are looking to flip those to complete a stronghold in the region.
Of women entering politics, Cheney said it's important to encourage as many good candidates as possible to enter the race. Women often don't have as many role models in politics, she said, "Go ahead and throw your hat in the ring, put your name on the ballot and you really can make a difference."
In video messages, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Rand Paul touted recent party successes at the federal level, including the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and other judgeships, tax reform, low unemployment and "skyrocketing job creation," ending the Obamacare individual mandate and reversing the 'War on Coal.'
"The future looks bright for the Republican Party," said Congressman James Comer. He echoed some of the achievements mentioned by McConnell and Paul. "I'm proud to work with President Trump. I think President Trump sincerely wants to help American workers," Comer said. He added that Trump's approval rating in Kentucky is among the highest in the country. According to a Business Insider poll at the end of January, Kentucky was in the top 10, at 51%.
Introducing Wyoming Representative-at-Large Liz Cheney (where Trump's approval rating is at 57% according to the BI poll), Comer said she is a "rising star" in the Republican Party. "I have some good news... I have two things that I want to share with you... I really believe we're getting very close to having a female president of the United States. The second good news is that it will not be Hillary Clinton," Comer said to applause. Of Cheney, he said he believes she has the potential to be the first Female Secretary of Defense and the first female President of the United States. In describing her background, he praised her experience on issues involving military, veterans and foreign policy.
Cheney said she had "no announcements tonight" regarding any future political ambitions. But she thanked Comer and said he was among those in Congress "whose word means something" and who can be counted on. She also thanked McConnell for his work in the appointment of judges and to Paul, whom she said she sometimes disagrees with, for fighting for what he believes in and making his voice heard.
Reminiscing on the 2000 vice presidential debate in Kentucky between her father Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman, she said it was a substantive policy discussion that "we don't see enough of" anymore. She said while divisiveness is often seen on television, the truth is meeting members of Congress on the floor, "I have yet to meet anybody on either side of the aisle who is there for the wrong reason." She said the men and women of Congress are there because they want to represent the nation and their constituents and do the right thing.
"The impact of President Trump's policies is absolutely positive and absolutely undeniable." She said 'the other side can't "fight the fight on those grounds" and instead focus on things that "aren't true" and "don't want to take responsibility" for the last eight years. She said positive impacts involving the tax cuts, regulatory reform, economic growth and job creation are only "the very beginning" in digging out of the "huge hole" of the policies of the last eight years.
Cheney said on the Armed Services Committee, she learned "how grave the situation has become." For example, she said military leaders have told the committee that the U.S. Congress, through the Budget Control Act, has damaged the readiness of the military (a 2011 act designed to solve that summer's debt ceiling crisis).
"War is changing," she said and called for more resources for armed forces. She said adversaries are conducting wars on multiple fronts. "Just look at what Russia has done," she said, refering to a February incident in Syria between a Russian mercenary attack on U.S. troops. She said Russia and China are developing advanced weaponry and trying to gain a foothold to diminish the power and strength of the U.S. She said the U.S. needs to commit to making sure that doesn't happen.
Of the CIA's 'enhanced interrogation program,' which her father Dick Cheney defended as a Bush administration policy, Liz Cheney said "If you look at the evidence, if you look at the history, the enhanced interrogation program was very effective. It helped us stop attacked and save American lives and I certainly think it's important for us to thank and honor the men and women involved in that."
Cheney and Senator Rand Paul were recently at odds on Twitter about the potential appointment of Gina Haspel to the role of CIA Director due to her history in the CIA's torture and waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspects. Cheney said intelligence reports now declassified that detail the intel Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided after he was waterboarded offered information that saved lives. "In my view, if you're going to stand up and then frankly slander the men and women who operated this program and if you're going to stand up and say 'we should never waterboard anybody ever again' then you've also got to say 'how many American lives are you willing to risk because you will not waterboard a terrorist?' And I'm not willing to risk any American lives for that," she said to applause.
Of the upcoming midterms, "the stakes are pretty high," she said, warning of possible control gained by Democrats Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Representative Maxine Waters. "We've got to make sure we don't get into a situation where we think we are doing so much that is so good and so effective that people will know it if we don't fight for it. They won't. And the other side is mobilized. The other side wants you to believe that they're going to shout you down if you stand up for what's right and we absolutely can't let that happen. It's our obligation to make sure that we don't end up in a situation where they reverse all the good that's been done. And it's going to take all of us."
Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Cheney said, "It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children's children this great and free government." In her closing words, she urged the audience to not feel discouraged by challenges of today and to read the Constitution.
"I am optimistic about where our country is going and that we should all be optimistic and we should all be energized." She said the 'fundamental greatness' of the nation doesn't come from government but from God. She said national security is a fundamental, sacred obligation and that the armed forces are "the best force for good."
"And we know that every single one of us, every single day, must do everything we can to defend against those who would demean us, who would run us down, who would try to blame us. Because we are an incredible example of freedom for men and women all around the world. And we know that those values, those values of a limited government and low taxes, of a strong national defense and the value of human life - those are our Republican values, those are conservative values and those are American values."
Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton echoed Cheney's call to not get discouraged. She said the rise of the Tea Party, with which she identifies, embodied the spirit of 'We The People.' She said the recent rallies in Frankfort gave her flashbacks to her 'Tea Party Days.' "Although, I think we were a little nicer," she said. She said elected officials on both sides don't want 'We The People' "breathing over their necks."
Hampton called on Republicans to be "vigorous in defending our values" because of what she says she is seeing today. "You are probably seeing the first generation that will willingly give up its Constitutional rights in exchange for a false sense of security. They will give up their Second Amendment rights. They will give up their First Amendment rights because nobody can be offended, right? They will do this."
Citing President Ronald Reagan, Hampton said "Freedom must be taught. It's not passed in the bloodstream." She said it's important to talk to young people about the importance and value of the Constitution and how rare freedom is in the world. "Freedom is kind of a blip on the scene," she said. Adding that history filled with kings, queens, dictators and despots. She said the founding principles of America are based on God. She said she's seeing Christians who are "a little too meek" and called on Christians to not hide, but "let that light shine."
Hampton also urged talking to young people about personal stories successes and failures. She said she meets kids who are afraid of what's on the other side of graduation, stressing about what awaits. She said no one is an "overnight success" and encouraged sharing in "speed bumps."
Auditor Mike Harmon said the 2018 midterms are going to be tough for the Republican Party. "Don't take your eye off the ball," he said. He encouraged Republican candidates to engage in 'hand to hand combat' by going door to door, shaking hands with constituents, telling voters that they truly care and being sincere in that message. "These are exciting times, we've got a lot on our plate. We've got to work hard and we can't give up because they're not going to stop. They're going to be relentless and to try to take back all the gains that we've had and it's important for the state and it's important for this nation that we maintain and move forward."
State Lawmakers on the General Assembly:
State Senator Stan Humphries said there's still "a ways to go" on the pension issue. He said he expects the biennial budget to come out this upcoming week. Tax reform still looms in the future, he said. "We are in difficult times in the state of Kentucky. We do have issues. But together I think together that we can lead and find a path forward through this as well," Humphries said.
Humphries noted movement on the TVA-in-lieu-of tax bill that allocates disbursements back to local communities for economic development projects. He suggested that money could be used to bolster workforce development and for communities to incentivize and move forward. Representative Kenny Imes said the TVA economic development deal is "so vitally important in west Kentucky."
Humphries also mentioned the bill he has supported that would allow Murray State University to use its own funds to help rebuild Richmond College (the dorm destroyed in a blast last summer).
On the pension issue, State Senator Danny Carroll of Paducah said, "It took the Democrats years and years to mess this up. It's going to take us at least a couple of years to clean this up. And I'm confident that we're going to do that," Carroll said. He added that state employees are valuable and said the difficult decisions that need to be made regarding the pension issue aren't easy. "It may not be done in the time frame that we would like it to be done in, but I am confident it will get done."
Representative Richard Heath (of Graves County) said the new plan is data-driven and a compromise, "What we have is a compromise and when you get right down to it, isn't that what we want? We can have a compromise or we can have gridlock. Either way, we're going to have to pay a price to either pass a compromise plan or come away with nothing, come away with gridlock. And, for my part, I want to pass a pension plan."
Representative Lynn Bechler of Marion said Kentucky needs tax reform and pensions that are "survivable." He said teachers and state workers need to have "a good, solid retirement that they were all promised when they were hired, but we have to do this very economically, intelligently."
"This is going to be a very difficult year for elections," Bechler said. He noted that statistically, votes tend to go against the party in power in midterm elections. He called on west Kentucky Republicans to help change that trend and to keep a "strong Republican General Assembly."