Saturday, August 28, 1999

McConnell: Party switches over

Finance law a target for GOP majority

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who helped in recent weeks to convince two state Senate Democrats to become Republicans, said Friday he believes the party-switching in Frankfort is over for now.

        But with the influence of Mr. McConnell, a three-term GOP senator from Louisville, the Republicans now have a 20-18 majority and control the Kentucky state Senate for the first time in history.

        “This is an exciting time (for Republicans),” Mr. McConnell said Friday during a meeting with The Enquirer's editorial board.

        “(The Democrats) have owned the place forever.”

        Mr. McConnell played a pivotal role in helping two former Democratic state senators — Dan Seum of Louisville and Bob Leeper of Paducah — decide to switch parties and become Republicans.

        Mr. Seum made his decision about two months ago after meeting with Mr. McConnell at his Louisville condo; Mr. Leeper announced his decision last weekend.

        “That's probably it as far as the switching goes,” Mr. McConnell said. “And it's going to stay 20 to 18. But that in itself changes the power equation in Frankfort.”

        Mr. McConnell predicted that in the 2000 General Assembly legislative session that begins in July the Republican-controlled Senate will attempt to change Kentucky's gubernatorial campaign finance law.

        Mr. McConnell has long claimed that the legislation, pushed by Democrats in the 1992 legislative session with just one Republican vote, is a Democratic incumbent protection law because it limits spending in governor's races to about $2 million for candidates to who agree to take about $600,000 in tax money.

        Mr. McConnell claims the law is the reason the GOP failed to field a credible challenge to Democratic incumbent Gov. Paul Patton. Mr. Patton is running against Hart County Republican Peppy Martin, a political neophyte who has embarrassed party leaders with several campaign trail gaffes and an unrealistic platform.

        “Republicans are still outnumbered two-to-one in Kentucky,” Mr. McConnell said, adding that the media and organized labor support Democrats in most statewide races.

        “What this jerry-rigged system is guarantees that the system is slanted in favor of the Democrats,” he said. “For a Republican to be competitive in Kentucky ... is a minimum of $4.5 million to $5 million.

        “And you see it in this year's race. Patton has done a decent job but he's not that popular ... but because of the spending limits this race has been a no-show” for the Republicans.

Raising money
        Mr. McConnell spent all day in Northern Kentucky Friday, meeting with Northern Kentucky University President Dr. James Votruba and speaking to a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

        He also raised nearly $50,000 Friday evening at the Villa Hills home of Ashland Inc. CEO Paul Chellgren.

        Fort Mitchell jeweler Joe Koester, a member of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee and one of the event's organizers, said he was more than pleased with the turnout and the amount raised given that Mr. McConnell is not up for re-election until 2002.

        Thursday night, at a fund-raiser in Owensboro, Mr. McConnell raised about $20,000, said Scott Douglas, who oversees fund-raising for Mr. McConnell's campaigns and his political action committee.

        “Northern Kentucky has always been good to me,” Mr. McConnell told the crowd of about 150 at the fund-raiser. “I would not have won my first (Senate) race in 1984 without the big margin I received from the voters up here.”

Tax-cut veto
        During his interview with the Enquirer and at the fund-raiser, Mr. McConnell mentioned several other topics and issues:

        • On the proposed $792 billion tax break proposed by the Republicans, Mr. McConnell said President Clinton will veto the bill.

        “And then we'll take our mes sage to the American people for the next 15 months, leading up to the 2000 election,” he said. “We want to spend $2 trillion of the projected (budget) surplus on Social Security and Medicare, but some of the remaining $1 trillion should go back to the American people. It's your money.”

        • On the presidential campaign of GOP front-runner George W. Bush, Mr. McConnell — who is chairing the campaign in Kentucky — mentioned several likely vice presidential candidates for Mr. Bush, including Elizabeth Dole, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, a former Washington congressman who served as President Reagan's defense secretary.

        • On U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas of Boone County, the only Democrat representing Kentucky in Congress. Mr. Lucas ran on a conservative platform last year and since being elected has often voted with the Republicans.

        “Ken Lucas has so far been a good Republican,” Mr. McConnell said. “I'm having a hard time finding much wrong with his voting record.”


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