'I'm not a lap dog'

U.S. Senate candidate Amy McGrath speaks with voters who turned out to meet her at Lizzie B’s in Prestonsburg on Monday.

U.S. Senate candidate Amy McGrath spent some time with voters in Prestonsburg on Monday.

About a dozen people turned out for the meet-and-greet at Lizzie B’s to listen to McGrath and share some of their concerns about this region and the country. No local elected leaders were in attendance.

McGrath started the event by sharing her background, including how she became a U.S. Marines fighter pilot, and her stance on various issues.

“I decided to move into the public realm because I think, like many people in Kentucky and around the country, what’s been happening in our political system over the last several years, I can’t look the other way,” she said.

On her campaign website, McGrath asserts her belief that all Americans should have “affordable and accessible” healthcare, reporting that health care affects the nation’s competitiveness and national security. She told attendees Monday that healthcare and prescription drug prices are the top concerns voiced by people she has met in Kentucky, following by the need for quality jobs and investment in infrastructure — which she said includes the availability of accessible broadband and cell phone service.

She describes herself as a “gun owner and pro-Second Amendment” candidate.

McGrath is advocating for term limits in Congress, improved governmental transparency and securing the country’s borders “in a humane way in accordance with our American values.”

She explained that she hosted the event, one of several campaign stops in Floyd and Pike counties on Monday, not just to share her views, but to listen to the needs of Eastern Kentucky communities. She said in Kentucky and nationally, political leaders aren’t listening to voters and learning about the issues they face.

Seeking to unseat long-time Sen. Mitch McConnell, McGrath spent a good portion of the event talking about his record.

“Look around. Are things getting any better?” she said. “This guy has been in office for 35 years. Things aren’t getting any better under him and he doesn’t care about us. He just fundamentally doesn’t care about us.”

McGrath said she’s the candidate “who’s not ideologically driven,” vowing to work with “any president,” regardless of political party.

“I’m tired of this. So many people are tired of dysfunction,” she said. “I’m tired of, ‘I only want to win for my own side, and I’d rather see this country and the state, you know, somehow fail just to prove my point of’, you know, ‘my side is great.’ I’m tired of it and so many people are tired of it. And so, I think that’s the biggest difference between myself and Mitch McConnell ... I want to work with anyone to do what’s right for Kentucky and at the same time, I’m willing to stand up for Kentucky against anyone when those policies are wrong for our state. I’m not a lap dog.”

McGrath said she was registered as an Independent for years and then became a Democrat. She said her husband is a “lifelong Republican.” She complained about politicians who stay on their side “to the point that they will actually want the country to fail if it means getting them a political win.”

“I think that’s where we’re at,” she said. “You could argue that happens on both sides. Maybe that’s the case. The bottom line is I, have, I really feel like the only way to fix it is to get new people in there ... What you all should know about me is, yes, I’m a Democrat, but I’m an American first.”

She said Kentucky needs a leaders with a “vision for the future.”

“We need people to have a vision for the future,” she said. “In the 1950s, Eisenhower, who was a Republican president, had a vision for the interstate highway system, and he didn’t say, well, let’s give this to the highest bidder and let the private sector do it. He said, no, we need to do this as a country. And it passed in the Senate 99-1 and we built what was the largest infrastructure project the world has ever seen and it literally powered our country to be the economic powerhouse of the world. We need to think about the 21st Century the same way. We need to not only think of infrastructure as roads, bridges and dams ... We have to think about broadband. We have to think about cell phones. We have to think about modern day communications that’s going to power the jobs of the future.”

Floyd County Chamber of Commerce Director Charly Sholty said her top concern is climate change, prompting a discussion about the decline in coal mining jobs in Eastern Kentucky. Judi Calhoun, president of the Floyd County Democratic Woman’s Club, said there was “no plan to employ” coal miners after the industry declined. Reporting the loss of 9,000 residents who left the region to look for work, Calhoun said she told her children that they would have to either work in education or healthcare to stay in Eastern Kentucky.

“Well, what I want to do is I want to go to Washington and make the case to my fellow senators,” McGrath told her. “Coal powered this country. It powered this country in the 20th century and into the 21st century, and we owe it, my fellow senators, owe it back to this region in an investment in the future, alright. And we have to have leaders that embrace what is already happening.”

She said Boeing partnered with South Africa two years ago to create biofuels, which are used in jet fuel.

“Why did Boeing have to go to South Africa?” she asked. “Why didn’t Boeing come to Kentucky? I’ll tell you why. Because we don’t have leaders in our state that want to embrace the future. We’re so worried about the politics and how this is, that we are incapable of seeing what is already happening and jump on it. Because we could have had that industry. We could have been partnering with Boeing. We should be doing that in all aspects of energy. We know energy here in this state. We’ve done it for 100 years, you know.”

She said she’s “running to be the leader Kentucky needs right now” and blamed McConnell for “not working for us.”

“The swamp that everybody hates in Washington, you know, Mitch McConnell built that swamp, and so it’s time for him to go away,” she said. “It’s time for a new generation of leaders, leaders who have served the country, and served Kentucky and not necessarily served their political party or themselves, to run for office and get elected because that’s the kind of people we need right now.”

When asked about her specific plans to bring jobs and improve the economy in Eastern Kentucky, McGrath emphasized the need for “21st century infrastructure” that includes improvements to physical infrastructure like roads and bridges as well as broadband and cell service; an investment in education to improve job skills and improvements to healthcare.

McGrath, who grew up in Kenton County, served 20 years in the U.S. Marines as a F/A-18 weapons systems officer and a F/A-18 pilot. She completed three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and flew 89 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2002, was the first woman in the Marine Corps to fly a combat mission in an F/A-18.

McGrath served as a Congressional Fellow advising a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on defense and foreign policy and as a Marine Corps’ liaison to the State Department and other federal agencies at the Pentagon.

She holds a masters degree in global security from Johns Hopkins University and is a graduate of the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction’s Program for Emerging Leaders at the National Defense University. She also served as a senior instructor in the Political Sciences Department at the U.S. Naval Academy before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel and moving back to Kentucky.

McGrath has earned numerous honors for her military service, including two Meritorious Service Medals, eight Strike Flight Air Medals, the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation medal, the Navy Achievement Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, an Iraqi Campaign Medal and two Afghan Campaign medals.

She lives in Georgetown with her husband Erik, a retired Navy pilot, and three children, seven-year-old Teddy, five-year-old George and three-year old Eleanor.

For more information, visit, amymcgrath.com.

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