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KY House Democratic leaders talk road projects with Rogers, Paul and Boehner

Four Kentucky Democratic House leaders met Wednesday in Washington with U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, to discuss road projects in the state. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, attended the meeting with Rogers.

The discussions involved Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s efforts to extend the Mountain Parkway in Eastern Kentucky from Prestonsburg to Beckley, W.Va., and widening the Hal Rogers Parkway in south-central Kentucky, bringing it up to interstate standards and extending it southeast to Tennessee.

The combined projects would become part of the Interstate 66 project that Eastern Kentucky leaders and Rogers have long championed.

“These meetings went exactly as we had hoped and show that the support is growing in our nation’s capitol,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, in a release.

“They realize, as we do, that projects like these can open up the region in a way no other can. Eastern Kentucky needs a major interstate route to the east and south, and these plans are the best way to do that.”

Kentucky House members with Stumbo were House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, House Speaker Pro Tem Jody Richards of Bowling Green and House Majority Whip Johnny Bell of Glasgow.

They arranged the meetings while in Washington for the National Conference of State Legislature’s Symposium for Legislative Leaders.

Stumbo has asked the state Transportation Cabinet to look at how the project from Prestonsburg to Beckley, W.Va., could be accomplished.

He supports using up to $1 billion of federal abandoned mine land funds.

“Rather than sitting idle, these funds can be used to improve the coal region’s infrastructure and economic future,” he said.

The Kentucky House leaders support expanding the project’s scope to include the Hal Rogers Parkway and tying it together under the I-66 umbrella.

“I want to thank Rep. Rogers, Sen. Paul and House Speaker Boehner for meeting with us and offering their suggestions,” Stumbo said. “These billion-dollar projects can’t be built overnight, but the sooner we can lay the groundwork and planning, the sooner we can begin turning this dream into reality.”

–Jack Brammer

McConnell tries to put Mill Springs Battlefield in national park system

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday to support making Mill Springs Battlefield in Southern Kentucky part of the National Park System.

McConnell’s legislation directs the U.S. Secretary of Interior to evaluate including the Civil War battlefield as a national park. Such a feasibility study makes a final national park designation easier to achieve.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, successfully introduced and backed identical legislation earlier this year in the U.S. House.

State opening office in Pikeville to help startup companies

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT –The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development is establishing an office on the University of Pikeville campus to provide assistance to startup companies in the Appalachian region.

“By adding the new office in Pikeville, we will be better able to serve the rapidly growing number of entrepreneurs and small businesses in Eastern Kentucky,” Gov. Steve Beshear said in a release.

“Innovation is key to changing the economic landscape in Appalachia and we need to offer small businesses encouragement, guidance and a blueprint for success. I look forward to seeing positive results and hearing more success stories as a result of this new location.

The Pikeville office will operate in the university’s Community Technology Center and will serve nine counties, including Pike, Martin, Johnson, Floyd, Knott, Letcher, Perry, Breathitt and Magoffin.

“Small businesses are the backbone of a sustainable economy,” said UPIKE President James Hurley. “We are excited to participate in this public-private partnership to extend and offer opportunity for economic development. Eastern Kentucky is full of great entrepreneurial leaders and the innovation center provides the platform for ideas to be developed and cultivated.”

The opening of the new office comes weeks after Beshear, Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, community leaders and local residents announced their action plan for eastern Kentucky’s Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Initiative.

Among the initiative’s main goals is to increase business recruitment and incubation in the region.

With the Pikeville location, the Kentucky Innovation Network provides business assistance to entrepreneurs from 13 locations across the state. Formed in 2002 by the Cabinet for Economic Development, the network serves all 120 counties throughout the state from offices in Ashland, Bowling Green, Covington, Elizabethtown, Lexington, London, Louisville, Morehead, Murray, Owensboro, Paducah and Richmond.

Last year, the Kentucky Innovation Network helped support 240 new companies create more than 1,000 jobs and assist businesses in raising more than $100 million in private investments.

The Office of Entrepreneurship within the Cabinet for Economic Development oversees the Kentucky Innovation Network and other services, programs and initiatives to encourage small business growth. The goal of the office is to create and promote a strong culture of entrepreneurship statewide.

For more information on the Kentucky Innovation Network,visit www.kyinnovation.com.

–Jack Brammer

McConnell, Paul, Rogers support Obama plan to help southeast Ky.

By Bill Estep
bestep@herald-leader.com

Echoing President Lyndon B. Johnson’s call 50 years ago for a bipartisan attack on poverty, President Barack Obama on Thursday sought support from both parties for efforts to boost economic opportunity, as he announced an initiative aimed at doing that in southeastern Kentucky and four other places.

Obama identified the first sites chosen for his Promise Zones program, which will give the areas priority in getting federal money for education and other needs.

