Closer Look: Barr, McGrath seeking Congressional seat

With less than a month left to decide who will represent Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District, it is still neck and neck between three-term incumbent Andy Barr and challenger Amy McGrath.

A recent New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll showed Barr (R-Lexington) with a one-point margin over McGrath (D-Georgetown). The poll, the Times acknowledged, received only 506 responses from nearly 30,000 phone calls throughout the district.

In nine other polls cited by the Times, McGrath and Barr each won four, with the final poll declared an even match.

The race has garnered national attention as a potential swing vote in the fall election to see if Democrats can make gains in the Republican-controlled federal government in the mid-term elections

Within the last month, The Sun met with both Barr and McGrath for extended interviews. Both were asked the same eight questions, and their answers are included below. In the interest of space, their full responses could not be printed, but the quotes represent their stance to the questions.

Andy Barr

Barr, a Lexington Republican, is running for a fourth consecutive term in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he serves on the Financial Services Committee and a task force to investigate terrorist financing, among other appointments. A former attorney, Barr is married to Carol and the father of two daughters.

Amy McGrath

McGrath, a Democrat from Georgetown, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in June 2017 after 24 years. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997 and served as a weapons systems officer before becoming a fighter pilot while serving in Afghanistan. She is married to Erik Henderson and is the mother of two boys and a girl.

Much attention has been paid to the television advertisements in your race. How do you approach determining their content and message?

Barr: Some have said these are attack ads. My opponent has been attacking me since the first moment she started running for this seat, saying totally incorrect things about me and my position on health care, totally incorrect things about my service, totally incorrect things about my position on trade, totally false things about my vote on tax cuts and what it means for middle class Kentuckians.

What I have done is in contrast to that, is I have featured ads with my opponent in her own words. To me, that is not an attack ad. That is a legitimate contrast of where I stand and where she stands.

I take people at their word. … The people of this district deserve to know where the candidates stand on the issues. These ads feature my opponent in her own words, and I think that’s fair.

McGrath: My message has been my message all along. I want to run a positive, substantive campaign, which is pretty much in stark contrast to what you’re seeing on the other side right now.

I want to be somebody of substance. I talk about health care in my ads. I talk about the issues we care about. I talk about my values, how I’ve served the country, my values as a mother and a daughter. Those are the things that are important to me.

I think it’s a pretty big contrast to the other side who’s done one positive ad about himself and five or six other ads attacking me for everything under the sun, which to me shows you the true character here, in my opinion, because when you are an incumbent in the seat and your party owns the House of Representatives and the Senate and the presidency, you have all the power and all you can do is attack your challenger? That tells you a lot about your ineffectiveness.

We are at a time when our country is as divided as ever, often along partisan lines. How do we fix that?

Barr: I have a demonstrated record of bipartisan achievement in Congress and working with Democrats to get things done. She talks about it. I’ve done it. … Example after example after example, not reported, but of me working across the aisle to get things done.

The truth is totally contrary to my opponent’s false narrative that I am somehow a partisan. I am working across the aisle to get things done and to solve problems for the people of this district.

McGrath: We fix it by electing people who will put the country and the people of the Sixth Congressional District above their political party. … You don’t fix Washington until you change the people who go to Washington.

(The divisiveness) is absolutely one of the reason’s I’m running. I’m tired of it. So many Americans are tired of it. … We need people who want to unify and want to bring us together and want to fix and solve some of the problems we have and not make them worse, not get a political win for their side… I don’t look at Republicans as the enemy. I’m married to one.

What needs to be done to improve health insurance and the Affordable Care Act?

Barr: What I voted to do was to stop the government from coercing people to buy something they don’t want and they can’t afford. That is not taking anything away from anyone. That is giving families the freedom to choose what’s best for them.

In addition, I voted for legislation that would help people afford health insurance. The Affordable Care Act, unfortunately, has resulted in skyrocketing premiums, the loss of health plans, skyrocketing deductibles and no choices on the (health care) exchange. That is not the definition of success.

When my opponent says I am for repeal, repeal, repeal, that is a total lie. I voted to fix our health care system by supporting association health plans, by supporting a refundable tax credit so people can go anywhere they want, on an exchange or off an exchange, and afford health insurance in the individual and small group market. … My votes were to fix those problems. …

What we need in health care to lower costs without growing government is more competition and choice, not more government.

McGrath: My feeling is we have the system we have right now. We need to try to make it better.

We have the Affordable Care Act, which was not a perfect piece of legislation, but I’ll tell you what Kentucky … was one of the best states, the best beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act.

