Beshear, Adams Say They Are Close To Election Agreement Wednesday, Aug 12 2020 

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Gov. Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams say they are close to a bipartisan agreement on how Kentucky’s elections will be run during the November general election.

Beshear, a Democrat, has advocated for all Kentuckians to be eligible to vote by mail, as they were during this year’s primary election. Adams, a Republican, says the election system would be overwhelmed if that happened.

In an interview, Adams said that he expects the state to have “much more robust” in-person voting on Election Day than it did in the primary.


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Union Groups Call On McConnell To Renew $600 Unemployment Supplement Thursday, Aug 6 2020 

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A coalition of Kentucky union groups organized a protest caravan on Thursday to call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to extend the $600 per week supplement to unemployment benefits, which expired last week.

About two dozen cars, a semi truck and a mobile LED billboard circled the federal courthouse in Louisville, where McConnell has an office, honking their horns..

Part of the group organized by the AFL-CIO, Teamsters and other union groups eventually headed to McConnell’s neighborhood in the Highlands to protest, though he was still in Washington negotiating the latest coronavirus relief bill.


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Poll Shows McConnell Leading McGrath In Senate Race By Double Digits Tuesday, Aug 4 2020 

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A new poll shows Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leading Democratic challenger Amy McGrath by 17 points in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race this year.

The survey of 793 likely voters in Kentucky by Washington D.C. based firm Morning Consult shows McConnell leading McGrath 53% to 36%. The poll was conducted between July 24 and Aug 2.

McConnell is running for his seventh term in the Senate, though this is the first year he is running while also serving as the majority leader, the high-profile position that allows him to set the agenda of the chamber and wield influence on which bills come up for votes.


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Kentucky Primary Election Results Won’t Be Announced Until June 30 Wednesday, Jun 24 2020 

While the phrase “All Eyes on Kentucky” was trending on primary election day, voters here in Kentucky will have to keep watching for another week to see who won.

Typically, the State Board of Elections will announce preliminary results the day votes are cast. This year, however, results will be made public on June 30. This is part of Gov. Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams’ agreement to expand mail-in voting in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading inside crowded polling locations.

“Under normal circumstances, the State Board of Elections receives and reports all preliminary election results on election night,” Secretary of State Adams’ director of Communications Miranda Combs said in a press release. “However, because we, like other states voting during the pandemic, have accommodated voters by letting them mail ballots on election day, not every vote will be in hand by election night. Moreover, many counties, including our two biggest, have chosen to withhold even partial results until June 30, the extended deadline for all counties to report returns to the Secretary of State.”

Election officials in Jefferson County have until June 27 to collect and certify ballots, making sure there are no duplicates and weeding out potential fraud.

They will then report certified results from Jefferson County to the state board of elections by 6 p.m. on June 30. Results will be made public at that point.

Nore Ghibaudy, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Board of Elections, said the board has followed the state’s timeline for elections so far and will release the election results on June 30 when statewide returns are available.

“When the state board gets ready to release theirs, we’ll open up Jefferson County on our website as well, and folks will have the opportunity to see various races in the county, as well as the ones from the country, and actually see how Jefferson County voted,” Ghibaudy said.

Ghibaudy said Jefferson County had sent out 218,000 applications for mail-in ballots and an additional 11,111 people had already cast their ballots in person at the Expo Center prior to Tuesday.

Late Tuesday evening, the secretary of state’s office said the unofficial count of voters who checked in to vote in-person statewide was 152,964. The final count will come Wednesday.

Formerly Disenfranchised Kentucky Voters Cast Their Ballots Monday, Jun 22 2020 

For many in the Ohio Valley, voting is a choice, a right they are free to exercise if they want to. But for Jackie McGranahan and the more than 175,000 other formerly disenfranchised Kentuckians, this primary election is special. It’s her first chance to vote since 2008. 

She won’t be going to a voting booth. Elections are a bit different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most voting in Kentucky is happening by mail. But even though she couldn’t go to the polls with her friends or be handed her ‘I Voted’ sticker, that didn’t stop McGranahan from savoring the moment of voting.

“I filled out the absentee ballot. I signed my name and I waited for my postman to come so I could hand it to him directly from my porch to know that my vote will be counted, that I have a voice,” McGranahan said.

