Amy McGrath

Senate candidate Amy McGrath  talks to supporters in Ashland Wednesday.

ASHLAND The federal government needs to do more to make health care affordable, assist communities in coal country in adapting to a changing economy and upgrade aging roads and bridges, said U.S. Senate candidate Amy McGrath, who made a campaign swing through Ashland Wednesday.

Government also needs to invest in education, job creation and broadband infrastructure, said McGrath, speaking to a luncheon gathering of supporters.

McGrath, a Democrat, hopes to unseat six-term Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican. She attacked what she called McConnell’s lack of leadership and accused him of a pattern of neglecting Kentucky’s needs outside of election years.

“We need a new generation of leaders who have served their country who can put country above political party,” said McGrath, a former U.S. Marine fighter pilot who served 20 years and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

McGrath named health care as the country’s top priority, just as she did in 2018 when she ran her first campaign for office. In that year she was the Democratic nominee for Kentucky’s sixth congressional district seat. She lost to GOP incumbent Andy Barr.

“Health care is the No. 1 issue in Kentucky. We have the highest cancer rates in the country. We have the highest rates of diabetes. We have the second highest per capita spending in prescription drug medication in the country here in Kentucky so we have a lot of problems.

“And currently, we have a senator who consistently not only wants to undermine the system we have right now, but he is actually trying to make it worse by continually trying to  throw people off health care, continually trying to undermine the protections we have for people with preexisting conditions to get insurance.

“And drug prices, there are seven bills that passed in the house, bipartisan bills, that are practical measures to get prescription drug prices down, that he won’t even allow a vote on in the Senate,” she said.

McGrath called for federal investment in infrastructure — highways, bridges, communications networks and the like — at a scale resembling the building of the interstate highway system starting in the 1950s.

“I talk a lot about Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s when we came together as a country and we looked and we said we need roads, we need an interstate highway system. And we came together as a country and we made that decision to fund it publicly. We’re not doing that anymore. We need public help, federal help for some of these things like roads, bridges, dams and water — our water infrastructure in many cases is 70 years old, 80 years old, so a lot of these small communities do not have the community resources to fix these things,” she said.

She also said the federal government should take financial responsibility for funding mandates that hit local communities. “If you’re going to mandate it, you have to provide the funds for it, and this is what I’ve been talking about. We need to elect leaders that believe our government can work again and can work by investing again at a federal level.

“We’ve squeezed the federal governments so much under Republican leadership that the government doesn’t have the funds to invest anymore,” she said.

Eastern Kentucky, where coal powered the economy for decades, needs help making the transition to a new economy, she said. “Coal powered this country and what we haven’t done as a country is reinvest for a new economy.

“When I talk to miners, they say coal is not going away any time soon, but we have to have a leader that’s honest that coal is not coming back the way it once was.

“They’re telling me this — not me — they’re telling me this, so what we have is a failure to leadership. We’ve had people of both political parties use this issue and blame the other side for a decline in an industry when really the decline was because of market forces ... and to me what that means is we have to have leaders that plan for the future, and Mitch McConnell has no plan for the future.

“His plan is to blame the other side and tell people that all the stuff that happened back in 1975 is going to come back, and people don’t buy it.

“What I want to do is reinvest, invest in education, invest in infrastructure. No business is going to want to come to a place in this country or in Kentucky that cannot talk to the modern world, so we have to invest in broadband, cellphone coverage, to get those jobs of the future right here in eastern Kentucky. ... That’s the kind of stuff that’s been ignored by guys like Mitch McConnell for decades.”

McGrath commented on the Second Amendment sanctuary movement that has swept through the region, where Boyd, Carter and Greenup county fiscal courts passed non-binding resolutions within the past two weeks.

“I think it’s people expressing their opinions. To me it’s sort of like the fairness ordinances ... just as Gov. Andy Beshear said, these are or binding by law, but it’s the community telling everybody where they’re at, and to me, if they want to do that, it’s fine.

“I’m pro Second Amendment. I don’t think anybody’s Second Amendment rights are going to be taken away, but if this is what they want to do, it’s fine.”

McGrath, 44, grew up outside Covington and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. She joined the Marines as a lieutenant and over the course of her career flew more than 85 combat missions.

She said she wanted to fly for the military from her childhood and competed to earn her wings. “I didn’t want to be placed in the cockpit as a girl. I wanted a fair shot,” she said.

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