By Roger Alford
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell received a hero’s welcome Wednesday at a Louisville aluminum fabricating plant that had fallen on hard times until he helped pass fair trade legislation, protecting some 400 jobs.
In a post-earmarks Washington, McConnell has been using his political muscle to protect jobs at home. In recent weeks, he’s been credited with helping to preserve some 1,200 jobs at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant for at least another year, and with protecting 200 jobs at garment factories in Campbellsville and Olive Hill.
For generations, Kentucky politicians have been judged on their success in directing federal dollars to their home state. With that option out of favor, they’ve had to find other ways to prove their worth – such as protecting jobs.
McConnell arrived to applause Wednesday at Cardinal Aluminum Co., posing for photographs with employees, even signing autographs, all because he had helped to win passage of the legislation earlier this year that protected the Louisville firm and others like it from unfair trade practices.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for the company and for me,” said maintenance technician Allan Hill, stretching out his hand to shake with McConnell.
McConnell said he was simply doing his job.
“I wasn’t sent to Washington just to work on international issues,” he said. “I was also sent to look out for Kentucky. And I’m grateful that I was able to be helpful in this particular instance.”
McConnell’s focus on protecting jobs, besides endearing him to voters, is sending a no-so-subtle message about the value of re-electing him in 2014. The idea, said University of Louisville political scientist Dewey Clayton, is to show that Kentuckians benefit from having McConnell to continue serving as the Senate Republican leader, a powerful post that gives him clout on all issues, including jobs.
“When you start talking about jobs, you’re talking about bread and butter issues,” Clayton said. “When you keep a plant from closing, people get that.”