ACLU of Kentucky

Jackie McGranahan

McGranahan lost her right to vote after being convicted of a felony drug-related charge. Until late last year, Kentucky banned people with felony records from voting, even after completing their sentences. Now, Kentucky is catching up to Ohio, West Virginia, and 46 other states, at least temporarily, by allowing some people who have served their sentences after being convicted of a felony to cast a ballot. Following up on a campaign promise, Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order shortly after taking office, restoring voting rights for people who have served their time for non-violent, non-sexual felony offenses.

McGranahan has been sober and in recovery for more than four years. She works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and said normally she’s the one pushing other people to exercise their right to vote. She said so many people like her know what it’s like to not have a voice in politics.

“I remember on Election Day that everyone was taking pictures of their I voted sticker, and it was all over Facebook,” she said. “And it was really exciting for people, but for me, it was a different feeling. You know, it’s kind of, it’s an empty feeling.”

McGranahan remembers the moment her colleague called her to give her the good news. 

“She called to say, ‘Jackie, you can vote.’ And I remember that feeling with tears running down my face that it seemed unreal, but it was so exciting,” she said. “And my heart was filled, completely filled with just excitement, and energy, anticipation.”

McGranahan said the moment was short-lived and bittersweet because so many other people who have been convicted of a felony still can’t vote in Kentucky. 

Temporary Right  

Kate Miller is the advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky. She said she’s glad to see the progress that’s been made in the Commonwealth to expand access to voting for more people. But, she doesn’t think Beshear’s executive order goes far enough.

“We don’t think that anyone should lose their right to vote to begin with,” Miller said. “We think that individuals who are currently incarcerated because of felony convictions should be able to vote. And that’s true regardless of what they’re convicted of.” 

Miller said a year ago she never thought the state would see progress on the restoration of voting rights for Kentuckians, but she was impressed with one bill proposed in the 2020 legislative session.

“It was the cleanest bill that we’ve seen in a long time,” she said. “I think, ever, in terms of not excluding individuals not having a waiting period, not putting up additional barriers.”

Miller said that the ACLU often has to compromise, but when amending the state constitution there are only so many opportunities. In this year’s General Assembly, there was a bill proposed that would amend the state’s constitution and automatically restore the right to vote for many Kentuckians. The bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon of Marion County and passed out of committee, but ultimately wasn’t put up for a vote in the full legislature. 

Miller said there’s nothing more fundamental in a democracy than having the opportunity to weigh in on who the decision-makers are for your community.

Beshear said he does not think everyone who has committed a felony should get back the right to vote. He said in his time as Attorney General, he saw the trauma that violent crimes such as rape, human trafficking, and murder can cause a family and community. 

“There are some crimes that are just so bad and the trauma is so severe that I don’t think it’s appropriate to restore those rights,” he said.

It took two Beshear governors to make the change for people like McGranahan. Andy Beshear’s father, former Gov, Steve Beshear, had signed an executive order on his way out of the office in 2015 to restore voting rights to some people with felony records. When former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin took his place in 2015 he quickly rescinded the order. That’s why Beshear wants to see the change made permanent, which would require an amendment to the state’s constitution.

“This is something that is a great step but ought to be enshrined with a constitutional amendment because it ought to become automatic and not depend on who the governor is,” he said.

Because her right to vote isn’t permanent, McGranahan said she wanted to savor the moment of filling in her ballot, not knowing how many more chances she’ll get. 

“It’s constant anxiety, knowing that in the back of my mind…like I’m very, I’m extremely excited to vote but then knowing, that this could be the last time,” she said.

Beshear also launched a website where people can check to see if they qualify for having their voting rights automatically restored. Kentuckians can check their voter registration online, and sign up to be able to vote in November. It’s unclear if absentee voting will be expanded in the Ohio Valley for the general election.

 

ANALYSIS: Amy McGrath Needs To Win Over Some Trump Voters To Defeat McConnell  Wednesday, May 6 2020 

Amy McGrath has had some good fortune the past few months in her long shot Senate campaign against Mitch McConnell. None of the Democrats running to her left in the primary (most notably Mike Broihier and Charles Booker) have really galvanized the state’s liberals — and the COVID-19 outbreak has made it even harder for them to get attention and gain major followings. So McGrath is not only likely to easily win the June 23 Democratic primary, but she hasn’t really needed to take a lot of liberal positions that might hurt her in the general election in this conservative-leaning state. McConnell is taking some fairly controversial positions of late, most notably his initial opposition to providing federal aid to states to help them make up for virus-related budget shortfalls.

