Thanks To Mitch McConnell, Hemp Production Might Be Coming To Kentucky

Esquire By Jim Higdon

LOUISVILLE, KY. -- When President Obama signed the Farm Bill in Michigan on Friday afternoon, the "McConnell Hemp Provision" became the first Congressional action to roll back the prohibition on marijuana since World War II. That's right. Mitch McConnell might have accidentally taken the first step toward ending the Drug War.

"By exploring innovative ways to use hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, while avoiding negative impact to Kentucky law enforcement's efforts at marijuana interdiction, the pilot programs authorized by this legislation could help boost our state's economy."

Mitch McConnell said that? Yes he did.

How did Sen. McConnell become eponymous with language that permits pilot plots of the plant that until 2:45 eastern time on Friday were considered by the federal government to be indistinguishable from marijuana, a drug that remains classified by the Obama administration as Schedule I? It has left more than a few people scratching their heads.

The short answer is that hemp is popular in Kentucky: 65 percent of Kentuckians support industrial hemp, including 53 percent of self-described conservatives, according to a Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll released February 6, the day before the president signed the Farm Bill into law.

This comes on the heels of other polls showing McConnell's job approval rating is lower than President Obama's in Kentucky and with McConnell trailing his presumptive democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, by four points. So, McConnell could use all the popular issues he can get.

Grimes and her campaign read the same polls. Though she has not been leading on this issue, Grimes recognizes that she cannot simply gainsay the hemp provision simply because McConnell claims authorship of it, as some in her party have.

"I support any legal opportunity to create jobs," Grimes says. "The measure allows pilot hemp programs, and I hope it does benefit our Kentucky farmers."

With that tepid statement, Ms. Grimes becomes only the second Kentucky democrat to support industrial hemp, after Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville testified with his republican colleagues at a state senate committee hearing on the economic benefits of industrial hemp last year.

"I was proud to stand up for industrial hemp in Kentucky from the beginning, to testify to its economic benefits last year with Sen. Paul, Congressman Massie, and Commissioner Comer, and to work with my colleagues to advance this Kentucky priority in Washington," Yarmuth says.

The vacuum of democratic leadership on this issue (with the exception of Yarmuth) is what led to the opening that allowed McConnell to seize upon a popular issue that democrats had not claimed as their own. But the question remains for a national audience trying to make sense of Kentucky politics from the outside: If hemp is so popular, why are Kentucky democrats so afraid of it?

Hemp's original sin was to be born to a parent of the wrong party because James Comer, Kentucky's agricultural commissioner, is a republican. Last year, Comer shepherded a hemp bill through the Kentucky legislature by overcoming every obstacle thrown at him by the speaker of the general assembly, the governor, and the attorney general -- all democrats.

Once the hemp bill became law in Kentucky last year, Yarmuth's republican colleagues in DC introduced hemp bills in both chambers. When Sen. Paul refiled his hemp bill at the beginning of this 113th Congress, Sen. McConnell came aboard as a cosponsor.

On July 11, 2013, the Farm Bill passed the House with language attached that would allow hemp for university studies, authored by two Kentucky republicans, Thomas Massie and Andy Barr. What McConnell takes credit for as "the McConnell Hemp Provision," is an expansion of this language in the final Farm Bill to include not just universities, but also state agricultural departments, like the one run by James Comer in Kentucky.

McConnell's maneuver to seize the mantle of libertarian pragmatist is a gambit that anyone could easily call out as craven, but democrats in Kentucky have done everything they could to derail the hemp train, so they can hardly criticize McConnell now for claiming credit for getting the train to station.

But with Grimes's lukewarm support, perhaps the democrats are slowly coming around to the idea that they can challenge the Drug War status quo now without hardline republicans labeling them as "soft on crime" when it's the republicans legalizing hemp.

Or maybe not. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway's office is not commenting on whether the McConnell Hemp Provision satisfies its concerns. Conway, a Democrat best known to a national audience as the U.S. Senate candidate who lost to Rand Paul, is the last legal obstacle to hemp farming in Kentucky. Before the Farm Bill was signed last week, the attorney general's position was that before hemp can be grown, Kentucky must obtain a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration -- even as other states move forward with recreational marijuana legalization.

