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Four candidates are lined up to run in the May 20 primary in hopes of becoming the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in November.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has the most name recognition of any Democrat in the race, but the ballot will also include college professor Greg Leichty, retiree Tom Recktenwald and Burrel Charles Farnsley.
Leichty and Recktenwald participated in phone interviews with the Enterprise last week. Transcripts of those interviews are available here: http://goo.gl/wyiHyd (Leichty) and http://goo.gl/z3Yk4n (Recktenwald).
(Only candidates who were interviewed by the Enterprise are pictured.)
Grimes’ campaign said her schedule last week would not allow for an interview due to her previous campaign commitments and her responsibilities as Secretary of State.
The Enterprise was not able to get in contact with Farnsley.
Leichty, 58, and his wife live in Louisville. They have two daughters, who are 29 and 26 years old.
Leichty grew up on a farm in southeastern Iowa, but he came to Kentucky in 1978 as a community service volunteer in the Hazard area. He went on to complete his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Kentucky. He taught at the University of South Alabama briefly before he was hired at the University of Louisville in 1991.
Leichty stressed that the views he expresses during the campaign are his alone and do not represent the views of U of L.
Leichty decided to run for Senate because he has become increasingly displeased with the dysfunction in Washington D.C. and with Sen. Mitch McConnell, in particular. Leichty added that the gridlock in Congress has gotten worse. In the 1980s, hundreds of the most conservative Democrats and the most liberal Republicans could find common ground on a variety of issues. Today, Congress has become much more polarized than ever, he said.
Leichty noted that the National Journal reported that only four representatives and no senators shared overlapping views in the most recent Congress, and he believes that polarization is being driven by money.
He added that he recently heard Third District Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) explain that members of Congress spend about 20 hours a week calling strangers for money for their campaigns. Leichty said most of the money comes from four places: Hollywood, Wall Street, Las Vegas and Silicon Valley. And what are those donors getting?
“What they’re basically getting are straight party line votes on issues of interest. So, what we have is a government that doesn’t represent any more. It doesn’t represent the constituents of the particular state or the particular district that they’re elected from very well because we have a bidding war of millionaires,” Leichty said.
To combat the influence of the biggest financial contributors, he has proposed making public forums for candidates one of the primary functions of broadcast stations.
Leichty said more steps also need to be taken to increase voter participation. One proposal is to move elections to Saturdays and Sundays so working people don’t have to worry about missing work to vote.
“In France and other countries that make use of that, you have voting rates that are 10 to 15 points higher than what they are in the United States,” Leichty said.
He also said he supports a national voter identification card. He said he doesn’t believe that voter fraud is common, but he does believe that a voter ID card would make it easier for people to vote when they move from one part of the country to another or from one part of a state to another.
“It makes it so much easier for people to verify who they are and to check for fraud,” Leichty said.
Many people have become concerned with what they see as expanding presidential power, but Leichty said that is, in part, the result of the Congressional stalemate.
“We can’t get anything done with immigration, so the president cobbles together some executive orders and we get a halfway done job. We can’t get any kinds of means of addressing issues related to climate change and energy, and so the president uses the clean air act to try and accomplish some of those goals with regulations,” he said.
He added that the US needs three functioning branches of government, but for now, Congress is “missing in action.”
With regard to health care, Leichty pointed out that there were several issues when Medicare Part B started under President George W. Bush, but members of Congress worked together to fix those problems.
“Bipartisan cooperation made that program work,” Leichty said.
Likewise, he said legislators need to cooperate to fix the problems with the Affordable Care Act. Leichty has proposed allowing neighboring states to negotiate together as one way to broaden the risk pools, and he would include federal workers in those risk pools as well.
He also supports taking steps to address issues with medical malpractice insurance, although he’s not sure that the tort reform suggested by many Republicans is the best way to curb those costs. As an alternative, Leichty proposed creating review boards with legal and medical experts to review claims of malpractice. He noted that mediation has worked to reduce costs in other areas and he believes it could work with malpractice costs as well.
Lastly, Leichty said one of the long-term issues is the need for more general practitioners, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and physical therapists to provide basic care, especially as more people gain access to that care through insurance.
On the economy, Leichty said he would support a return to the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking. The US operated under that system for 50 years before it was replaced.
“As Elizabeth Warren has pointed out, we had a more stable financial system during that period than we have had at any point in the history of the United States,” Leichty said.
Warren is a Democratic senator from Massachusetts. Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, according to investopedia.com.
“The first thing that we really need to do is to be sure that we get the banking reform right because … until we do that, we’re just waiting for another disaster to happen,” Leichty said.
