When Republicans held their annual Lincoln Day Dinner last August, Democrats still held the majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives and Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite to be the president of the United States.
When hundreds of Republicans gathered again in Louisville on Saturday, much had changed.
“We’re taking America in a different direction,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “The liberals are going to struggle and fight and protest every step of the way, but we’re the ones in charge now and we intend to deliver every step of the way.”
The pace of that progress has proven to be a challenge. As President Donald Trump has become openly critical of McConnell for failing to pass health care reform, to the point where the New York Times reported the two hadn’t spoken for weeks, McConnell continued to preach that legislative progress takes time.
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“A lot of people look at all that and find it frustrating, messy,” McConnell said. “Well welcome to the Democratic process, that’s the way it is in our country.”
As has become common, McConnell didn’t mention the feud, or the political drama du jour. Instead, he highlighted Republican successes in the past year — namely the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“The single biggest decision I’ve ever made in my political career was the decision not to do something,” McConnell said. “And that was not to let Barack Obama have that Supreme Court seat.”
McConnell pointed to the removal of some Obama-era regulations and the passage of three bipartisan bills during the Obama presidency — two that dealt with health care and one that dealt with highways — but admitted that passing a legislative agenda takes time.
On the state level, the passage of a conservative agenda has come quickly. After winning control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in 95 years, and with it control of Frankfort, Republicans passed a litany of conservative reform for the state.
“In a short 30-day period, they completely changed the image of our state,” McConnell said. “Honestly, other than the Kentucky Derby, there wasn’t much to sell.”
Lawmakers are in the process of trying to make at least one more big change this year — reforming the state’s pension system.
Gov. Matt Bevin renewed his plea for lawmakers in Frankfort to deal with the pension crisis and said he has held successful meetings with leaders in the House and Senate to start laying the groundwork for those plans.
So far, few details have been publicly released about what lawmakers plan to do with pension reform. Bevin did not give tips to the hundreds of Republicans at the dinner.
“How we will deal with the pension crisis in this state is going to define not only Kentucky, not only the legacies of these gentlemen and the bodies that they lead; not only my own, but frankly Kentucky’s and America’s as well.”