So now, Conway's office is waiting for the DEA's interpretation of the McConnell Hemp Provision before commenting. Will this last obstacle fall, or will the DEA find a narrow interpretation of the hemp provision that would discourage farmers from participating in pilot projects?

But it's not just Kentucky democrats that have gone soft on reforming our drug laws, it's the Obama administration, too.

On Thursday, a DEA spokesman said that the DEA "does not comment on pending legislation," and on Friday afternoon after President Obama had signed the Farm Bill into law, the spokesman did not return repeated phone calls from seeking comment. On Monday, the DEA responded with this statement:

"Under the newly enacted "hemp" provision of the FARRM Bill [sic], certain producers of 'industrial hemp' (as defined in the bill) will be permitted to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. Specifically, institutions of higher education (colleges and universities), along with state departments of agriculture, will be permitted to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes, provided such production is authorized by State law, and the research is done as part of an agricultural pilot program, or other agricultural academic research. The provision defines "industrial hemp" as cannabis containing 0.3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinols [sic] (THC)."

This statement says nothing that wasn't already known, other than it confirms that the DEA understands that federal law has changed.

When asked directly whether the DEA interprets the Farm Bill as to permitting farmers to engage in commerce with the hemp they produce in these pilot projects -- whether farmers will be allowed to sell their hemp -- the DEA will not comment.

The DEA spokesman referred up the chain to the Department of Justice, and we've asked them the same question: Will hemp farmers be allowed to sell their hemp? As of the end of day Wednesday, the DOJ has yet to respond.

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Reagan Alumnus Blasts Bevin’s TARP Defense

National Review Online

Politico story about Kentucky Senate candidate Matt Bevin’s past support for the 2008 Wall Street bailouts has drawn a broad variety of responses. (Bevin is challenging Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who voted for the 2008 program, called TARP.) 

On Glenn Beck’s radio show, Bevin defended himself by saying that he was required by law to sign his company’s investment prospectuses — one of which happened to support TARP. As a result, Bevin says, his signature doesn’t indicate that he endorsed the legislation that he now criticizes.

Chuck Cooper, a prominent conservative lawyer who was an assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice under Edwin Meese during the Reagan administration, disagrees — strongly. He tells National Review Online that Bevin’s defense, in fact, should make Kentucky voters wary.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act imposes certain requirements to ensure that investors can have confidence that the highest-ranking officers in companies vouched for their reports, Cooper says. If Bevin disagreed with the content of a report or thought it was inaccurate, under the law, he had an obligation to change it before signing off.

“If he thought there were a statement in that report and he couldn’t vouch for its accuracy, he was required to change it,” Cooper says. “That was the whole point of Sarbanes-Oxley.”

And that should give Kentucky Republican primary voters pause, Cooper continues.

“He even said, ‘don’t call it a bailout’!” Cooper says, referring to the report Bevin signed. “Now he’s calling it a bailout. Now, I’m a tea-party-type Reagan-era conservative, so I think it’s a bailout. But I really think this goes to the most fundamental questions of his credibility and the integrity of his campaign for office.”


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McConnell Makes Campaign Stops in Coal Country


U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has held events with coal miners in eastern and western Kentucky in his campaign to keep his seat.

McConnell's campaign says he launched his "Coal Country for Team Mitch" effort with stops in Hazard and Madisonville on Saturday.

The Republican senator, who says he is a strong supporter of the coal industry, received support from coal miners in both locations.

McConnell, the longest-serving senator in state history, is seeking a sixth term. He is being challenged in the GOP primary by Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Democratic front-runner in this year's Senate race. She is in her first term as Kentucky's secretary of state.

Coal mining, a major industry in the state, has emerged as a central issue in the race.


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Officials celebrate opening of National Guard facility at Bluegrass Station

Herald Leader

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray joined military officials on Friday to celebrate the opening of a new facility at Bluegrass Station in rural Fayette County that officials said helped save 2,800 Kentucky jobs.

Adjutant General Edward Tonini called the opening of the National Guard's Consequence Management Support Center "an absolute grand slam home-run," saying that elected officials had stepped in to make the expansion possible, protecting jobs, making more jobs likely and safe-guarding a facility that has an annual economic impact of $230 million in Central Kentucky.

