Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath sparred Monday over the federal response to the coronavirus crisis, the Supreme Court nomination fight and the Republican incumbent’s record in a hard-hitting televised debate in Kentucky.
McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, was aggressive from the outset in blaming the senator for the lack of another round of federal relief for a pandemic-battered economy, calling it a “dereliction of duty.” McConnell blamed congressional Democrats for the stalemated negotiations.
In a biting exchange later, McConnell touted his Senate leadership post as a valuable asset for Kentucky and fired back at McGrath’s attacks on his Senate record, saying: “I think her entire campaign is: She’s a Marine, she’s a mom and I’ve been there too long.”
McGrath responded: “Senator, you’ve been there for 36 years. How’s it looking, Kentucky?” She pointed to the state’s high cancer and diabetes rates along with lack of broadband access and well-paying jobs in some parts of the state.
McConnell noted that he’s delivered billions of dollars in federal money that McGrath couldn’t replicate if she replaces him and takes her place as a freshman on the “back bench” in the Senate.
The debate offered McGrath her best chance for a breakthrough against McConnell, who has long dominated Kentucky’s political landscape and has consistently led in polling as he seeks a seventh term. It was their first and potentially only faceoff of the campaign. In-person early voting begins Tuesday, and many Kentuckians are already filling out absentee ballots.
The debate comes at a crucial time for McConnell, who is running his own race while also focused on keeping his job as majority leader as the GOP struggles to retain control of the Senate.
When asked about the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak, McGrath gave President Donald Trump and Congress an “F” before turning her attention to McConnell.
“His one job is to help America through this crisis right now in passing legislation to keep our economy afloat so that people can make ends meet,” she said. “And instead of doing that, he is trying to ram through a Supreme Court nominee right now, instead of negotiating, which is what he should have been doing all summer long to make that happen.”
McConnell said he offered another coronavirus relief bill about a month ago that stalled when it drew no Democratic support in the Senate.
“I think they don’t want a solution prior to the election,” he said of congressional Democrats.
The Kentucky rivals also delved into the Supreme Court nomination battle underway in Washington. The nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, presented her approach to the law as conservative and fair Monday at the start of her confirmation hearing, while Democrats cast her as a threat to Americans’ health care coverage during the pandemic.
McGrath said there should be no vote on filling a Supreme Court vacancy so close to the election, and she criticized what she saw as McConnell’s inconsistency on the matter. Four years ago, McConnell blocked then-President Barack Obama’s choice of Judge Merrick Garland to fill another Supreme Court vacancy in a presidential election year.
“Look, four years ago, Senator McConnell said by the McConnell rule during an election year, ‘We don’t vote on a nominee, let the people decide,’ ” McGrath said. “Well, right now, with 22 days to an election, we should let the people decide.”
McConnell, who is leading the confirmation process for Barrett, called her an “extraordinary nominee” and an “accomplished scholar.”
The debate was aired on Gray Television’s Kentucky-based stations. It came near the end of a campaign that has been waged in distance, with the two sparring in TV ads. The rivals debated at WKYT, and the Lexington station took a number of precautions in response to the coronavirus.
In the style of HGTV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” Stuff the Bus founder and WDNS-FM D-93 radio host Tony Rose led Rockfield Elementary School students Monday in chants of “move that bus” to unveil their new outdoor classroom space.
For Ashley Buchanon, who teaches fourth grade at the school, the moment was the culmination of a long-held dream, she said.
Complete with new seating under a shelter, raised garden beds and a compost bin, Buchanon hopes the area will help refresh students between conventional classroom lessons.
“We’re sitting here learning the exact same thing, but we’re in a different space. Their focus is different. Their mindset is different, and then when we do go back inside, they stay focused so much longer,” Buchanon said.
The new space was made possible by a $10,000 grant from the Stuff the Bus Foundation and landscaping services from Real Solutions Professional Services, including from Real Solutions owner Trystan Watkins, a former Rockfield student.
Rose said he hopes the school can make use of the space for years to come, and he called the effort one of the Stuff the Bus Foundation’s biggest projects to date.
The idea grew out of several teachers’ experiences touring the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Buchanon said. The nonprofit middle school is known for its nontraditional approach to education and has drawn several celebrity donors.
“They have an indoor slide. We can’t do an indoor slide, so we were trying to think of a way … to be special, to be different, just to amp it up,” Buchanon said, adding that students started pitching ideas for an outdoor space last school year.