Finally, Joe Biden’s victory in the Democratic presidential primary is ideal for McGrath, both because her left-but-not-that-left brand of politics are aligned with the former vice president’s and because Sen. Bernie Sanders had the potential to lose really badly in Kentucky and potentially drag down McGrath and other Democrats with him if he were the Democratic nominee.

So could McGrath actually win? A Democrat last won a U.S Senate race in Kentucky in 1992 (Wendell Ford.) She’s still very much a long shot. But looking at recent polls and Democrat Andy Beshear’s victory in last year’s gubernatorial race, there does appear to be a path for a McGrath victory, although it is fairly narrow. Here’s what that path might look like:

 

1. Trump wins Kentucky by less than in 2016

 

Trump won the state by 30 percentage points in 2016. Such a margin just makes it really really hard for Democrats down ballot to win — huge numbers of voters would have to split their votes among the two parties. Trump is almost certain to win Kentucky again this November — it’s unlikely Biden will even contest the state. That said, the smaller Trump’s margin, the better for McGrath. (Or another Democrat if he or she wins the primary in a major upset.) And it seems likely that Trump will win Kentucky by less than he did four years ago.

Why? First of all, Trump is less popular in Kentucky now. In January 2017, 61 percent of voters in Kentucky approved of Trump, compared to just 27 percent who did not, according to the polling firm Morning Consult. But a more recent Morning Consult poll (February 2020) found Trump’s approval in Kentucky at 57 percent, while 40 percent disapproved of him. Recent polling from the firm Civiqs showed Trump at 58 percent approval, 39 percent disapproval, compared to 57-35 at the start of his tenure.

Secondly, Kentucky voters will probably view Biden more favorably than Clinton. The former vice president just hasn’t been the center of attacks from conservatives for years, as Clinton had been. It’s also likely that at least a small bloc of the state’s voters hated Clinton in part because she is a woman. A poll conducted last year by conservative firm Fabrizio Ward LLC, which worked with Trump on his 2016 campaign, found the president ahead 53-41 in a hypothetical match-up against Biden in Kentucky. I  think Trump will win Kentucky by more than 12 percentage points, but less than 30.

 

2. Jefferson and Fayette counties keep getting more Democratic

 

2012 Romney v Obama — Obama wins Jefferson County by 11 percentage points, Fayette by 1

2014 Grimes v. McConnell — Grimes win Jefferson by 14, Fayette by 6

2016 Trump v. Clinton — Clinton wins Jefferson by 13, Fayette by 10

2018 Kentucky state House races — Dems win Jefferson by 30, Fayette by 28

2019 Cameron vs. Stumbo — Stumbo wins Jefferson by 19, Fayette by 18

2019 Bevin v. Beshear — Beshear wins Jefferson by 36, Fayette by 33

The evidence from recent statewide races suggests that Kentucky’s biggest and more urban counties are getting more Democratic — and that this leftward shift was happening before the rise of Trump but that he may be accelerating it. Bevin was particularly unpopular and that boosted Beshear, but even somewhat weak Democratic candidates (Clinton, Stumbo) were really strong in those two counties. It appears Kentucky is seeing the same trend that is happening throughout the country — urban areas are becoming Democratic-leaning while more rural ones are becoming more conservative.

I would expect this trend to continue — and for McConnell and Trump to lose in Jefferson and Fayette counties by more than they did their previous elections.

Eric Hyers, who was Beshear’s campaign manager, said the gains Beshear made in Jefferson and Fayette counties were part of a general pattern happening across the country in the Trump era: Republicans struggling in the suburbs. He noted that Beshear did much better than previous Democrats in suburban areas of eastern Jefferson County and won traditionally-Republican Campbell and Kenton counties, both of which are in the Cincinnati area.

For the Democrats to defeat McConnell, “that suburban shift needs to continue,” said Hyers, who is now running a Super PAC called the Save America Fund that is working to defeat the longtime Republican senator.

3. McGrath builds a McGrath-Trump bloc

Even with huge margins in Jefferson and Fayette counties, Beshear could not have won without making substantial gains compared to other Democrats

  1. In the state’s more rural areas
  2. With Republicans.

McGrath will probably need to do the same.

Beshear won 16% of voters who identified themselves as Republicans and 15% of those who said they had favorable views of Trump, according to an exit poll conducted by a group of researchers from Centre College, Campbellsville University, Morehead State University, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Pennsylvania. (I assume many Republicans and Trump approvers are the same people.) The Republican-Beshear voters tended to be under 50 years old, according to the exit poll.