It took our uninsured rate from above 20 percent to about 5 (percent). That’s a pretty good measure.

Now it didn’t get a whole lot of costs down, so we need to work on that. So one of the things we need to do is elect people who don’t want to undermine the system we have … It got a lot of people coverage. … What we have to do is shore it up.

No. 2 is we need to go beyond, because there are some holes in it. … One is a Medicare buy-in plan for Americans who are 55 and older. I think it’s something that’s practical. It would give people in that 55 to 65 age range the option to buy into Medicare early, easing some of the burden on the Affordable Care Act exchange system, and giving them the piece of mind they’re going into a system where they aren’t going to be thrown out, they aren’t going to lose their coverage.

Another one is the public option. That’s simply a choice to pick a government plan if you want one. … I propose you always ought to have the choice of Uncle Sam. It would make the cost go down because the private companies would have to compete with a public option. … I think we ought to move in that direction.

How do you balance your responsibilities to your constituents, political supporters and your party?

Barr: It’s really not that hard for me because I vote my conscience first and my district second. All other considerations are secondary.

…To me, it’s not a balancing act. It’s a very simple test. Does this policy advance the interests of my constituents or does it not?

On every single issue in this election, the policies I support, in my opinion, advance the interests of my constituents and the policies that my opponent supports would hurt my constituents.

McGrath: My first priority will always be the people of the Sixth District.

The only thing that would go higher than that would be a matter of national security. That’s always been my life. I’ve dedicated my life to public service and defending the country.

… After the people of the Sixth District comes my political party and all the things associated.

Every candidate says creating jobs is a priority. How do you think the federal government should approach that?

Barr: We’ve shifted policies. We delivered on our promises … The result is the strongest economy in a generation, a booming economy.

If you want a job in America today, you can get a job in America today.

… If there is one thing the employers in Clark County and around this district say that they need is labor, labor supply. We want to work on that issue and there are a combination of issues with the shortage of labor.

One is the drug issue, which we are actively working on. Another is welfare reform. We’ve got to stop able-bodied, work-capable adults to not work and then skills. We need to work on skills.

McGrath: This is a long-term effort and that’s why I came up with a 32-page economic plan for the Sixth District.

The short of it is there’s lots of things we need to do, but one of those is to invest in infrastructure, 21st-Century infrastructure. That’s things like rural broadband. That’s things like making sure our electrical grid is secure. These are the things that will help businesses grow in this area and want to be in this area.

… So we have to have leaders who understand that and will build the 21st-Century infrastructure such that businesses will want to come.

It’s kind of like electricity to Appalachia when (President Franklin D. Roosevelt) did that. He had the federal government do that. … These are things we have to think about at that level.

… We want jobs people can make a living on, where you don’t have to have three jobs to get by,  Those are things spurred on by technology which is spurred on by research and development.

If elected, what three things would you like to accomplish in a single term?

Barr: One thing I want to do is continue my work as a leader on the financial services committee. My colleagues gave me the responsibility in this Congress to chair a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the federal reserve system and to chair that subcommittee with over sight of the Treasury Department’s implementation of sanctions.

I want to continue the oversight over the economy, both in terms of monitoring the monetary policy… but also oversight in the implementation of the regulatory relief we have delivered to community financial institutions … and then deliver more.

… I want to continue my work, second, on national security. My legislation … is the toughest economic sanctions ever directed at North Korea. We have more work to do.

… The third thing is to continue to work on the opioid epidemic. We are making a difference, but there is more work to be done on the transitional housing side.

McGrath: I just named two of them: Medicare buy-in and a public option.

The other thing, I’d really like to help Kentucky’s teachers. I think that’s something that can be done with their Social Security and the loop hole there. It’s totally unfair.

Say I’m a Kentucky teacher… and I’m married to Mark and Mark works at Toyota. You pay into Social Security your whole life and retire at whatever age and you get your Social Security benefits. Then you pass away.

A normal spouse would receive the Social Security benefits he earned, survivor benefits. If I was a multi-million dollar banker, I would receive his Social Security benefits, but because I am a Kentucky teacher, a public school teacher, I don’t get those benefits. That’s not right.

I understand the fact Kentucky teachers don’t get Social Security on their own because they don’t pay into it. They should be getting the survivor benefits like everyone else.

How do you intend to or continue to fight the opioid epidemic in the district? What would you add?

