The results of the Nov. 8 elections have left two big questions for local political pundits to ponder:
How will U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a 30-year veteran of Washington politics, work with the ultimate Beltway outsider when Donald Trump moves into the Oval Office? And how will Jeff Hoover, the first Republican state House Speaker in nearly a century, apply his new powers to Kentucky government?
The journalists on this weekend’s Comment on Kentucky discussed these questions and reviewed other stories in the week’s news.
Preparing for the Trump Administration
Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service says he’s curious to see how Senate Majority Leader McConnell and soon-to-be President Trump will interact. Ellis says McConnell will be able to help Trump move his cabinet appointees through the Senate confirmation process, and he says the two Republicans share a desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But there are disagreements looming for the two men, says Ellis. For example, Trump wants term limits for legislators while McConnell opposes them.
The president-elect has tempered his call to replace Obamacare by saying there are some facets of the legislation he wants to protect. John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader says Trump favors keeping protections for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and a provision that allows young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health plans. But Cheves says if the mandate requiring everyone to have insurance is repealed, it will be difficult to afford coverage for those with existing conditions like cancer or a chronic disease.
The fate of the Bevin Administration’s request to overhaul Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion is up in the air depending on how extensively Trump and Congress decide to rewrite the nation’s health care laws. Cheves says Medicaid expansion has provided coverage for nearly half a million Kentuckians, and 22 million people nationwide. Bevin’s plan to implement work requirements, premium payments, and other changes for Medicaid recipients could be rendered moot if most or all of the ACA is repealed, says Cheves.
On Thursday, President-elect Trump hailed his efforts to keep production of a luxury SUV at the Ford plant in Louisville. Cheves says Ford had considered moving the Lincoln MKC line to Mexico and shifting Explorer truck production to its Louisville facility. Ford executives later decided to continue making Lincolns in Louisville. Although Trump tweeted that he had saved the entire plant, Cheves says there was never any risk of losing the facility and he says it’s not clear that the president-elect had anything to do with Ford’s final decision.
Trump’s political appointees so far have drawn mixed reviews from Kentucky lawmakers. McConnell praised Trump’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Ellis says the majority leader will help facilitate the Alabama Republican’s confirmation process. Meanwhile Sen. Rand Paul criticized potential secretary of state nominees John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani. Ryland Barton of WFPL Radio in Louisville says Paul considers the former United Nations ambassador and the former New York City mayor too hawkish.
Barton says 3rd District Congressman John Yarmuth, Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Washington, has assailed Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist and senior counselor. Barton says Yarmuth contends Washington Democrats won’t be able to trust Bannon, who is a former chairman of the conservative Breitbart News website.
Hoover Prepares for New Role
State Rep. Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) appointed a bipartisan transition team to help him prepare to be the new Kentucky House Speaker. Ellis says that eight-member group includes Democrats and former speakers Bobby Richardson and Julian Carroll, who is currently a state senator, as well as former Rep. Danny Ford, who served as Republican Floor Leader for many years. Ellis says the team won’t advise Hoover on policy matters, but will help him make House operations more efficient, effective, and respectful.
Lawmakers will meet in a 30-day session in 2017 and Cheves says Hoover wants to focus on economics, taxes, and jobs. Ellis adds that the new speaker also wants to remain friendly with House Democrats even when they disagree on policy.
The new speaker also says he’s concerned about state funding for higher education and that he wants to maintain legislative independence from the Republican governor while avoiding divisive social issues. But Ellis says the new speaker may indeed face some of those issues depending on the legislative priorities of the Senate and the Bevin Administration.
Hoover will have his own caucus to manage as well. Ellis says out of the new 64-member Republican House majority, 23 of them will be first-time legislators. Those new members may try to push Hoover more to the right than he wants to go, according to Ellis.
One such lawmaker could be the incoming representative for the 49th District, Dan Johnson. The Republican made headlines earlier this year when he posted racially offensive material on his Facebook page. Cheves says Hoover and the state GOP denounced Johnson for the posts but did not force him to drop out of the race. Cheves says he recently visited the Bullitt County district to learn why voters there elected Johnson over incumbent Democrat Linda Belcher. He says Bullitt County is 97 percent white and only 13 percent of residents have college degrees. Donald Trump won the county with nearly three-quarters of the vote. Cheves says he spoke to several voters in the district who said they agreed with Johnson’s views and others who said they weren’t bigots themselves but claimed to be comfortable with those who are.
Meanwhile outgoing House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) called on the new House Democratic minority to hold Frankfort Republicans accountable. Ryland Barton says Stumbo wants the Democrats to ensure the GOP-controlled General Assembly and governor’s office revitalize Kentucky coalfields as they’ve promised to do.
Other State News
- The special House committee investigating executive actions heard testimony last week from Rep. Kevin Sinnette (D-Ashland). Barton says that Sinnette alleges that Gov. Bevin tried to bully him into switching parties. Barton says that Sinnette also testified that the Bevin Administration froze a road project in his district. Earlier this year another Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Russ Meyer of Nicholasville, claimed Bevin delayed a previously approved road project in his district as retribution for not joining the Republican ranks.
- Despite a recent pay raise, state social workers say their jobs continue to be miserable. Ellis says current and former Child Protective Services employees told legislators about high caseloads and heartbreaking conditions they find when making home visits. He says social workers are leaving the Cabinet for Health and Family Services faster than they can be replaced.
- Gov. Bevin restructured the board of the Kentucky Arts Council last week. Cheves says the governor wants individuals with more business and entrepreneurial experience on the board. The council’s executive director is leaving and the board will have 11 new members.
- An appeals court decision could open the door to more local right to work ordinances in the commonwealth. On Friday a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Hardin County right-to-work measure that would free employees at unionized companies from having to pay dues or fees to the union. Barton says the ruling is a blow to unions. He says they will likely appeal the decision.
The opinions expressed on Comment on Kentucky and in this program synopsis are the responsibility of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of KET.