The researchers estimated that 8% of Kentucky’s voters overall in 2019 were Republicans who backed Beshear — a very important bloc, considering the Democrat won the election by 0.4%. Beshear did significantly better than Clinton did in 2016 in Eastern Kentucky in particular, also suggesting that some Trump backers embraced him.

Can McGrath also win over some Trump voters? Maybe. Polls suggest that McConnell is not as popular with Kentucky’s Republicans as Trump. The 2019 exit poll had Trump at 88% favorable/12% unfavorable among Republicans, compared to McConnell’s 74/26. McGrath, like Beshear, has been careful not to bash the president too much in her campaign, although she did support his removal from office over his effort to get the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens. And perhaps voters in Kentucky turn on McConnell the same way that they turned on Bevin.

“I’ve talked to Republicans who won’t support Bevin or McConnell who are still for Trump,” said Chuck Eddy, a self-described moderate, “Never Trump” Republican who organized a “Republicans for Beshear” group last year. Eddy, who lives in Lexington, said he will vote against McConnell and Trump this November.

On the other hand, the 2019 governor’s race is not a perfect parallel to this year’s Senate contest, because governors races tend to be more localized and Senate races more nationalized. In 2016, every U.S. Senate election was won by the same party that won the presidential race in that state. Also, McConnell and his allies are likely to run tens of millions worth of television ads attacking McGrath and suggesting her positions are akin to those of Sanders.

“Right now, I don’t think McGrath can win because the data doesn’t think so, and the data was right last time, BUT, if I should see evidence of crossover support in polling in that race, I will reassess,” elections expert forecaster Rachel Bitcofer of the Washington-D.C. based Niskanen Center wrote recently. (“Last time” referred to McGrath losing her 2018 House race.)

Eddy said Bevin’s rhetoric attacking teachers particularly irritated some of the Republicans that he knows, and that McConnell hasn’t made any comments that resonated that negatively among more conservative voters.

“Every vote of a Republican against McConnell will be very hard fought,” he said.

“Is the unpopularity of Bevin similar to the unpopularity of McConnell? It’s a good question,” said Benjamin Knoll, a Centre College political science professor who was part of the team that conducted the 2019 exit poll of the governor’s race.

I’m pretty sure that Biden will do better than Clinton in Kentucky and that Louisville and Lexington voters will be very anti-Trump/McConnell in November. So building some kind of pro-Trump, anti-McConnell constituency is perhaps the most important task for McGrath in the next few months — and convincing Republicans and conservative-leaning independents that a vote for McGrath is akin to a vote against Trump is an important task for the McConnell campaign.

Whether or not these candidates and their campaigns are able to execute these tasks will be really important, both for Kentucky and the country. McConnell is not just a senator from Kentucky, but in many ways the most important figure in American government. McGrath doesn’t have a great shot at defeating him, but if she did, it would be one of the biggest and most important upsets in modern political history.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a national political writer based in Louisville. You can reach him via Twitter or e-mail.

The Pandemic Primary: How Will We Vote In The Age Of Coronavirus? Friday, Apr 17 2020 

polling-placeWith concerns mounting about how to conduct elections during a pandemic, states across the Ohio Valley are postponing their primary election dates and, in some cases, expanding access to voting by mail in order to allow people to cast ballots safely. But the implementation of last-minute changes is straining politics and the capacity of local elections officials region-wide. 

Ohio postponed its election from March 17 to April 28, giving its election officials the smallest window in which to adjust their plans. West Virginia delayed until June 9, and Kentucky, which had planned to hold its primary May 19, moved its primary five weeks later to June 23. 

Races range from the presidential primary, to U.S. Representatives and Senators — including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — down to state and local officials. 

“Voting is obviously the bedrock of our republic in terms of how Americans are able to influence the laws under which they live,” said Jack Noland, a research manager with the bipartisan group RepresentUs which supports mail-in voting. “Ultimately, one of the upshots of this will be exposing more voters than ever before to the value, ease and opportunity of voting at home.”

But the move to expand mail-in balloting also opens a partisan divide about how we should vote during a crisis.

Ohio

In addition to postponing its primary election, Ohio eliminated in-person voting except for people with disabilities or other special needs. All others who wish to cast a ballot in the primary must request a mail-in ballot from their county board of elections, receive the ballot by mail, and get it to the same board either postmarked by April 27 or hand-delivered by April 28.

