Seeking a sixth term, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has hired a Tea Party strategist who led campaigns for fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.McConnell announced he hired Jesse Benton as his campaign manager for re-election on Thursday despite having no primary or general election opponent. Benton led Congressman Ron Paul's presidential primary race and worked for Rand Paul's Senate bid as well."We’re committed to running a presidential-level campaign in Kentucky, and that starts with a presidential campaign manager," McConnell told The Washington Post. "Jesse is literally the best in the business at building and organizing conservative grassroots movements, and I’m thrilled he’s chosen to return to Kentucky to lead my campaign."Much has been written about McConnell's relationship with the Tea Party in his home state and his colleague Rand Paul.The relationship with Paul appears to have gotten past any bitterness over McConnell supporting Paul's 2010 primary opponent, but many at the grassroots level still voice distrust for the GOP leader and want him to be challenged.From LEO Weekly:Frank Harris, a devoted Tea Partier from Lexington, carried a sign that read “There’s no tea in Mitch,” telling multiple media outlets that an unrepentant McConnell was trying to co-opt the movement in order to avoid a Tea Party primary challenge, which he supports.Jay Weyland, of Cynthiana, who stood in the front of the crowd with a sign that read “The Income Tax is Immoral,” agrees this was a transparent act of desperation from a man who fears political extinction.With a hefty war chest, the choice of Brenton is already being praised by Republican operatives as a brilliant—possibly shrewd—choice to scare off any potential Tea Party primary challengers further.
Environmental activists are gathering in Washington D.C. today for an anti-mountaintop removal rally.For the past few months, non-profit Earthjustice has been naming “Mountain Heroes” on its website—people who have dedicated themselves to fighting mountaintop removal and environmental destruction. Several Kentuckians are named, like Wendell Berry, Teri Blanton and Mickey McCoy and rock band My Morning Jacket. Others are from neighboring Appalachian states, like West Virginian Larry Gibson who died on Sunday from a heart attack.People could also submit their own photos and statements to the website. During the rally today, organizers will present that photo petition with more than 13,000 photos to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.In an apparently unrelated event, religious leaders from across the country will be at the White House to talk to the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships about improving the energy efficiency of houses of worship.The founders of Lexington-based Blessed Earth will be there, too. Blessed Earth is an organization that works with churches on environmental stewardship.
University of Louisville President James Ramsey says his institution and higher education in general face an uncertain future as long as government funding continues to be slashed. Ramsey delivered his annual State of the University address today. He says while U of L has seen growth over the past year at its Belknap, Shelby and Health Sciences campuses, there have been some setbacks, including another cut in state funding that forced a tuition increase. Ramsey says he’s also disappointed that a planned merger of U of L Hospital with two other health care entities last year was quashed by Governor Steve Beshear. In his nearly 25 minute address, Ramsey promised faculty members that he would lead an effort to improve communication with them, especially on budget issues. "We pledge to you that we will do better, listening to you more intently than we have in the past, so we do not forget challenges, issues and problems that you face daily. We’ve scheduled campus forums in the weeks ahead to begin this process," he said. Ramsey says despite the financial uncertainty, he’s confident that U of L’s best years are still ahead.
The capitals of Kentucky and Indiana are among five cities chosen to receive assistance in green design from the Environmental Protection Agency through the agency’s Greening America’s Capitals program.The program will fund private-sector design teams to help each city add elements of green design and become more environmentally sustainable. Abby Hall is a policy analyst in the EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She says Frankfort’s proposal was right in line with the program’s goals to improve the environment and public health.“Frankfort had a great proposal that was looking at ways to make Second Street more friendly to people walking and biking, and to make more connections to the trail along the Kentucky River,” she said.In Indianapolis, the project will help make streets more pedestrian-friendly and revitalize public plazas.The other cities chosen for this round of funding are Des Moines, Iowa, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Helena, Montana.
