Republicans reflect on electoral victories, look ahead to policy changes at state, national levels

12/03/2016 06:02 PM

FRANKFORT — After surprising even themselves in winning a 64-member supermajority in the state’s House of Representatives on Election Day, the state GOP took a victory lap of sorts during Saturday’s state central executive committee meeting at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has seen just about everything during his 32 years manning one of the state’s highest elected offices, and he remembered being “nervous as hell” during his first Fancy Farm when he sat alongside a handful of county chairman on the Republican side of the stage.

That’s changed considerably since then, but the state’s House of Representatives had been a difficult target to hit until this year’s election cycle.

McConnell traced the beginnings of this year’s 16-seat swing to a meeting with House Speaker-elect Jeff Hoover and other House Republican leaders after his 2014 re-election.

“We concluded that we needed to have a campaign chairman, and Jonathan (Shell, incoming House majority floor leader) was anxious to do that job, and Jeff thought it was a good idea to have somebody in the leadership who was focused entirely on winning,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell recalled watching this year’s election returns in Washington with three things on his mind: taking the state House, holding the U.S. Senate and electing a Republican president.

“To be perfectly candid with you, I was pretty optimistic about the state House, pretty pessimistic, honestly, about holding the Senate, and I’ll tell you why in a minute, and I didn’t think we were going to win the White House either,” he said.

“So when I got a phone call about 8:30 or 9 o’clock finding out we had not only taken the House, we’d won 17 seats, I thought, ‘Well this is the end of my celebration.’”

McConnell spoke with Hoover, R-Jamestown, by phone after Republicans netted a 64-member supermajority, and the incoming House speaker said he planned to return the favor when the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 3.

Hoover didn’t shed much light on specifics of the House Republican agenda heading into next year’s 30-day session, only saying the GOP caucus will prioritize “business policies that will spur economic growth and create jobs.”

With such a short timeframe, he said the General Assembly with only have time to focus on a handful of issues. He told those in attendance Saturday that they would be “pleased” once the subject of House Bill 1 is revealed.

“It’s interesting, my friends in the press are always looking to create some division and go on a different path than maybe we want to, but we’ve been very clear that our priority at the end of the day is to create jobs in this state and to change the business climate,” he said.

Speaking about national politics, McConnell said President-elect Donald Trump was able to “breach the blue wall” in traditionally Democratic states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin because of a “comeback” for rural and working-class voters.

He said his pledge to block President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee also helped.

“For suburban Republicans who were reluctant to come on board, the fundamental difference was, ‘Do I want Hillary Clinton filling this Supreme Court vacancy or do I want Donald Trump?’” McConnell said. “So now that I’m the offensive coordinator my friends, we’ll be filling the Supreme Court vacancy with a conservative in the near future.”

McConnell, who will lead a 52-seat Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, said Congress will begin the lengthy work of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act during the first week of Trump’s administration, with plans to take up tax reform later.

Congress will also start confirming Trump’s cabinet picks before his inauguration, according to McConnell.

That will include his wife, transportation secretary nominee Elaine Chao, and retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who will need a waiver from Congress to serve as defense secretary since he served as an active duty serviceman in the past seven years.

McConnell says he sees that happening.

“Gen. Mattis is an outstanding appointment,” he told Pure Politics. “I believe the waiver, which will be required for him to be secretary of defense, will be approved by the Senate and the House on a bipartisan basis.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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