“We were completely prepared for the election,” said Debbie Quivey, the director of the Athens County, Ohio, board of elections. Her team of seven learned that in-person elections would be eliminated at 3 p.m. on March 16, just hours before voters were to go to the polls. That left her team of seven, most of them elderly women, just weeks to drastically scale up their voting-by-mail procedures so that all of the county’s 65,000 residents had the opportunity to cast their ballot.

“I’ll be honest, I was… I don’t know if I’d call it shock or not, but it took a while for us to think about, okay, how we’re going to handle this,” she said.

The team, some full-time staff and some volunteers, receive about 300 requests for an absentee ballot each day, by phone, by mail and from in-person drop-offs at a table next door to their office. The requests then get digitized and sorted by political party (Quivey’s kept up at night by the thought of a Republican receiving a Democrat’s ballot by mistake, she says, or vice versa), then a team of ladies downstairs stuffs envelopes with the official ballot and return postage. The envelopes are sealed, addressed and stamped, and, mouth covered in a homemade purple mask, Quivey delivers batches of ballots to the post office by 4:30 each afternoon.

It’s a lot of overtime and a lot of extra worry, Quivey says, but she believes her team is on track to get absentee ballots to all Athens County residents who want them.

West Virginia

West Virginia is one of seventeen states that allow residents to request an absentee ballot, also known as a mail-in ballot, for one of several specific reasons, which vary by state but typically include illness, disability, work-related out-of state travel, or incarceration before conviction.

To accommodate public health concerns over the coronavirus, Secretary of State Mac Warner allowed all voters to access absentee ballots. This came after Attorney General Patrick Morrisey found that the Secretary had broad powers to alter the method of conducting elections during states of emergency.

Unlike in Ohio, where voters must request an application for an absentee ballot, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced March 26 that every one of the state’s roughly 1.2 million registered voters would receive their application automatically.

West Virginia plans to hold in-person voting on its delayed primary day. State officials have asked people in low coronavirus risk categories to volunteer as poll workers so the state’s 1,000-2,000 elderly poll workers can stay home.

Kentucky

Kentucky is also an excuse-required state, and despite agreement between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Mike Adams, there are currently no firm plans to expand access to absentee ballots due to the coronavirus. That makes Kentucky one of just eight states to have taken no action to increase voting access during the coronavirus, according to anti-corruption group RepresentUs.

Kentucky’s system for voting in the primary was complicated by a dispute between Beshear and the Republican-controlled legislature.

Beshear vetoed Monday language in an omnibus spending bill that would have ceded to the Secretary of State some of his power to alter the method by which Kentuckians vote during a state of emergency.

“I know there’s going to be an argument about whether or not the legislature should get to add this piece, or whether I’m a bad teammate by vetoing a new part of the law that takes authority from the governor,” Beshear said in a Tuesday press briefing. “I just believe that given the coronavirus, I need to have the final decision, just like has been the law forever.”

The legislature overrode Beshear’s veto Wednesday; the governor will now need approval from Republican Secretary of State Mike Adams before he can expand mail-in voting.

The State Board of Elections, the Secretary of State, and the governor’s office are in discussion over how or whether to expand voting by mail in the state’s June 23 primary.

“We have to allow voting by mail, because to not allow voting by mail, in my opinion, increases voter disenfranchisement,” said Democratic state representative Attica Scott of Louisville.

Scott pointed to Wisconsin, where executive orders delaying the vote and instituting voting by mail were overruled in last-minute court decisions, resulting in in-person voting proceeding despite a stay-at-home order. The move endangered poll workers and Wisconsin voters alike, and was panned as a disaster in the national press.

“We don’t want that for Kentucky,” Scott continued, “because right now we can’t honestly say where we’ll be come June 23. We don’t really know.”

Jeff Young | Ohio Valley ReSource

A Kentucky polling place during the 2016 election.

Access and Security

Limited evidence suggests that increasing access to voting by mail results in a boost to voter turnout, leading some Republicans to argue that the practice would benefit Democrats. In a March appearance on Fox News President Donald Trump said the increased turnout would mean “levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Thomas Massey, a Republican U.S. Representative from Kentucky, opined recently that voting by mail would “be the end of our republic as we know it.”

