McConnell sneaks into deep western Kentucky, ducks protesters in Paducah and Mayfield

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360 

The Jackson Purchase is Mitch McConnell country.

But the senate majority leader kept Wednesday visits to Paducah and Mayfield on the QT.

“He knew there’d be protesters over Trumpcare,” grinned Leslie McColgin of Lowes, who helped organize a Paducah rally against McConnell and the GOP plan to nix the Affordable Care Act.

Protesters found out McConnell was on the way to deepest western Kentucky and showed up to demonstrate outdoors despite thunderstorm warnings.   

McConnell huddled with members of the Republican-friendly Paducah Rotary Club. He schmoozed with staffers at the Mayfield office of the Kentucky Farm Bureau, which also leans GOP.

Kentucky's longest serving senator was several ten-foot-pole lengths from the 30 or so protesters in Paducah. He assiduously sidestepped an octet of detractors in Mayfield, including McColgin, who trailed him to town.

Intermittent showers and soggy grass didn’t dampen the ardor of protesters at both venues. 

Paducah is the seat of McCracken County, and Mayfield is the Graves County seat. McConnell won both counties in blowouts in 2014. 

Last year, Trump built his Bluegrass State landslide on counties like McCracken, where he piled up 66.4 percent of the vote, and Graves, where his victory margin was 10 points more.

"The fact that Sen. McConnell chose to slip quietly into Paducah and Mayfield speaks volumes," said a local Democratic activist who didn't join the protest. "He obviously thinks Trumpcare is not popular.

"So he chose to meet with his base voters, not hold a town hall for the general public." 

“Will protesting make any difference in what he thinks? I don’t know,” confessed 89-year-old Mary Jane Littleton of nearby Murray, the seat of Calloway County, which Trump won with 64.6 percent, a tad over 2 percent more than his statewide edge.

“But it’s like a lot of things,” mused Littleton, a veteran Democratic activist whose first choice for president in 1976 was liberal populist Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris.

“You don’t know ‘till you try. Some things work and some don’t, but you don’t stop trying.”

McConnell chowed down with the Rotarians at the tony Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center, just over a 14-foot concrete floodwall that separates the performing arts facility and the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers.

The protesters assembled at least 100 yards from the front doors of the big glass and red brick building.

“He won’t hear us,” said Jennifer Morrison, a Murray State University professor. “He is in this nice air-conditioned building with these nicely-dressed people who showed up in these fancy cars.

“He is ignoring his constituents again.”

Protesters packed dayglo green, hot pink and other brightly-hued homemade signs with messages like "TRUMPCARE IS FAKE HEALTHCARE," "JUST SAY NO TO TRUMPCARE KENTUCKY LIVES MATTER," "HEALTHY COUNTRIES HAVE REAL HEALTHCARE." 

Some signs were more pointed: “22 MILLION UNINSURED YOUR BILL IS A DEATH SENTENCE” and “Maternal death rates will grow with your pockets.”

Gale Greyson dared Trump, McConnell, or anybody else to question his patriotism for protesting the Republican American Heath Care Act, whose detractors have dubbed it Trumpcare.

“I served in the United States military and grew up on a Marine base during the Vietnam War,” said the army veteran from West Paducah.

He sported an army baseball cap and a red, white and blue shirt. “The America I fought for does not throw people under the bus. We are here for the people who cannot stand up for themselves.

“My family has been in Kentucky since 1798 and on American soil since 1735. This is not the America we have lived and died for.”

Greyson joined the others in chorusing, “Mitch McConnell, see the light, health care is a human right," "We want health care, don’t want wealthcare," "We will not be afraid, stand up for our Medicaid" and other chants.

“Citizens absolutely have the right to health care,” said Amanda Groves of Benton, a member of the Marshall County Democratic committee. “Health care is part of freedom. We can’t live our very best lives if we don’t have healthcare.”

Groves inked Danielle Fernandez’s petition to preserve the Affordable Care Act. She had collected 125 signatures, many in Murray where she lives.

McColgin, who heads Four Rivers Indivisible, a western Kentucky-southern Illinois branch of the national organization, said that petition and two others were to be delivered to McConnell’s field office in Paducah.

Trumpcare “just proves who runs the country--pharmaceutical companies, big, big companies,” said Carolyn Laster of Paducah. “We need to be on universal health care.

“This is not a political thing, it is a health thing. People need health care more than they need politics.”

The crowd unanimously supported single payer health care, which McConnell seldom misses a chance to scorn.  

The U.S. is the only major industrial nation that lacks a comprehensive national health care plan.  "In every other one they have single-payer health care; in this country we have go-fund-me," said Barbara Joos, a Four Rivers Indivisible member from Metropolis, Ill., across the Ohio River from Paducah.

Craig Rhodes, also among the Four Rivers faithful from north of the Ohio River, added that “Mitch McConnell will live in infamy” for more than trying to destroy the ACA. The southern Illinoisan cited the senator’s anti-Obama obstructionism and his “stealing a supreme court justice.“

Jennifer Smith of Paducah, also belongs to Four Rivers. She stepped to a mike hooked to McColgin’s portable PA system and told everybody that single-payer health care is a godsend to Canadians.

She lived in Canada for a dozen years. “I had health challenges—high risk pregnancies. I had the best health care of my life.”

Smith has twice beaten breast cancer. She fears for her health care if the Republicans pass Trumpcare.

She is especially worried about a provision in the GOP American Health Care Act that would let states waive the ACA's requirement that insurance companies must cover people with preexisting conditions such as hers.

"Gov. [Matt] Bevin is a big fan of everything Trump says, and he'll probably take away the mandate that insurance companies have to provide health care for preexisiting conditions," said Aaron Bugg of Paducah, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year.

Smith is also concerned that under Trumpcare, insurance companies might be able to reinstate limits on what they pay out to individuals for medical expenses. “If that’s the case, I would not have access to health care because my last diagnosis of cancer put me well over the lifetime limit prior to Obamacare.”

Smith said that under their government single-payer system, Canadians “don’t have to worry about going bankrupt paying for their health care.

“They don’t have the financial insecurity that they’ll lose their home having to pay for health care. In doctor’s offices up there, you just go out the door.”

Smith said that soon after she moved to Kentucky in 1990, she had to take her children to get physical exams for school. “I did like I did in Canada. I walked out the door.

“When I got home, there were messages on my phone from the doctor’s office that said ‘Jennifer, we need you to come in and pay $200 for your children’s exams.’”

She added that with single-payer “there is a piece of mind, a happiness that I cannot describe and you cannot understand if you have not had the security of access to health care.

“We don’t just rank low regarding the cost and quality of our health care because of our for-profit system, we also rank dismally in quality of life, happiness indicators and peace of mind. The stress of dealing with health care alone causes health problems.”

Smith urged support for HR 676, the United States Health Care Act, a single-payer bill introduced in 2015 by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. “Support is growing,” she said. “It has more co-sponsors now than ever before.”

HR 676 had 113 co-sponsors as of last month—all Democrats. Smith praised Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, for signing onto the measure.

Single-payer is becoming more popular, according to a Pew Research Center poll that came out last month.

McColgin, who is on the Graves Democratic Executive Committee, was pleased with the turnout, given the fact that McConnell's visits weren't publicized.  

I think it went really well at both locations," she said. "Everybody did their part."