An area made up of Harlan, Bell, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, and Knox counties, along with much of Whitley County, was one of two rural zones Obama announced. The Lexington Herald-Leader first reported Obama’s plans Wednesday.

Republican U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, as well as U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, whose district includes the eight-county area, attended the announcement in the East Room of the White House.

All have been critical of Obama on a range of issues, including his health-care overhaul.

Obama noted the country has had a “rancorous political year,” but said he believes that making sure all Americans have a “fair shot” to succeed should not be a partisan issue.

“This should be a challenge that unites us all,” said Obama, specifically acknowleding Paul’s attendance. “I don’t care if the ideas are Democrats or Republican. I do care that they work.”

James Comer to Kentucky GOP leaders: ‘I cannot be controlled’

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James ComerBy Sam Youngman — syoungman@herald-leader.com

SOMERSET — In the days leading up to his remarks Tuesday at the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer began referring to them as “the Fort Sumter speech.”

To most of the 100 or so farmers and merchants gathered, Comer’s words appeared far removed from the first battle in the Civil War, but there was a great deal more going on for some, especially in one departure that seemed at odds with the rest of Comer’s routine luncheon speech.

“The days of party bosses hand-picking elected officials in smoke-filled rooms must end,” said Comer, who is mentioned often as a likely Republican gubernatorial candidate. “No more scenarios where party bosses send some guy from, say, Louisville, who has never been to Somerset before and order you to support him because [they] can control him.”

Most of the crowd, subdued by Butterball turkey breast, didn’t know what to make of it when Comer veered and declared, “I cannot be controlled.”

But to a handful, the message was clear: Comer was warning what he views as establishment Republicans — be it U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell or state Sen. Chris Girdler — not to meddle in the 2015 governor’s race.

Shutdown brings D.C. fundraising to halt for most of Ky. delegation

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville

By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

WASHINGTON — With few exceptions, Kentucky’s federal lawmakers have scrambled to cancel fundraisers after the government shut down midnight Monday.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, still planned to attend a high-dollar event at the Four Seasons hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., with optional golf for attendees beginning Thursday, according to a fundraising schedule obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Whitfield’s event, planned to raise money for his Thoroughbred Political Action Committee (PAC), included suggested contributions of $2,500 per PAC and $1,500 per individual. Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus was scheduled to join the Kentucky congressman.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the event was still on, but a statement from Whitfield spokesman Chris Pack indicated that might change.

“The congressman’s sole focus right now is getting Harry Reid and the Senate to negotiate with the House to reopen the federal government,” Pack said in an email. “The congressman will assess his schedule as the week progresses.”

U.S. Reps. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, both canceled fundraising events planned for Wednesday, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled a fundraising breakfast scheduled for Thursday morning.

Barr, Guthrie, Whitfield and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, all canceled fundraisers that were scheduled for Tuesday, the first full day of the government shutdown.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg, managed to attend a fundraiser on Monday at the GOP’s Capitol Hill Club in Washington after a meeting of the House Republican Conference and just hours before the shutdown began.

U.S. Rep. Rogers names Girdler his district director

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Rogers, has promoted Chris Girdler as his new district director to replace Bob Mitchell, who retired June 1.

Girdler has been deputy district director for the last 18 months.

Morgan County, West Liberty get $100,000 in federal funding to help rebuild

FRANKFORT — West Liberty and Morgan County will receive $100,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to help rebuild from the devastasting tornado that struck the area March .

Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced the funding Thursday. The money will be used to hire an architect to develop a conceptual plan for the professional rebuilding of the city of West Liberty and Morgan County.

No compromise on congressional redistricting; issue probably headed to court

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — State lawmakers failed to redraw the boundaries of Kentucky’s six congressional districts before Tuesday’s candidate filing deadline, which means the issue probably will end up in court.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, told House members about 20 minutes after the 4 p.m. filing deadline that a compromise agreement between the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate could not be reached.

The House and Senate had delayed the original deadline from Jan. 31 to Feb. 7 to give the two sides more time to reach an agreement.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, had worked with members of congress on a possible compromise that late last week looked promising, House leaders said. But Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers said Tuesday afternoon that the two sides appeared to “agree to disagree.”

Stumbo said congressional candidates will run in the state’s existing districts. That means someone — either a candidate or a national political party — will probably challenge the constitutionality of Kentucky’s districts.

House, Senate appear close on congressional redistricting plan

By Beth Musgrave and Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — House and Senate negotiators appear close to an agreement on new boundaries for Kentucky’s six congressional districts.

“We have a map that shows great promise,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo said late Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate has had “little time to analyze anything” from the House, but “hope springs eternal.”

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the staff of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, has been instrumental in helping the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate come to a consensus after weeks of negotiations.

Senate leaders were looking at a proposed map after the chamber adjourned Thursday evening. If the Senate agrees to the new map, it’s possible for the legislature to approve the plan before the Feb. 7 filing deadline for congressional candidates.