HAZARD — On Nov. 8, Kentuckians will decide who represents the Commonwealth as United States Senator. One of Kentucky’s two senate seats is occupied by Mitch McConnell. The other seat belongs to Rand Paul. However, Rand Paul, a republican, has a democratic challenger in the November election, and that challenger is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
Gray made a trip to Hazard Friday, and he stopped by the Hazard Herald to talk about his campaign and his plans for the Senate.
“I grew up in a small town,” Gray said, “I am a seventh generation Kentuckian. My father passed away when I was 19. I came home from school to help save the family business. We struggled. But with the help of family and friends, we recovered, and we built our business over time. But what I am really proud of is the jobs we have created. More than 20 thousand people a day walk through the doors of plants built by Gray Construction. We helped recruit many of the plants all across the state; more than 500 projects in 53 counties. We built our business based on core values; treat others the way you want to be treated; value safety and quality of life; put customers and relationships first. I put those same principles of running a business into running Lexington. I don’t say government can be operated just like a business because it is different. But you can take good business practices and principles into running a government. So, when I faced a 30 million dollar budget deficit right out of the gate, we addressed it. We addressed an underfunded pension of 350 million dollars by fixing it. It was characterized as the most effective pension reform in the country. So, we’re very proud of that. We had a healthcare plan for city employees that was underwater, losing 20 million dollars. We had to fix it. We fixed it by creating our own clinic, our own pharmacy and saving costs. Then we made investments. We invested in our city in public safety; police and fire. We made investments in public housing in a big way. We increased the minimum wage. The federal government wouldn’t do it, but we took it on. So, I have taken on some really tough challenges.”
In terms of Southeastern Kentucky specifically, Jim Gray pinpointed job creation as the biggest issue. In the Jobs Plan he has established as part of his agenda, Gray speaks of the power and the potential that the workforce in Southeastern Kentucky holds.
“So many of the social issues that we have, including drug addiction, have a root cause in not having sufficient job opportunities,” said Gray, “I say routinely that some of the most productive people in America are coal miners. And people in the mountains love home. Jobs are precious. They give meaning and purpose to life. Everybody wants a good job. “
As for his opponent, Jim Gray claims Rand Paul has not done a satisfactory job representing mountain communities.
“I don’t know if Rand Paul has ever created a job in his life. If you look at his record, he has not been good for coal miners. If you look at his record, all he has done is run for president. If you look at his record, he voted against the Hal Rogers bill that would invest millions in coal mine reclamation. He voted against training assistance for laid off workers. He is against the miner’s pension bill currently in Congress. He wanted to cut funding for the Federal Highway Administration, voted against the American Jobs Act of 2011, voted against the Rebuild America Jobs Act which would have supported at least 5,900 jobs in Kentucky and invested $500 million in Kentucky roads and bridges.”
When asked about the biggest issue he hopes to tackle, if Kentucky voters grant him a Senate seat, Gray said,
“We need to get our arms around growing the economy. A 1 to 1 and a half percent growth is not enough to give people opportunities. We have got to grow it at a 3 percent to 4 percent clip for the middle class to grow and prosper. If I look at any single issue that is most troubling, it is the lack of opportunity for the middle class today.”
Gray expressed joy for his trip through the mountains and he praised the warmth of the people he spoke with, while he was here. Gray said he has worked hard to deliver his message to voters in this region and he believes many will connect with his ideas for the country and the Commonwealth.
“I think people here are independent thinkers and they are going to vote based on the person. That’s very reassuring to me and very encouraging because I think once my record is out there, then they’re going to choose Jim Gray because I’ve done stuff. I’ve actually performed and I’ve actually gotten results.”
Along with continuing to serve in the Senate, Rand Paul has also been on the campaign trail. Jim Gray continues to hold his position as Mayor of Lexington, which is an office he will leave if elected to the Senate. With the Presidential race taking place this year, voter turnout is expected to be high. A little over a month is all that remains until Kentucky’s voters make a major choice for the nation as a whole, not only for President, but also for Senator.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.