The touring production of the Broadway hit “Wicked” previews today and opens Thursday evening at the Kentucky Center. The Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical depicts "The Wizard of Oz" characters Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda the Good as schoolgirls in an oppressive political regime.Performances of “Wicked” often sell out, but a limited number of steeply discounted orchestra-level tickets will be placed on sale the day of each performance.“Two and a half hours before the show begins, show up in the lobby at the Kentucky Center. You’ll put your name into a drum. Thirty minutes later the drawing will be done," says Broadway in Louisville spokesperson Matthew Porter. "If your name is drawn you’ll be able to go to the box office and purchase front orchestra seats." Those lottery seats will cost $25 for seats that usually sell for $87.75 (cash only, limit two tickets). “Wicked” previews today and opens Thursday evening at the Kentucky Center. The show runs through September 30."Wicked" fans who aspire to the stage will have an opportunity to take a master class in dance or vocal audition from members of the cast. The classes will be taught by members of the ensemble, those cast members who cover several different roles during the course of a show.“What you can expect is to learn from real touring professionals what it takes to be in a big touring Broadway show," says Broadway in Louisville spokesperson Matthew Porter.The master classes will be held on Saturday, September 22, 10 a.m.-noon, at St. Stephens United Church of Christ on Farnsley Road. The class costs $30 and is open to performers ages 10 and up. Proceeds from the class benefit HIV/AIDS charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For more information, contact the Sutton Studio for the Performing Arts at (502) 594-2746.
Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., is slamming Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his hasty comments during the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.The raid of the consulate was allegedly sparked by an American video mocking Islam's founding prophet and resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.In a campaign statement released before the killing, Romney accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with protestors who attacked the consulate. The GOP nominee's remarks were referring to a statement from the U.S. embassy in Egypt, which condemned the anti-Islam video.Yarmuth says the death of the four U.S. diplomats is disturbing and underscores the volatility of the Middle East, but that Romney’s rush to judgment shows the GOP nominee is intemperate."Governor Romney’s initial reaction, an instinct to turn a tragedy into a political opportunity is despicable and disqualifies him to serve as President of the United States," he says.While congressional Republicans have been less critical of the Obama administration in the aftermath, Romney reiterated his criticism of the president at a press conference Wednesday. He added that an apology for American values is never a correct course of action.The Romney campaign's comment have been questioned by more than just the usual Democratic critics, however. In a discussion on Fox News, The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan delivered this jab to the GOP nominee.From Politico:"I was thinking as he spoke, I think I belong to the old school of thinking that in times of great drama and heightened crisis, and in times when something violent has happened to your people, I always think discretion is the better way to go," Noonan said. "When you step forward in the midst of a political environment and start giving statements on something dramatic and violent that has happened, you're always leaving yourself open to accusations that you are trying to exploit things politically."CNN has obtained a Romney campaign memo outlining how to deal with the backlash."Anybody who rushes to judgment as Mitt Romney did last night is making a horrible mistake and is jeopardizing efforts to both bring the perpetrators to justice and also to calm what is a very, very volatile situation," says Yarmuth.
The Hobby Lobby retail chain has gone to court to fight one of the provisions of the federal government's new health care law.The Affordable Care Act requires employer’s to cover certain preventive services. This includes access to emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill, which prevents embryos from implanting in the uterine wall. Hobby Lobby’s founders say they currently provide birth control for their employees, but they object to being forced to provide insurance for what they call “abortion inducing drugs.”Kyle Duncan is the general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby."Our hope has been the same from the beginning: that the administration will recognize that this mandate violates the religious liberty of millions of Americans and they will rescind it," he said. "We don’t know what they will do. What we will do is press the rights of the Green family and Hobby Lobby in court."The White House has proposed an accommodation plan that could be finalized by next August, but Duncan says Hobby Lobby is subject to large fines if it doesn't comply by January.Hobby Lobby operates more than 500 arts and craft stores across the country, with Kentucky locations in Louisville, Somerset, Bowling Green, Ashland, Richmond, Florence, and Paducah.