West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice has also criticized vote-by-mail efforts, saying Wednesday, “There is always suspect with absentee balloting, you know, from a corruption standpoint, and I’m very very hopeful that on June 9 we’ll be able to go to the polls and you’ll be able to exercise your right.”

Election experts say charges of increased fraud among mail-in ballots are unfounded, with data from the five states that have switched to automatically mailing all voters an absentee ballot showing that rates of voter fraud remain low as use of mail-in ballots increases. Oregon has mailed-out more than 100 million ballots since 2000, with about a dozen cases of proven fraud.

“There are concerns in some camps about the potential for voter fraud, the idea being that if you’re not keeping a close eye on the actual voting process, it introduces the opportunity for fraud. But thankfully the states that have really pioneered ways to make sure it is just as safe and secure as other forms of voting,” said Jack Noland, a research manager with RepresentUs. “And so there are elements of security that are in place now, that may just need to be bolstered or enhanced to meet the increased demand.”

The politicized national conversation obscures a richer, more bipartisan history of voting by mail, including in the Ohio Valley: Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia all have Republican Secretaries of State who have indicated support for voting by mail in the pandemic.

“Looking through the history of expanded vote-from-home options, it has often been Republican election officials who have pushed for reforms on efficiency grounds, and making sure the voter rolls are secure and accurate,” said Noland.

Kentucky Secretary of State Mike Adams campaigned against early voting and voting by mail. But despite clashes with Beshear over authority to decide elections, Adams has accepted that changes may be necessary to accommodate the pandemic. His office is working with the governor’s to iron out the details of how the election may work.

“You can’t just turn on a dime and redo your entire election system overnight,” he told the Ohio Valley ReSource Thursday, recalling the words of another election official. “You don’t have enough time for the training, you don’t necessarily have the hardware and software that you need.”

One key challenge facing election officials will be making sure the specific ballot reaches the right person. Two people in the same zip code or even on the same street may have different ballots if they are represented by different county delegates or school board members.

“There’s probably an administrative load that has to be solved,” said Dr. Don S. Inbody, retired U.S. Navy Captain and an expert in military absentee voting. “Some larger counties probably have the staffing to handle that. Small counties who might have three or four people handling their ballots will probably be overwhelmed.”

That may mean we won’t have election results as quickly as we expect, Inbody said.

General Concerns

Ohio Valley states are focused on upcoming primaries, but the general election later this year still looms.

“Some of the decisions that Kentucky makes today with the primary, they’ll probably need to make keeping November in mind,” said Trey Grayson, who served as Kentucky’s Secretary of State from 2004 to 2011.

Modelling suggests that extreme social distancing will have relaxed by November, but the virus will likely still be circulating, and no vaccine will be widely available.

Kentucky must also grapple with a new law requiring voters to have a photo ID. The legislature overruled Gov. Beshear’s veto of the law in the final hours of the legislative session and the law goes into effect for the November general election. The difficulty with the new law, of course, is that it’s impossible to get a photo ID right now, because government offices are closed.

Disqualified Metro Council Candidate’s Name To Appear On Primary Ballot, Votes Will Not Count Tuesday, Mar 3 2020 

The Democratic primary ballot for the District 6 Metro Council race will feature two candidates, but officials will only count votes for one.

Judge Charles Cunningham ruled this week that Courtney Lamont Phelps is disqualified as a candidate for this race and this cycle. Incumbent David James, the Council president, sued Phelps, alleging he falsified elements of his filing documents.

While James’ lawyers asked that Phelps’ name be removed from the ballots, Cunningham cited concerns from last week’s hearing that redoing the ballots would be too expensive.

“Therefore, absent evidence that there is zero chance it would not be more expensive and zero chance it would preclude timely preparation and testing of the ballots,” he could not justify granting the James lawyers’ request, he wrote in the order submitted Monday.

Regardless, Jordan Kelch, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Board of Elections, said without a judge’s order to redo ballots, the board would follow state law to provide notice to voters about a disqualified candidate.

He said there would be signs the size of regular sheets of paper prominently displayed in District 6 voting precincts as well as inside individual voting booths.

A similar situation took place in 2016, when a ballot included withdrawn candidates and a disqualified candidate, Kelch said.

“It listed the candidates that had withdrawn. And then at the bottom, it also mentioned the disqualified candidate, and essentially said that no votes will be tabulated or reported for these candidates,” he said.