He also said he would support tax simplification, although Congress has attempted this previously.
“We did it back in 1986, and then the next year, Congress starts making exemptions for this, making exemptions that, and in the process, they make it more complicated,” Leichty said.
He added that he would prefer a flatter tax structure, and he would support some reforms in patent law, which he believes has become a barrier to innovation, particularly with software.
And Leichty said the US needs to fund basic scientific research, which he said is one of the things that often gets cut during tough budget times.
“The long-term return on basic scientific research for the American economy and the health of individual Americans is very good,” he said.
Leichty also said he supports a minimum wage increase. Additionally, he said Congress needs to take steps now to create policies that determine when the minimum wage will increase in the future to avoid debates over this issue every few years.
“In particular, if we indexed the minimum wage to productivity increases, that means it’s not going to be inflationary,” he said.
In general, Leichty said the country needs more rational policies for a variety of economic matters, including government spending on infrastructure and unemployment benefits.
“Then, we wouldn’t in every economic cycle be going through this business of haggling and negotiating what is going to happen. It would be preset,” he said.
Last week, an announcement was made that work on the Bluegrass Pipeline has been suspended, but Leichty said he would not support eminent domain for that type of project. He also said he was skeptical about building such a pipeline through Kentucky’s karst regions.
With regard to energy, Leichty said he would be OK with plans that include things like drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of comprehensive policy that includes energy conservation and efforts to expand alternative energy, such as solar power. This is one area that he feels government research would be beneficial in the long run.
“We need an all-of-the-above sort of approach,” Leichty said.
He agreed that coal should also be part of that approach, although he does not think Kentucky should expect coal jobs to expand. He said 60 years ago, 80,000 Kentuckians were employed in coal mining. That is down to around 12,000 Kentuckians today.
Leichty said the decline is primarily the result of the decrease in coal production and the decreasing cost of natural gas, and most of those declines in coal employment occurred before the Obama Administration proposed regulatory changes.
Regardless, Kentucky needs to prepare to transition away from coal, according to Leichty.
“Until solar and other technologies become available and become cheaper, we’re going to continue to need coal,” he said.
With regard to the NSA’s data collection, he said Congress needs to do its job of providing oversight and re-examine the legislation that allowed that program to exist.
“I share many of the same concerns that Rand Paul does in this particular area. And in particular, because of 9-11, we passed a lot of stuff that was more threatening to the liberty of Americans than it needed to be,” Leichty said.
In conclusion, he reiterated that the biggest issue we need to address is the polarizing effect of money on our campaign system.
“When the legislature doesn’t do its job, the power of the presidency expands by default,” Leichty said.
But he added that isn’t a problem that is going to change by electing any particular candidate.
“It’s a systemic problem, and you need a systemic approach to deal with that,” Leichty said.
He added that he’s shared that message in some of the more conservative parts of Kentucky and received a good response.
“I don’t think that’s a right thing. I don’t think that’s a left thing. I think it’s simply a pragmatic thing about how we begin to re-engage people, to begin to rebuild some trust in some of our institutions,” Leichty said.
Recktenwald, 67, worked at the Naval Ordnance Station in Louisville, where he was also a union representative, for 30 years. He recently retired after 14 years as the technology coordinator at Notre Dame Academy, a private elementary school in Louisville.
He and his wife, Carol, have been married for 44 years. They have a daughter, a son and three grandchildren.
Recktenwald said he is running for Senate to be the voice of the poor and middle class.
“I feel that we’ve lost our voice, that the big dollar donors have taken over Congress entirely, and that those who collect all those millions of dollars for their campaigns have just kind of sold out to the big money people,” he said.
Recktenwald said he feels he has the ability to speak up for the average person. When Congress started looking at closing military facilities in 1990, he was asked to speak on behalf of the 2,300 employees at the Naval Ordnance Station, which he did on more than one occasion.
“I just kind of got the feeling that I have a way — I guess it’s a god-given talent — to speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves,” Recktenwald said.
With regard to health care, he said the Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, but it does have problems. He said maybe he’s naive, but he believes President Barack Obama was being sincere when he said people would be able to keep their insurance plans.
“I believe that he really thought that it was a small percentage of people who would be actually required to change, and those who would be required to change would be actually improving their lot in life by getting a much better health care plan other than what they’d had before,” Recktenwald said.
He noted that he receives the same federal employee health benefits as a retired federal worker that Sen. Mitch McConnell receives. Recktenwald said he would like to see a change that would allow all Americans to have the option of signing up for that same plan.
“I’ve never heard one person say anything bad about the federal employee health benefits program,” he said.