A national watchdog group has named Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., among the most corrupt lawmakers in the country.Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a non-partisan group, released its annual Most Corrupt Members of Congress report Wednesday, which lists 12 members it alleges have engaged in misconduct.The report calls out Rogers for directing millions of dollars in earmarks to a Kentucky-based company that has contributed to his campaign. Phoenix Products Co. located in Maceo, Ky., has been paid $6.5 million by the U.S. Army for hundreds of leak-proof drip pans for military helicopters.Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Phoenix Products was paid $17,000 per drip pan, but that competitor businesses said similar products cost only $2,500.Melanie Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She says Rogers is a frequent offender, and constituents concerned about fiscal responsibility should be alarmed."While these may be made in Kentucky this is hurting America. We have a huge deficit. We can’t afford all of our bills. And here it is we’re paying over $14,500 extra for each drip pan. And that’s taxpayer money. So we should all be concerned,” she says.The company’s owners have been political donors to Rogers’s re-election bids and have personally given over $20,000 since 2004. Another $17,000 has been contributed by employees via the company's lobbying firm since 2002.For years, Rogers has been dubbed the "Prince of Pork" by critics for his ability to attach pork barrel spending to legislation. Despite Rogers's reputation clashing with the austerity push of the Tea Party movement, he is currently the chairman of the powerful Appropriations CommitteeRogers’ office did not return a call seeking comment for this story.From the New York Times:A Congressional aide said that Mr. Rogers inserted the earmark after Army officials went to him with concerns about fluids that were leaking into the cabins of Black Hawks, splattering not only crew members but also wounded soldiers being airlifted to hospitals. “The Army came to the boss and said this is an issue,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing internal communications.The Army, however, said it was simply following a budget directive from Congress. Mr. Rogers’s earmark came before House members informally agreed to ban such provisions to for-profit companies.“Congress mandated a leakproof transmission drip pan,” said Dov Schwartz, an Army spokesman. The contract was awarded without competitive bids because Phoenix was the only company deemed “approved and certified” for the work, he said. “The number of people that make leakproof transmission dripping pans is few and far between,” Mr. Schwartz said, adding that the steel required for such pans is more costly than the plastic used in other versions."Mr. Rogers continual, long-term (and) generally corrupt behavior of exchanging earmarks for campaign contributions is the kind of thing that makes Americans so disgusted with their government," says Sloan, adding her group has filed a complaint against Rogers with the Office of Congressional Ethics and asked the U.S. military to investigate.
The Frazier History Museum opens its new exhibit, Diana: A Celebration, this Saturday.It features nine galleries with more than 150 items recalling the personal life of Princess Diana. They include clothing, family heirlooms and rarely-seen home movies and photos.Today, Diana’s royal wedding gown was uncrated in preparation for display. The gown, veil and 25 foot train are featured in the Royal Wedding gallery as well as photos, letters, and video presentations surrounding her engagement to Prince Charles."It never ceases to be a very exciting job to have. We consider ourselves very lucky and privileged to be able to do this. It’s only with the permission of Diana’s sons that we’re allowed to do this," said Nick Grossmark with the Spencer family’s Althorp Estate ,who travels with the exhibit.Grossmark says his favorite item in the exhibit is one of the smallest."There’s a book that she got as a gift from Mother Teresa. I just think it was a very heartfelt piece that’s in the collection. Two very powerful women, I think, that understood each other."The public exhibition kicks of with “KNight for a Princess,” a 21 and over event Saturday evening. The collection will be on display from September 15 through January 13.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is calling for sanctions against Libya in reaction to the killing of four American diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.From Paul's office: "I am heartbroken and outraged by the murder of four U.S. citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, during the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost loved ones in this tragedy. The perpetrators of this senseless attack must be brought to justice. I, therefore, demand that until the Libyan police hand over suspects to U.S officials, any U.S. foreign aid to the government of Libya be contingent on their full support in this matter."During a press conference at the White House, President Obama condemned the killings and pledged to bring those responsible to justice."We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice will be done," said Mr. Obama. "Make no mistake, justice will be done."
The bidding process for investors wanting to reopen the former Kentucky Kingdom amusement park is being launched this week.Once the applications are in, the state will narrow the competition to the top three bidders.The doors to Kentucky Kingdom have been closed since late 2009. Its previous operator, Six Flags, declared bankruptcy.The second and latest proposal to reopen the park came earlier this year from Indiana’s Koch family, which owns Holiday World. After that fell through, the Gov. Steve Beshear requested the State Fair Board open up the contract to bidding.The Finance and Administration Cabinet will review the applications and pick the three best bids, said Pamela Trautner, a spokeswoman for the department. “There are several criteria that will be evaluated and all of those are elucidated in the RFP, which is online," she said.A local investor group led by businessman Ed Hart announced a $40 million proposal to reopen the park the same week the state fair board announced it would open the process to bidding. Hart and his group--Kentucky Kingdom Redeveopment Company--will have to adapt the proposal to criteria developed by the state.Hart has been critical of the state for going through the bidding process, saying the delay is costing taxpayers.Applications are due by 4 pm on October 19.
