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Kentucky and America deserve better than Mitch McConnell. In 2020, Democrats get their chance.

For 35 very long years, Kentucky has had inadequate representation in the United States Senate. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Image: Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol, on Aug. 22, 2018.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

In the first Democratic presidential debate, the contenders were asked how they would deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell if they were to be elected president. Several candidates explained their strategies, but one answer was absent: The next president shouldn’t have to deal with Mitch McConnell; he’s up for re-election in 2020.

And maybe he won’t have to. On Tuesday, former Marine fighter pilot and Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath announced she would be challenging McConnell for his seat. McGrath is only the first person to publicly declare her candidacy for 2020 — there may well be others. But whether the Democratic nominee is McGrath or someone else, our commonwealth deserves more than the man currently “representing” us in our Capitol’s halls.

I grew up in the Beecher Terrace housing project in Louisville, Kentucky, which is often described as a “severely distressed public housing development.” Beecher Terrace is currently being demolished to make way for mixed-income housing. In 2014, Beecher Terrace was featured in "Prison State" on PBS highlighting the fact that almost every resident spends time behind bars — my father was an incarcerated resident during my childhood.

I got into politics for the kids who grow up in poverty and for the families and friends who rarely see someone with their life experience serving in office. I believe in the restoration of voting rights, in eliminating poverty, in supporting public education, in addressing our climate crisis, in fairness for all of my neighbors, in women’s rights and that, together, we can transform systems that were never designed for many of us in the first place.

My neighbors across the commonwealth deserve leaders who will fight for them, on both the local and federal level. But McConnell is not motivated by the same values. He does not work for the people of Kentucky — he works for his party and his pockets.

Kentucky, we deserve better.

McConnell is not motivated by the same values. He does not work for the people of Kentucky — he works for his party and his pockets.

We deserve better than a senator who opposes expanded voting and voting rights, especially when 312,000 Kentuckians are currently being prevented from exercising their right to vote. McConnell dismissed people who are advocating to make Election Day a national holiday. Perhaps McConnell doesn’t want more people to be able to vote because he’s worried that they will vote him out of office.

McConnell has also made it very clear to Black folks that he is not interested in engaging in important conversation about racial justice. His ignorance on the topic of reparations and racial hatred is extremely revealing when he makes claims that "none of us currently living are responsible” for slavery and shrugs off solutions to amend racial inequity because “we elected an African American president.”

“For a century after the Civil War, Black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror,” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates noted during a congressional hearing on reparations. “A campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell.” In a time when racial hatred is painfully present in our commonwealth and country and inequities abound, we need a senator who has a racial justice analysis and commitment to equity.

Then there’s the fact that an NBC News reporter unearthed evidence that two of McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers were slave owners.

We’re all in this together. Kentuckians living in Martin County still don’t have clean water to bathe in or drink. Kentuckians living in west Louisville are struggling to breathe clean air. McConnell is uninterested in working to make the environment cleaner and healthier. He has seemingly no interest in family-sustaining jobs, cleaning up hazardous waste sites or reducing toxic air and eliminating water pollution, all efforts that would benefit communities of color and low-income families who are disproportionately exposed to toxins.

My neighbors are dying because of our environment. Our environment is a public health and public safety priority.

Unfortunately, the senator’s inability to act on environmental health and safety extends to his failure to strengthen funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund and to take actions to halt the black lung epidemic facing workers in central Appalachia.

These are issues that do not get much press outside of Kentucky — but they are exactly the kinds of problems our senators should be tackling.

On the other hand, McConnell is all too happy abusing his power to funnel money to the projects and influential Kentuckians he thinks will keep him in power. His efforts to expand his personal economic and political power are a family affair, as Politico reported in June that wife (and Secretary of Transportation) Elaine Chao helped McConnell secure at least $78 million in grants. Ethics experts were not amused.

Kentucky, we deserve better.

McConnell opposes equal pay legislation and supported appointing Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court — an insult to women in Kentucky and across the nation. But McConnell’s support for Kavanaugh was made all the more infuriating given his blatant and unashamed obstruction of Judge Merrick Garland. McConnell’s successful move to prevent President Barack Obama from nominating a judge to fill the seat left open after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death will long be remembered as one of the 21st century’s most blatant examples of cynical partisanship.

Whom does McConnell serve? It is most definitely not “we the people.” He long ago gave up his duty to Kentucky — and to the United States — as evidenced by his opining in 2010 that the GOP’s “single most important” achievement would be denying Obama re-election.

Indeed, McConnell has systematically neglected Black people, people living in poverty and the most oppressed Kentuckians. But in many ways, unfortunately, McConnell is the national figurehead for Kentucky — after all, he is the most politically powerful person from our state. Yet, I would argue that his actions and beliefs do not reflect those of Kentuckians who are just trying to make it by.

For 35 very long years, since 1984, we have had inadequate representation in the United States Senate. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We deserve courageous leadership. Let’s make it absolutely unnecessary for future presidential candidates to be asked whether or not they would be able to deal with McConnell if they were elected president. Kentuckians, let’s vote him out in 2020.