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Democratic Senate Hopefuls Envision Different Roads To Beating McConnell

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Kentucky Democratic Senate candidates weighed in on the protests gripping the country, Medicare for All, and abortion, among other issues, on KET Monday night — but the key issue setting the high-profile candidates apart may be their diagnoses of why the party has continually failed to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Throughout the one-hour joint appearance on Kentucky Tonight, viewers saw Rep. Charles Booker and educator and farmer Mike Broihier taking a number of unequivocal progressive positions on issues ranging from structural racism to universal basic income to a Green New Deal. Both argued that running a centrist candidate in a bid to peel away Republican vote would spell defeat in November.

McGrath, meanwhile, pointed to an unwillingness on the part of politicians of all parties to work together as the central problem facing government. Continuing a theme of her race against Rep. Andy Barr, she said she would work with Republicans — including President Trump — on issues where there is any opportunity for an agreement that would benefit Kentucky.  She highlighted drug prices and infrastructure as examples.

Out of the gate, all three Democratic hopefuls were confronted with the question facing leaders across the U.S.: how they would handle the divisions that have led to escalating demonstrations in Louisville, Lexington, and a growing list of major cities.

Pointing to his own experience growing up in poverty, Rep. Booker described a sense in many minority communities that they are not heard and justice does not extend to them. A common thread between the representative and Broihier, a former Marine, was the weaponry wielded by police.

"We need to reform and reimagine how we engage with policing," Booker said. "Instead of a militaristic operation, how do we bring more partnership and collaboration into the community."

For Broihier, it was priority one.

"We have to demilitarize our police forces. We've been telling them there's a war of drugs for decades. You tell someone they're at war for long enough and they start beliving they're at war," he added.

McGrath, a former Marine pilot, focused on the need for a culture change within troubled departments. She advocated that leaders "not try to escalate the situation, but deescalate the situation."

None were prepared to ask for the resignation of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, though Booker and Broihier said they would be willing to if prompt action isn't taken.

Divisions arose on healthcare, with McGrath the lone supporters of a public option over Medicare for All, and on the movement to "defund" police. On the latter, Booker said we should not continue to devote "more and more" funds toward law enforcement instead of "on the ground in the community." Broihier said Kentucky can "fundamentally change" police, but not defund them. McGrath responded that the vast majority of men and women in uniform are good people and departments need to set a "command climate" that ensures everyone is treated with respect.

A number of other Democratic contenders did not meet the threshold to appear on the KET program, but will face off against the higher profile candidates on June 23rd.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.