On the economy, he said he would like to create an incentive program for employers.
“The incentive would be that the employer would not have to contribute into the Social Security fund for any new hire for a period of one year,” Recktenwald said.
Employees would still contribute to Social Security, and to make up for the lost revenue for the program, Recktenwald would raise the maximum taxable income for Social Security (currently $117,000).
“To me that’s a huge break that the upper middle class or wealthy are getting, and then the poor and the middle class don’t enjoy that, and those seeking jobs need the break far more than people who are earning $117,000 or more,” he said.
Recktenwald also supports raising the minimum wage. He said a person can’t support himself or herself, much less a family, on $7.25 per hour. He supports the proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour in phases over three years.
But he also doesn’t think that’s going far enough.
“At that point we should index those raises for inflation where we don’t have to come back every two or three years and say, well, let’s raise the minimum wage again,” Recktenwald said.
He also supports increasing the income for which workers are eligible to receive the earned income tax credit.
“It’s sort of an incentive by government to encourage people to say, well, you don’t have to live off the government dole,” Recktenwald said.
On the Bluegrass Pipeline, Recktenwald said he has concerns about the risks of leaks, but he does believe the project would bring jobs to Kentucky. If the pipeline can be installed safely — which may require some changes in the EPA — he would support the project, although he feels that would require some changes, too.
“On the Republican side of Congress, they’ve sort of taken a lot of teeth out of the Environmental Protection Agency,” Recktenwald said.
On energy, he said the US needs to look more toward renewable energy, including solar, water and wind power.
“I don’t think they’re problem free, but I think the main thing is it is renewable, and we don’t have to keep digging deeper for coal and deeper for oil and depending on foreign countries for that,” Recktenwald said.
He said coal will continue to be used in his lifetime, but regulations are needed to ensure that people in coal mining areas have clean water and that safety measures are in place to protect coal miners. He added that he spoke recently in Pike County on those issues.
“I just mentioned in my speech there that, yeah, there is a war on coal, and you can bet which side Mitch McConnell’s on,” Recktenwald said. “He’s on the side with the coal barons with the big dollars. And he likes to brag that he cares about coal miners, and coal miners keeping their jobs. But his history has shown that he doesn’t give one darn about the little guys. It’s always about the big people that are pouring money into his campaign coffers.”
With regard to the NSA’s data collection program, Recktenwald said he doesn’t feel he has enough information to address that issue.
“My very first concern is how it’s going to affect the poor and the middle class. So, I would make any decision along those lines with that basis,” he said.
Another way Recktenwald said he would like to help people is by creating programs to offer free online college degree programs for people living below the poverty line. In his visits to Eastern Kentucky, he said he’s met people who seemed to have no way out. Even if they earned a scholarship, they may not be able to get transportation to get to college, he said.
People who had the resources would still be able to attend college on campus, and he does not feel his proposal would take away from a traditional college education.
“One of the things I would push and work hard for is to be able to provide education for any Kentuckian who wants to do the work, who wants to at least be able to get one online,” Recktenwald said.
But one thing he said he won’t do is “fight” for his constituents.
“There has to be a winner and there has to be a loser in a fight. I want to not use the word fight in my campaign or in my career as a senator,” Recktenwald said. “I will tell you that I will work for you. I will not be outworked whatever the issue is when it affects Kentuckians. I will work very hard for you, but I won’t fight for you.”
On too many issues, he said members of Congress aren’t willing to work together to come up with solutions. He supports term limits, and he feels that government today is “of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy.”
He concluded by saying his pastor said a few years ago that there is no limit to what people can accomplish if they don’t care who gets the credit, and he believes that from the bottom of his heart.
“When you see Congress, one of the biggest reasons nothing gets done is because neither side wants to let the other side get credit for doing something good,” he said, adding, “I will serve as a senator with that comment in mind every minute of every day.”
Alison Lundergan Grimes is Kentucky’s Secretary of State. Prior to that, she did work with the National Kidney Foundation and worked as a business attorney in Lexington.
Grimes grew up in Maysville, and she received her degree from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., where she is a trustee on the board of directors. She completed her law degree at Washington College of Law at American University in Washington D.C.
She and her husband live in Lexington.
Little information about Burrel Charles Farnsley could be found.
For more information about the Democratic candidates, visit their websites.
Alison Lundergan Grimes: http://alisonforkentucky.com/
Greg Leichty: http://leichtyforsenate.com/
Tom Recktenwald: http://www.trforsenate.com/
The Enterprise was not able to locate a website for Burrel Charles Farnsley’s campaign.