"Kentucky will grow as a key component in the support of men and women in uniform as we literally clothe and supply ... all the branches of our military," Tonini said.

The new facility will support the National Guard Bureau's Homeland Defense Mission by providing around-the-clock logistical support to 111 specialized National Guard Homeland Defense Units located around the U.S. It will employ 66 people.

A former Army installation, Bluegrass Station has evolved into an industrial park for military contractors. About 2,800 people work at the facility for aerospace and defense companies, including Lockheed Martin Corp.

Tonini heaped praise on McConnell Friday for helping to negotiate with several federal agencies beginning in 2011 to allow for repurposing portions of Bluegrass Station, calling the senator "a true friend of the National Guard."

Federal deed restrictions had limited the lands to public recreation use only.

"To us, Sen. McConnell is our go-to guy to make sense of senseless situations," Tonini said.

McConnell called the event a "happy occasion," describing the process of getting a green light for the building a "bureaucratic nightmare."

"To put it another way, too many cooks were spoiling the broth," McConnell said.

Gray was applauded for his efforts in working with the state legislature to make sure the facility could open.

"Being here today ... is inspiring in many ways and remarkable," Gray said.



Will Obama Help Republicans Create Jobs?

Op-Ed by Senator Mitch McConnell


In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for both parties to work together to pass trade promotion legislation that could “open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA’” and generate more jobs here in the U.S.

But then, less than 24 hours after the president’s call for bipartisan action, the Senate majority leader -- a fellow Democrat -- delivered what one newspaper called a “body blow” to compromise on trade. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada suggested he wouldn’t even allow the trade legislation to come up for discussion -- effectively telling the president and pro-trade Democrats and Republicans to sit down and be quiet.

Why? Because powerful special interests oppose legislation that would increase U.S. exports. Because influential allies on the left can’t reconcile their obsolete ideological theories with the reality of America’s 21st-century economy.

Well, maybe Democratic leaders in Washington, such as the Senate majority leader, are content to cede trade jobs to other countries -- but I’m not. Neither is my party. Republicans want those jobs right here in the U.S.

“China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines,” Obama said in his address Tuesday night. “Neither should we.”

He’s right.

The president and I might not always see eye to eye, but he’s spot-on here. Republicans and Democrats should be working together to pass the trade legislation necessary to rev up our economy and get more Americans to work in the industries of the future. Trade has never been more important to our economy. It supports tens of millions of jobs (almost 500,000 in Kentuckyalone), represents about a third of our economy and holds the key to putting many more Americans to work.

About 95 percent of the potential customers for American-made goods live beyond our borders; obviously, we need to break down the antiquated barriers preventing U.S. businesses from reaching more of those customers if we want to create more jobs at home.

We could be achieving that goal -- if leaders in the president’s party would stop standing in the way.

One agreement being negotiated would expand American export opportunities in advanced economies within the European Union. Another would open access to a vast number of countries in the Asian-Pacific region -- linking 12 countries that make up about 40 percent of the global economy. Given that two-thirds of my state’s exports go to Asian-Pacific markets, Kentucky workers, farm families and small businesses stand to benefit enormously from the approval of a trade deal. That goes for the rest of the country, too.

It will be next to impossible to secure these deals if Democratic leaders in Washington refuse to help us act. This is where the president comes in. He keeps saying that the U.S. needs a “year of action,” and keeps promising to use his pen and his phone to make that happen.

Well, it’s time to prove he’s serious and pick up that phone to call Democratic leaders in Washington and their special-interest allies who are standing in the way of more American jobs.

This has to be done now because Obama has refused to lead on this issue for too long and has allowed the U.S. to stand idly by as other countries scoop up jobs and growth that should be ours.

That is no longer acceptable.

Republicans will do our part. But if the president is serious about seeing more exports stamped “Made in the USA,” he has to push his party and lead.

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McConnell edges Grimes in year-end fundraising

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) narrowly outraised his likely Democratic opponent in the fourth quarter.

Numbers released by the campaigns of McConnell and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) on Friday show McConnell raised $2.2 million to Grimes's $2.1 million. Last quarter — Grimes's first as a candidate — she outraised him $2.5 million to $2.3 million.

