PRESTONSBURG — U.S. Senate candidate and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes was greeted with thunderous applause and strong support from state Democratic leaders, as she unveiled her jobs plan for Kentucky at the Mountain Arts Center Thursday night.
Following introductions from an all-star lineup including House Speaker Greg Stumbo, former Gov. Paul Patton, former Gov. Martha Layne Collins and House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, Grimes used the occasion to unveil her jobs plan, as well as to criticize U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, whose job she hopes to win, for never doing the same.
“Kentucky families deserve better — good paying jobs and a good quality of life,” Grimes told the crowd, estimated between 600 and 700 people. “Unlike Mitch McConnell’s failed agenda, my forward-looking plan for Kentucky will help increase family incomes and encourage businesses to grow and create jobs, prepare and train Kentuckians for the jobs of the future, and increase Kentucky’s global competiveness.”
Grimes specifically targeted Eastern Kentucky during her speech, noting that the region’s loss of coal jobs had been devastating.
“Eastern Kentucky and similar regions are still largely left behind economically,” Grimes said. “Coal jobs have disappeared and not been replaced. Families struggle to make ends meet on minimum-wage jobs. Schools and infrastructure lag behind. Good Americans, who work hard and have served their country, lack opportunity. We can do better.”
Copies of the 18-page plan were given out after the speech. The plan is also available on her campaign website.
Highlights of the plan include:
• Defending coal production and consumption from “misguided federal regulation.”
• Increasing investment in clean-coal technology.
• At the same time, working to diversify the economy of Eastern Kentucky.
• Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which Grimes said would raise the incomes of 1-in-4 Kentucky workers and create 2,200 jobs.
• Expanding education and training for unemployed veterans.
• Closing the gender pay gap, which sees women paid 79 percent of what their male coworkers make.
• Expanding broadband internet throughout the state, along with computer science education to help the state take advantage of modern connectivity.
• Supporting and enhancing the Appalachian Regional Commission.
• Increasing federal investment capital in Eastern Kentucky, by extending the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone from its current eight counties.
• Expanding early childhood education.
• Advancing public-private partnerships to encourage tourism development in Eastern Kentucky.
• Adding the Mountain Parkway to the federal highway system in order to expedite it proposed widening and prevent the usage of tolls to pay part of the bill. She also championed either resurrecting U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers’ Interstate 66 proposal or widening and extending the Hal Rogers Parkway.
• Expanding tax credits for companies to invest in research and development.
• Teaching entrepreneurship courses in high school.
• Improving education to “prepare Kentucky workers for the jobs of tomorrow.”
• Making child care more affordable through additional tax breaks to businesses that provide on-site day care.
• Supporting family-friendly workplace policies, including flexible hours, job sharing, at-work day care and family leave.
• Reducing costs to businesses by reducing red tape.
Grimes also said the problems in Washington D.C. extend beyond the lack of a plan and are instead systemic.
“We all know the problem,” Grimes said. “It’s a Washington D.C. that just doesn’t get Kentucky. They don’t understand us. It is leaders who just don’t get it. You see, they are out of touch with you and me. They focus in our nation’s capital more on partisanship than they do on people.”
The McConnell campaign, which expects to face Grimes in the November general election, issued a statement responding to Grimes’ speech, even before she took the stage.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes’ entire campaign from the day she was recruited by Harry ‘coal makes us sick’ Reid has been supported by anti-coal activists who have shown nothing but disdain for Eastern Kentucky,” McConnell spokesperson Allison Moore said in a statement released just minutes before Grimes took the stage. “Mitch McConnell is a tireless advocate for the region who fights every day to ensure that the same Washington liberals who are supporting Alison’s candidacy aren’t able to continue to prosecute their war on coal and the entire region.”
But while Thursday was all about Grimes, House Speaker Greg Stumbo drew the sharpest criticism from the McConnell campaign, for statements he made comparing a potential defeat of McConnell to the liberation of Europe during World War II.
“Can you imagine what it felt like to know that you were liberating a country?” Stumbo said. “Well, you are about to liberate your state. You are about to liberate your state, from the worst reign of misabuse that we’ve seen in the last 30 years. You are about to give us hope.”
McConnell’s campaign said it took offense to Stumbo comparing the senator to Adolf Hitler.
“It just shows the lengths to which they’re prepared to descend in order to win the election,” the Lexington Herald-Leader quoted McConnell as telling reporters after addressing a group of tobacco farmers in Lexington. “I don’t think that kind of rhetoric is helpful at all, and I’m sure he’s spending the day explaining to people like you that he really didn’t mean it.”