After years of lawmakers attempting to find solutions to the state’s underfunded pension problems, a group of Republican legislative candidates are hoping to institute a plan of their own.At a news conference today at the Capitol, the majority of Republican challengers in House and Senate races endorsed a plan to put new lawmakers into a 401k style pension system.The challengers say if elected their plan would be the first bill they jointly introduce. And they would include themselves in the new 401k plan.Republican House candidate Brian Linder says the new plan will also provide flexibility.“The plan would be portable to other places of employment and the plan would enable roll-in contributions from other 401k plan from previous employers. And the retiree health care will no longer be an option for legislative service,” Linder says.The plan will also allow incumbents to opt-in to the 401k plan as well as allow rollovers into and out of the new legislative plan.Some candidates at the announcement also expressed the desire to eliminate legislative pension altogether, but said instituting their plan for themselves was a better first step to solving the pension problems. Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel of Northern Kentucky says the plan is one step in the right direction.“We believe that while this is a small step, it’s an important first step for us to take toward eliminating the most predictable crisis in Kentucky’s history,” he says.
According to a list released this morning, retail giant Walmart leads U.S. companies in solar power installations. Walmart has 144 solar systems installed in seven states; as the report notes, the combined capacity of Walmart and Costco (number two on the list) is greater than all the solar capacity deployed in the state of Florida.According to the report, the only system in Kentucky is at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Bowling Green. But there are numerous installations on manufacturing sites in the area, in the corridor between Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.The New York Times has an related story about how big-box chain stores are increasingly turning to solar power to control costs.Many of the chains began with a few installations about five years ago but have picked up the pace in recent years as the price of equipment has plummeted. The average price of a finished commercial photovoltaic system, for example, dropped by almost 14 percent between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, the report said.In addition, new financing approaches — in which third-party companies offer to install systems for little or no money upfront and instead take fixed payments for the electricity generated over a long-term agreement — has made solar even more attractive. Although the cost savings from these arrangements are not as great as for residential customers, the agreements insulate the companies against fluctuations in electricity costs, said Lyndon Rive, the chief executive of SolarCity, which provides solar products and services, and counts Walmart among its commercial customers, “When you look at renewables, there’s not a spiking of the fuel cost,” Mr. Rive said. “You’re locking your rates, which is a great hedge for a big percentage of your energy needs.”Here's the full list of the top twenty U.S. companies ranked by solar power usage, compiled by the Solar Energy Industries Association:Walmart: 65 MW, 7 states, 144 systemsCostco: 38.9 MW, 5 states, 62 systemsKohl’s: 36.5 MW, 10 states, 124 systemsIkea: 21.5 MW, 17 states, 31 systemsMacy’s: 16.1 MW, 4 states, 41 systemsMcGraw-Hill: 14.1 MW, 1 state, 2 systemsJohnson & Johnson: 11.6 MW, 2 states, 12 systemsStaples: 10.8 MW, 5 states, 35 systemsCampbell’s: 9.9 MW, 3 states, 3 systemsWalgreen’s: 8.1 MW, 6 states, 134 systemsBed Bath & Beyond: 7.5 MW, 1 state, 4 systemsToys R Us: 5.7 MW, 1 state, 4 systemsGM: 5.6 MW, 5 states, 13 systemsFedEx: 4.9 MW, 2 states, 5 systemsWhite Rose Food: 4.9 MW, 1 state, 1 systemDow Jones: 4.1 MW, 1 state, 1 systemSnyder’s of Hanover: 3.5 MW, 1 state, 1 systemPrologis: 3.5 MW, 1 state, 10 systemsHartz Mountain Industries: 3.4 MW, 1 state, 5 systemsCrayola: 3.4 MW, 1 state, 1 system
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned the attacks against the U.S. Consulate in Libya that resulted in the murder of four American diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.The consulate in Benghazi was bombarded by a group of protestors who were furious over an amateur film released via YouTube that mocked Muhammad, Islam's founding prophet. According to reports, Stevens was leaving the building for a safer location when gunmen launched an attack.From McConnell's office:"These attacks remind us of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by foreign service officers, diplomatic security personnel, and our Marine Security Guards.I join my colleagues in strongly condemning the murder of these innocent Americans. And I support employing every available tool at our disposal to ensure the safety of Americans overseas and to hunt down those responsible for these attacks.Yesterday we commemorated the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, and today we are reminded that brave Americans serve us every day at the risk of their own lives. We honor the Americans we lost in Libya, and we will stand united in our response.Among the things we can all agree on in Washington is that attacks on the U.S. and its representatives will be met with resolve, and that America’s presence and defense of our national interests across the globe will not be deterred by the acts of violent extremists."According to U.S officials, as many as 200 Marines are being deployed to Libya to bolster security around the American embassy in Tripoli.