Kentucky is dying.
Black lung, COPD, emphysema.
This month’s Journal of the American Medical Association reports “the largest cluster ever reported of advanced black lung, also known as progressive massive fibrosis, was confirmed in an area that includes southeastern Kentucky.” Coal miners like Roger Cook worked for 32 years. He died at 61. Roger Cook is the norm.
Then there is our opioid crisis where 1,471 Kentuckians died in 2016 trying to tamp down their pain, with even higher numbers expected for 2017. A friend of ours got a call that his granddaughter was dead on her porch. Fentanyl. She left behind two little girls who will now go to live with their father, also an addict.
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We aren’t even surprised anymore. This is Kentucky life, and death.
President Donald Trump said we were going to win so much we would get tired of winning. But so far, the only winners here in the Bluegrass are morphine, fentanyl, Oxycodone, Alprazolam and heroin.
Though Kentucky rates well for quality of life at No. 27 out of the 50 states, according to U.S. News and World Report, we rank No. 49 for quality of health care, No. 38 in higher education, No. 45 in economic opportunity and No. 46 in fiscal stability.
Which begs the question: How does our senior senator — the man who has represented Kentucky for more than three decades — explain numbers like these?
I met Sen. Mitch McConnell Feb. 21, 2017 at a small, ticketed town hall, a paper-plate buffet at the Lawrenceburg VFW. We said hello when I handed him the spoon for the potato salad, while outside a large group of angry, frustrated protesters chanted for change, held back by police and chain link.
When it came time to talk, the senator threw the audience his tired, go-to bones — “elections have consequences, winners make policy and losers go home” — before scampering out the back door the minute questions turned tough. Too bad, as he missed the heavily pregnant young woman, a cancer survivor toting a toddler on her hip, trying to ask about health care before being screamed down by a retired local surgeon in a red MAGA hat.
I know the senator is busy, dealing as he must with the White House scandale du jour, and mainstream media are swept up with porn-star payments and a president who can’t be bothered to denounce Nazis, fight for new gun laws or read his daily intelligence brief.
But meanwhile, Kentucky is back here dying, desperate as we are to keep our kids from killing their classmates with easy-access guns and terrified of losing affordable health care.
While our senior senator hides out in Washington D.C., Gov. Matt Bevin sends thoughts and prayers, focused as he is on cutting teacher pensions and getting our underfunded schools to consider Bible literacy classes. But how much manpower and money will be needed to manage Bevin’s Medicaid work requirement for people too sick to work?
This is not winning. This is lunacy.
In a couple of months, Kentucky’s unseemly problems will be swept aside for our annual, crowning spectacle: the Kentucky Derby. But will anyone notice, amidst the fancy hats and mint juleps and million-dollar Thoroughbreds, that it’s the immigrants — the brown people Congress and the president are so keen on deporting — who keep this tradition going?
If he has a minute, maybe McConnell could share this staple of the Bluegrass economy with the president.
Kentucky is dying, and we have so much need. We need health care, education, infrastructure, an addiction recovery plan, sensible gun reform, money for teachers, new economic opportunities and paths to citizenship for the people doing the work.
The senator was right last year at the VFW, in his speech over the paper plates and potato salad. Elections have consequences. Losers go home. And the senator has squandered 32 of our years. I’d say his time is up.
Teri Carter is a writer in Lawrenceburg. Reach her at KentuckyTeri@gmail.com.