Later, when the opportunity to apply for the Stuff the Bus Foundation grant became available, Buchanon reached out to Rose with a rough idea for the space.
The project was completed during the district’s fall break last week. “They nailed it,” Buchanon said.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.
A man who admitted his involvement in a crash that injured a pedestrian was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.
Landon May, 21, of Bowling Green, was sentenced in Warren Circuit Court for second-degree assault, first-degree wanton endangerment, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident/failure to render aid or assistance.
He was charged in an Oct. 27 incident in which Traa Armbrust was struck by a vehicle while walking along the 2100 block of Nashville Road. Armbrust was treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville for injuries that included a compound fracture to his left leg and a broken shoulder, according to court records.
May pleaded guilty last month to the charges, accepting a plea offer that reduced a first-degree assault count to one of second-degree assault.
“I accept full responsibility for what I did,” May said at the sentencing hearing held over Skype. “This was no one’s fault but my own.”
May also apologized to Armbrust and his family and said he requested his attorney, Alan Simpson, not to seek probation for him.
Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson ordered May, who is out on bond, to report to prison Friday.
“I’d like to move forward, and I hope that I’ll learn from my mistakes and do better,” May said.
The Bowling Green Police Department found Armbrust lying beside the road in a severe amount of pain after his girlfriend, who had been walking with him, called 911, court records said.
Armbrust reported being hit by a vehicle but was unable to give a description.
Several hours after speaking with Armbrust, BGPD was contacted by Kentucky State Police, which had obtained additional information about the incident.
“According to KSP, (May) was contacting people advising he struck someone earlier in the evening with his vehicle,” May’s arrest citation said.
City police detected an odor of alcoholic beverages on May’s breath, and he declined to give a statement to police before being placed in custody, according to court records.
Officers found a vehicle behind the residence that was missing a mirror. A mirror found at the scene of the incident matched May’s vehicle.
May was then taken to The Medical Center for a blood draw. “While en route, May freely stated, ‘Where were the girl and guy walking? Did I just clip him?’ ” his arrest citation said.
– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.
United Way of South Central Kentucky’s 2-1-1 resource hotline has seen a declining number of phone calls related to issues concerning COVID-19 over the last few weeks.
Operated by United Way of South Central Kentucky, the hotline is a free and confidential 24/7 referral service that helps connect callers to local resources in times of need.
United Way 2-1-1 Contact Center Manager April Owens said the number of calls has varied over the course of the year.
She said the center received about 100 calls a day at the start of the pandemic. Now, the center fields 25 to 30 calls a day, but COVID-19 is still the dominant topic of concern from callers.
“We were fortunate enough that we had other members in our United Way team who were able to provide adequate backup at the time,” Owens said. “Our systems are web-based so a lot of our workers are able to work from home. Our biggest problem we faced was getting adequate headsets.”
The start of the pandemic brought a multitude of questions and worries from the public on the hotline, but Owens said calls now mainly focus on assisting the public with rent, utilities and food concerns.
“As time has gone on, we have seen a greater increase in people seeking assistance with essential needs,” Owens said. “Some people are still out of work and are having a difficult time maintaining things like rent. Thankfully, the amount of people out of work has been declining.”
Another area of concern the center has been dealing with recently are individuals who are still waiting for their unemployment payments.
Owens said these calls have also decreased greatly in number, but there is still a bit of a backlog with the system as any missing documents could hold up a specific claim for weeks or even months.
While United Way workers are able to work at home, they are also able to work at the center where everyone has their own office and enough space to socially distance.
For anyone calling the hotline, Owens said they will be answered by caring and compassionate specialists who will not judge any circumstance. Instead, they will ask basic demographic questions that are not required to be answered. Callers will then be put in touch with a specific organization that will assist their needs.
United Way employees search through their database of organizations to make sure callers are put in touch with the adequate service.
The 2-1-1 hotline only covers around 70% of the state as Kentucky does not have a statewide system yet. Therefore, United Way of Southern Kentucky has taken upon the task of serving the 10-county Barren River region by handling area calls.
“It’s a scary situation as some people who call don’t even know their financial situation after they have lost their job,” Owens said. “But even if we get a call from someone who isn’t from our region, we are able to redirect them to the correct location.”
– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.