Politics & Government

Lexington police order shutdown protesters away from Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office

Lexington police ordered several dozen protesters to leave the lobby of a Corporate Drive building Wednesday where they had gathered outside the district office of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

The protesters, including unpaid federal employees from around Central Kentucky, were trying to deliver a letter to McConnell’s staff demanding that the Senate Republican Leader reopen the government. But McConnell’s staff locked the office’s glass door and refused to open it.

McConnell’s staff was meeting with constituents inside the office during the protest, McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said later.

After a few minutes, several police officers arrived on the scene and loudly ordered anyone who did not work in the building to leave.

The protesters quickly complied, moving outside to the windy, rainy parking lot.

Police spokeswoman Brenna Angel said officers were called to the office building, which is privately owned, after a crowd of protesters and reporters entered it. There were no problems after officers asked the crowd to leave, Angel said.

“Anytime there are demonstrations or protests, our officers do their best to make sure everyone involved stays safe and individual rights are respected,” Angel said.

Wednesday was Day 33 of the partial government shutdown that has left an estimated 800,000 federal employees without pay. President Trump wants $5.7 billion for a border wall with Mexico before he will agree to reopen the government. Congress has not been willing to comply.

On Thursday, McConnell will arrange for the Senate to vote on Trump’s pitch to fund his border wall and end the shutdown, Steurer said. Under Senate rules, if that measure does not pass, there will be a separate vote on a Democratic-backed package to open up the government immediately without giving Trump money for his wall.

The people outside McConnell’s office on Wednesday said life has been difficult since their wages stopped Dec. 21.

“I’m essential personnel, so I have to show up for work every day to ensure that our skies are safe,” said one of the protesters, Taylor Bell, a 24 year-old Transportation Security Administration agent at Bluegrass Airport in Lexington.

“But we’ve missed one paycheck so far, and our next paycheck is due Feb. 1,” Bell said. “I can tell you, I was threatened with eviction in January from my apartment complex. I had to pull out a personal loan from my bank in order to pay my bills. So it’s been tough.”

Reese Greer, middle, a Census Bureau employee, talked to a Lexington Police Sergeant after he asked them to leave the property as a gathering of federal employees and supporters held a rally Wednesday outside U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s Lexington office on Corporate Drive. They made speeches outside and then went inside the building to his office where they unsuccessfully attempted to deliver letters to his office, which was locked. Lexington Police officers soon arrived and had them leave the private property. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Bell credited $500 in assistance she received from The Calipari Foundation, the nonprofit organized by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, which is helping furloughed federal workers. Also, she said, individuals and area businesses drop off food every day for TSA agents at the airport.

“We are very grateful for that. A lot of people are depending on the food that is being donated,” Bell said. “It’s awesome. It’s the silver lining throughout this shutdown. It gives us hope that, whereas our government right now is — well, it’s the way that it is — we are still being supported by our local community.”

Also working without pay for the past month is Jodi Dize, 42, a corrections officer for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in Lexington.

“I feel like we’re being spit in the face right now,” Dize said.

“For me, personally, our mortgage lender has been very good to us. They understand what’s going on because everybody knows our situation,” Dize said. “But some of our brothers and sisters haven’t been so lucky. The utility companies are saying, you know, ‘Too bad.’ So they have to pick and choose. Do I put food on the table or do I buy the medications my parents need? It’s a struggle.”

“This is my birthday month,” she added. “I have to renew my (car) tags. We don’t have the extra money for me to renew my tags, so how am I going to get to work legally? It’ll get paid, but I’ll have to ask for help from friends until we do finally get our paychecks.”

John Cheves is a government accountability reporter at the Lexington Herald-Leader. He joined the newspaper in 1997 and previously worked in its Washington and Frankfort bureaus and covered the courthouse beat.