The GOP leader, who has been raising money for years in preparation for this year's election, maintains a massive advantage in cash on hand, with $10.9 million to Grimes's $3.5 million.

McConnell, though, has to contend first with a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin, who has the backing of some tea party groups. Bevin previously announced that he raised $900,000 in the fourth quarter, with a large chunk of that total coming with help from the Senate Conservatives Fund.

In both the primary and the general election, McConnell's race is expected to be one of the most contentious in the country.


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Senator Mitch McConnell Urges IRS Commissioner to Resist Proposed Changes


Calling it a war on free speech, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is urging the head of the Internal Revenue Service to resist rule changes regarding politically active groups that are tax-exempt.

The Obama administration is tightening the tax code for non-profits under section 501(c)4 to curb the influence of "social welfare" groups, which are often involved in political campaigns and activities.

The proposals were introduced last November by the Treasury Department in response to the IRS scandal, and they seek to define political activities explicitly in the tax code and determine which fall outside of the social welfare category.

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday morning, McConnell, who is up for re-election this year, said the president is trying to stifle his critics in the 2014 mid-terms. And the GOP leader is asking IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to consider other options.

Democrats and government watchdog groups argue these regulations are necessary in the face of the Citizens United, claiming the surge of money into federal elections has allowed many of these political organizations to masquerade as community-oriented groups.

From the New York Times:

Under current rules, promoting social welfare can include some political activity, along with unlimited amounts of lobbying. Some of the largest political nonprofits — like Americans for Prosperity, backed by the conservative philanthropists Charles and David Koch — have used that provision to justify significant expenditures on political ads.


Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group, praised the proposal as “an important step forward.” He added, “Enormous abuses have taken place under the current rules, which have allowed groups largely devoted to campaign activities to operate as nonprofit groups in order to keep secret the donors funding their campaign activities.”

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Subject of McConnell ad slams Grimes for 'slap in the face'

The Hill

By Alexandra Jaffe

The cancer survivor that served as the subject of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) first major TV ad is now slamming Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes for, what he believes, is a disrespectful response to the ad.

Robert Pierce, a Paducah energy worker and throat cancer survivor, praised McConnell in an ad released earlier this week for his efforts to secure cancer screenings and compensation for Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant workers.

Lundergan Grimes’ campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton pointed out that the new ad was an update of one McConnell ran in 2008, where he touted the same efforts for the same workers, but without Pierce as a spokesman. She said it was “insulting to Kentuckians for McConnell to haul out this old, dishonest play every six years when he's on the ballot.”

But, in a statement shared first with The Hill and issued Friday, Pierce criticized those comments.

“When the Alison Lundergan Grimes' campaign says my story was dishonest and recycled, it's a bit of a slap in the face to the people who are sick, and the people who will get sick in the future,” said Pierce. “The program didn't end in 2008 and cancer doesn't operate around election cycles, which is why I'm grateful that Senator McConnell is working to help us every day."

The original ad from the Senate Minority Leader was meant to humanize McConnell and highlight one way he’s used his power in Washington to help Kentuckians.

Democrats believe the Kentucky Senate race is one of their best opportunities for a pickup this cycle. McConnell is also facing a challenger from the right in businessman Matt Bevin.

Democrats have hammered McConnell on the perception that he’s out of touch with Kentucky and only concerned with his own welfare in Congress, and believe his unpopularity in the state could be his undoing.

But by using surrogates like Pierce — McConnell’s also had his wife speak on his behalf in campaign ads, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has praised him — the McConnell campaign is hoping to blunt some of those attacks and create a human connection with voters

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McConnell Releases First Two TV Ads of 2014

Roll Call

By Kyle Trygstad

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released his first two TV ads of the election year on Wednesday — positive spots emphasizing that he has utilized his position on Capitol Hill to help Kentuckians in need.

Facing a competitive re-election, the Kentucky Republican’s new ads tout his efforts on behalf of workers who got cancer after being exposed to high levels of radiation at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in southwestern Kentucky. One of the workers, Robert Pierce, who suffered from throat cancer, is featured in both ads and can only speak in a whisper.

“These days I don’t I have much of a voice, but I and so many Kentuckians have been helped by someone with a strong voice, Mitch McConnell,” he says. McConnell ran an ad highlighting this same theme at the start of the 2008 election year.