Barr: Four years ago, I started the Sixth Congressional District Drug Abuse Task Force. We brought together experts form every angle on this issue from the prevention and education world to the first responders, law enforcement and the drug courts to the treatment world … and the recovery organizations. … We brought them to the table for multiple meetings to get recommendations.

We took those recommendations with us to Washington, we rolled up our sleeves and we got to work. … I introduced an amendment to the appropriations bill to increase funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. My amendment passed, $26 million additional funding in the appropriations bill for HIDTA. And we just helped Madison County, Powell County and Montgomery County get their designation as HIDTA counties.

…That is federal law enforcement coming in to collaborate with local law enforcement to keep the drugs out, to keep the poisons out and to enhance enforcement. In the treatment and recovery side, I voted for the most significant investment in history, $4 billion in last year’s appropriations bill, to combat the opioid epidemic for treatment, enforcement and prevention. Part of that money comes to Frankfort … for treatment and recovery organizations and also Narcan for law enforcement and first responders. … I have been a national leader on this issue and we will continue to work until we help every family that is struggling with this problem in this district. The biggest gap … is insufficient resources for long-term recovery. What we don’t have enough of is long-term transitional housing where we provide assistance for people to get job training, employment services, job placement and get back on their feet.”

McGrath: What we’re doing right now is not enough. Declaring an emergency and doing nothing about it, like what the president is doing, is not enough.

What Andy Barr’s doing, robbing Peter to pay Paul, moving money from homeless people and veterans to help recovering addicts get housing, it’s important but you’re hurting other people that need those things.

…We have to look at this as a public health crisis, the same way we looked at HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, the same way we looked at polio in the 1930s and 1940s. How did we fix those things?

We mitigated those things with massive government investment in science. … We have forgotten we can take care of these things if we invest. When we don’t invest in fixing these things, we end up hurting ourselves in the long run.

…In the past, we’ve had leaders from both political parties who were able to do that. (President Dwight) Eisenhower when he built the interstate highway system was able to do that with infrastructure. (President George H.W. Bush) was able to do that with HIV and AIDS. Those are both Republicans.

We don’t have those leaders anymore. We have these leaders that want to just cut, constantly cut the budget… and we can’t fix these problems. We can’t tell the communities ‘you have to fix this yourself.’ We need help.

…You don’t do it by giving a tax cut to the wealthiest 1 percent when we’re already in a deficit. That’s making it worse. Beyond that, there are ways to do it. The tax code in this country can be tweaked, it can be made more fair. … We’ve done it in the past. We have to come together and we have to invest.

What are the best and worst things the president has done during his administration?

Barr: I am an ally of this administration because I believe the policy agenda of this administration is in the best interest of this district and this country and its people. I believe this agenda has proven itself to be very beneficial to this country.

…The American people are better off today than they were two years ago. And that’s why I’ve been working with this administration to advance this agenda.

Having said all of that, I recognize many of my constituents have a problem with the president’s personality and I don’t agree with everything the president says or the way he says it. I’ve said that publicly repeatedly.

It also does not deter me from working with this administration to advance the interest of my constituents. Where we disagree, I have voiced my concerns, for example on trade policy. I will stipulate up front I fully support the president’s objectives on trade. We need better deals, we need free and fair reciprocal trade. … I remain concerned about the disruption the trade policy has had on our farmers, our bourbon distillers and on our auto manufacturers, which are part of a global supply chain.

So what I’ve said to the administration is I’m for you on this, I support the objective but let’s wrap this up, let’s get these better deals. … so we don’t have a protracted period of uncertainty. … My opponent would have zero influence with this administration on trade policy or anything else.

McGrath: I think the best thing, and he did this in the campaign. He really tapped into people’s disaffection, the idea that people that are disaffected in this country and they are tired of the established political parties. I think that his candidacy, and ultimately his win, showed the country how many people are feeling left behind. I give him credit for that… for tapping into it in a way a lot of people didn’t see.

The worst things… I’m very worried about the corruption. It’s 22 or how many people indicted who were in his campaign or in his cabinet, there’s something wrong there. Who you surround yourself with tells you a lot about a person. I’m very worried about that in a time when we need to really trust in our institutions of government.

I’m worried when he tweets his anger at our law and order agencies, when he disparages Gold Star families and guys like John McCain and the free press and some of these things I fought to defend. I take that personally.

I’m frustrated, shall we say, with that and I am not afraid to stand up to that when he does do that.

On the other hand, I want to work with him. He is our elected president and we need people that can put the partisan stuff aside and just do what’s right for our country and try to get jobs, try to fix health care and try to make people’s lives better and do what we need to do.