He said ballots had been sent to the printer, but could not say if they are already printed. He also said he did not think the posting process would be more expensive than redoing the ballots, but could not provide specifics.

The primary ballot for Metro Council District 4 will receive similar treatment for a withdrawn candidate, Dennisha Rivers, who pulled out of the race on Feb. 20.

Judge Plans To Disqualify Metro Council District 6 Challenger Friday, Feb 28 2020 

A Jefferson Circuit Court judge is expected to declare a Metro Council candidate for District 6 invalid following a lawsuit from his opponent. Council president David James will apparently be the only eligible candidate in the Democratic primary.

James filed suit against Phelps last month, alleging he had falsified details on his filing papers including his address and witness signatures. During a lengthy hearing Thursday, one person, Deandrae Hughes, testified that he had not signed Phelps’ filing form.

In his testimony, Hughes echoed what he recently told WFPL: Phelps had not asked him to sign the form, and that he would not have agreed to sign it regardless. The filing form requires candidates to provide signatures of two witnesses who consider the candidate to be qualified for office.

Near the end of a nearly four-hour hearing Thursday, Judge Charles Cunningham told Phelps the inauthentic signature was enough to disqualify him.

“Your fundamental problem is one of the two people on your nominating petition doesn’t appear to have signed it,” Cunningham said. “You’re going to lose because you haven’t been able to present any evidence to suggest you had two qualified signatures on your nominating petition.”

Phelps has a five-day window to appeal the decision following issuance of the order, according to state statute.

The judge said he would consider leaving Phelps’ name on the ballot for the May 19 primary. Maryellen Allen, co-director of the Jefferson County Board of Elections, testified this would be a less expensive option than redesigning and re-testing the District 6 ballots. She did not provide a cost estimate. If Phelps’ name remains on the ballot, election officials would not count votes for him and would post signs in polling places informing voters of this.

But lawyers for James argued Phelps’ name should not appear on ballots, which have not yet been printed, citing KRS 118.176, which states that if court finds a candidate invalid “the candidate’s name shall be stricken from the written designation of election officers filed with the board of elections.”

With Phelps’ disqualification, James would be the only Democrat in the primary election. He would face Republican candidate Kristi “Kristina” Smith in the general election in November.

Phelps was also the subject of another recent legal action, filed by a woman who claimed he stalked and harassed her on social media. Earlier this month, a judge granted the woman a protective order against him.

Just Transition: Amid Climate Debate And Coal’s Decline, West Virginia Considers Its Future Monday, Feb 17 2020 

On a recent soggy Wednesday evening, dozens of West Virginians packed a conference room inside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center to discuss the need for a “just transition” for coal-impacted communities.

As the nation grapples with climate change, the need for a fair transition for workers and communities that depend upon coal jobs and revenue has also gained traction. Nearly every 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful has touted some version of the idea, ranging from the expansive “Green New Deal” championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Joe Biden’s more modest mix of worker training and direct assistance for coal country.

In West Virginia, discussions are starting to get attention in the state’s capital despite strong political support for the coal industry.

“When you’re hearing a call for a just transition for coal-reliant communities, folks are saying ‘look, starting now and into the future, we’re going to decarbonize the economy,’” said Ann Eisenberg, a law professor at the University of South Carolina. “There will be disproportionate losses imposed on coal-reliant communities. And that’s unfair. So we’re going to offset the losses. And that is where I think this is a good thing. And it’s also tricky.”

Eisenberg was one of a handful of experts who spoke at the event hosted by West Virginia University’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, the nonprofit West Virginia Center on Climate Change (an offshoot of conservation group Friends of Blackwater), and the left-leaning West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

Three groups hosted a just transition discussion on Feb. 5, 2020 in Charleston, WV.

The speakers facilitated a conversation about what constitutes a “just transition” as well as how West Virginia and other regions that depend on coal could actually get there.

Adele Morris with the Brookings Institution said the first step is to acknowledge the clear data about coal. Even without a comprehensive climate policy, the fuel is already losing ground in the region and across the country. Low natural gas prices and the falling cost of renewable energy have priced many coal plants out of the market.

hindsight2020-mine-empAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Federal data show since 2009, mining employment and coal production has fallen by about 50 percent in the Ohio Valley. The energy shift is already underway, Morris said, but without the part that would help communities make the transition.

hindsight2020-mine-prodAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“We’re in it. We’re in the transition,” said Morris, who is a senior fellow and policy director at the nonpartisan think tank. “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But it’s not fair. And that’s what I think should be urgently at the top of the agenda of the policymakers from coal country, and they’re not, in my opinion.”