The ads are backed by a “significant, six-figure buy” and will air statewide. McConnell is defending his seat against fellow Republican Matt Bevin in the primary and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. 

The race is rated Leans Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.


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Mitch McConnell Launches Pre-emptive Strike on EPA Climate Rule


By Darren Goode 

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell moved Thursday to force a Senate vote on one of the prime regulations in President Barack Obama’s climate plan, a move that would force vulnerable Democrats to take a public stance on the controversial rule heading into the midterm elections.

McConnell is launching his attack as a disapproval resolution under the Congressional Review Act, a seldom-invoked law that allows the Senate to repeal a regulation with a simple majority vote.

Obama would certainly veto the resolution if it passes, and Republicans wouldn’t have the votes to override him. But in the meantime, Democrats facing tight reelection fights would have to vote for or against the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to throttle greenhouse gas emission from future coal-burning power plants. Some of those Democrats have already been trying to distance themselves from Obama’s environmental agenda and the troubled rollout of his health care plan.

“So the majority leader and his Democratic caucus now have a choice,” McConnell said. “Are they going to stand with the coal families under attack in places like Kentucky and West Virginia and Colorado, or are they going to continue to stand with the powerful left-wing special interests that want to see their jobs completely eliminated.”

Republican challenges to EPA rules under the CRA have failed to secure majority support in the Senate in recent years, and this is the first time a senator has filed such challenge to a rule that hasn’t become final yet. EPA isn’t scheduled to put out a final rule on the coal plants until September — it published the regulation in the Federal Register only last week.

“Mitch McConnell has made a sport out of abusing Senate rules, and now he’s just inventing new ones as it suits him,” said Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s deputy legislative director. “That’s not how lawmaking works.

“McConnell’s political maneuver is like asking for instant replay before the football is even snapped,” she added.

But McConnell argues that he has the Clean Air Act on his side.

He sent a letter Thursday to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro laying out his argument that he should be act now because EPA proposed the regulation “under a very unusual provision” of the Clean Air Act. The provision, McConnell argues, means that any power plant whose construction has begun after the regulation is published is already subject to the rule.

“Thus, the proposed GHG rule immediately changes the legal landscape for anyone seeking to develop a fossil fuel power plant,” McConnell wrote. The proposal would also “have enormous economic and practical ramifications,” he added.

McConnell’s CRA challenge is co-sponsored by 40 fellow Senate Republicans.

The National Association of Manufacturers applauded the move, saying the administration has been working on the power plant rule for almost two years despite industry pleas that the technology for capturing and storing carbon emissions isn’t ready to be deployed in power plants.

”It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but manufacturers are glad to see that Sen. McConnell is not backing down,” the group said.

McConnell’s maneuver was the second novel attack in two days against the EPA rule — showing that Obama’s critics aren’t going to let his climate policies go through without a fight. On Wednesday, the state of Nebraska filed a suit in federal district court seeking to block the proposed regulation, a departure from the usual strategy of filing such challenges in appellate court after a rule has become final.

On the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell said the administration’s intent was to block new coal plants and kill coal-related jobs. “The Obama administration appears to be sending signals that its latest regulation is actually just the beginning in a new expanded front in its war on coal,” he said.

Obama has made it clear that the EPA rule on future power plants is just the beginning. Later this year, EPA plans propose the first-ever regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. That would be a far greater hit on the coal industry, whose plants make up about 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas output.

The regulations, which amount to one of the most wide-reaching efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. history, are certain to face legal challenges that could add years to the timeline.

McConnell’s move comes as the leading Democratic challenger for his seat – Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes – is hosting an event late Thursday afternoon to “share her vision” for coal-rich eastern Kentucky.

The GOP leader’s announcement of the challenge also came on the same day that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other administration officials defended Obama’s climate strategy as urgent and justified during a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

McCarthy touted estimates that 97 percent of climate scientists think “that human-caused climate change is occurring,” and said her agency plays a “critical role” in cutting carbon pollution.

“The president believes that we have a moral obligation to our children to do what we can to reduce carbon pollution for the sake of their future,” added Nancy Sutley, the outgoing chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.


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