Democrats delve into Louisville unrest during Senate forum

Democrat Amy McGrath stayed on the attack against Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while her two leading primary opponents in Kentucky's Senate race played up differences with her during a televised debate Monday night.

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Appearing on Kentucky Educational Television about three weeks before the primary, McGrath, Charles Booker and Mike Broihier answered questions on issues including racial and income inequality, gun rights and the unrest embroiling the state's largest city. Booker and Broihier stressed their progressive credentials, with both supporting a universal basic income.

McGrath, widely seen as the favorite among a pack of Democrats vying to challenge McConnell in November, played up her differences with the Republican. She accused the veteran senator of having a “long history of undermining unions" and said he has resisted efforts to lower prescription drug prices.

“I’m not a polished politician," McGrath said. “I’m somebody who looks at things through the lens of being a wife and being a mother and being a United States Marine."

Responding to the criticism, McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden said in a statement that McGrath was “obviously told by her Washington, D.C., Democratic handlers that insincere and inauthentic political pablum is the best way to hide her extremist views."

The three contenders are among a number of Democrats running for their party’s nomination in the June 23 primary to challenge McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term.

Early questions during the hourlong Democratic forum focused on the waves of protests that hit Louisville since last week.

Booker and Broihier said National Guard soldiers should be pulled back after a fatal shooting while authorities were enforcing a curfew in Louisville.

The decision to call in the Guard was made by a fellow Democrat, Gov. Andy Beshear, in an effort to quell violence amid a series of protests in Kentucky's largest city.

Booker, a state lawmaker from Louisville, said the Guard was sent in “like a military force as if they are at war with taxpaying citizens.” He said there are many good people in law enforcement but said the Guard’s presence escalated tensions in Louisville.

“They took an adversarial posture, a confrontational posture to people that are hurting and demanding to be accounted for,” he said.

Broihier also said he thinks the Guard should be called off, saying they were placed in a “very sensitive and difficult operation.”

Broihier — whose broad resume includes a career as a Marine officer, farmer and small-town newspaperman — called for a demilitarization of police forces.

You can start the process by stopping selling military equipment to police forces," he said. “There’s just no reason that a municipal police department or county police department needs to have armored vehicles. It sets the wrong mindset. And the police, they think they’re at war. In war you need an enemy. And the enemy, sadly, too many times, are African-Americans.”

McGrath, a former Marine combat pilot, accused McConnell of not being focused on his constituents.

“He is somebody who is constantly pushing for dysfunction when somebody of the other party is in power,” McGrath said. “That’s why he’s so bad for Kentucky and our country.”

McGrath said she would be willing to work with President Donald Trump, if he is re-elected, on legislation to improve infrastructure. But she also said Trump's trade war was hurting Kentucky.

Broihier said the severe economic downturn amid the coronavirus pandemic has shown the need for a single-payer health care system.

“We have a health care system that’s tied to employment," he said. “And we’ve just put 40 million Americans on unemployment.”

McGrath said she would favor a public option that allows patients to buy into a federal plan or keep their employer insurance if they favor it.

In touting a universal basic income. Booker said: “If we want to break the cycle of poverty, we need to make sure people have the financial freedom to make decisions in their lives. We know that we can afford to do it because, honestly, we can’t afford not to do it.”