Legislative Attempt

One lawmaker is making a pitch in West Virginia. State Del. Evan Hansen, a Democrat representing the north-central county of Monongalia, has introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a state Just Transition Office, and a community-led advisory committee that would focus on helping West Virginia communities affected by the decline of coal.

“The primary goal here is to write a just transition plan for the state of West Virginia that would look at ways to funnel funding into these communities and other types of resources into these communities in a manner that’s led by what people in those communities think is best,” Hansen said.

The bill is modeled after similar legislation that passed in Colorado. On Wednesday, the West Virginia version passed out of one of the two committees to which it was referred, but Hansen acknowledges it faces a long road to becoming law with the state’s legislative session more than halfway done.

Still, he believes the appetite is growing among the state’s lawmakers to address coal’s decline.

“I would say privately many legislators of both parties acknowledge that there is a transition going on and that this is one of the most important issues that we need to deal with as a Legislature,” Hansen said.

Not everyone is a fan of the bill, including the West Virginia Coal Association.

“Sounds to me like that they think that it would be much better if it were something other than the coal miners,” said the group’s president Bill Raney. “And that bothers me a whole lot because we got the best coal miners in the world.”

Raney’s group is pushing a bill this legislative session that would require West Virginia coal plants to burn the same amount of coal they did in 2019 in the years ahead, regardless of what makes most economic sense.

Of major note during the discussion was how to pay for a “just transition.”

Today most economic transition work in the region comes from federal programs including the Appalachian Regional Commission and Abandoned Mine Land program funding, which offer grants to coal-affected communities in the millions of dollars range.

Morris has estimated the region will require tens of billions of dollars over the next decade and would require some kind of regulatory leadership from Washington, D.C., preferably a carbon tax. Democratic candidates who have supported the idea have differing ways to fund it, although most rely heavily on investing in clean energy and decarbonizing the economy through a “Green New Deal.”

Some in the region have encouraged lawmakers and candidates looking at these climate policies to engage with residents directly.

That includes Cecil Roberts, head of the United Mine Workers of America. In September, he spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He expressed concern the type of sweeping change Democratic presidential candidates are promising may be too big of a lift for Congress given its past track record in helping coal country.

“We want our health care saved, and if you can’t do that, and it’s been 10 years, how do you think we’re going to believe that you’re going to be able to give us a just transition from the coal industry to some other employment?” he said.

Kentucky Conversations 

Chuck Fluharty, President and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, helped to organize a community-centered, just transition model in eastern Kentucky called Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR. He said SOAR has shown this type of work is possible, especially if a community-centric approach is embraced. However, it’s not easy.

SOAR’s premise is built upon a collective impact investing model that engaged the public, private and philanthropic sectors.

IMG_4112Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky entrepreneurs show their products at the 2019 SOAR Summit.

“The real proof of the pudding is in how broad collective commitment is, and is it there for the money or is it there for the future?” he said. “How much it is about investing and not simply dropping dollars on the table.”

Some politicians hope to engage coalfield communities directly about how to balance implementing climate legislation while protecting workers and investing in communities. Kentucky Democratic state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker recently launched a series of town meetings on the subject in the heart of eastern Kentucky coal country.

Even among those who support a just transition, questions remain about how best to do it. Morris said there is little data on what has worked in economic transitions in the past. Her team has looked at the impact of military base closures, for example, but said the analogy isn’t perfect. Worker retraining efforts often have mixed results.

“There’s this policy design challenge of how do you get from the wholesale dollars of the federal government into well designed retail level grants and assistance and so on,” she said. “I’m still struggling with exactly how you do that in a way that gets those resources out, but does it in a way that that gives people comfort that it’s responsibly allocated.”

In a report published last July, Morris and colleagues at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University quantified just how much of a coal-producing county’s budget came from coal, and how big a hole their budgets might face without coal revenue.

Then the authors turned to the various policy proposals to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which would set a price on each ton of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere.

Morris said that the revenue generated by such policies could be steered into the type of investments needed and at a scale that would make a just transition more likely.

For example, a carbon tax of $25 per ton would likely raise a trillion dollars in revenue over 10 years, she said.

“And that kind of revenue allows for a very generous support for coal-reliant areas,” Morris said.

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