Senate Republican Leader McConnell (R) and Secretary of State Grimes (D) fielded questions from the KFB leaders and explained their positions during the 90-minute meeting at the farm organization's state office. It marked the first time the two have appeared jointly at an issues forum during the general election campaign.
KFB President Mark Haney said the meeting gave the organization's leadership an opportunity to gauge the differences between the two on key issues.
"Although we do not endorse candidates, we inform our members as to where candidates stand on our key issues," Haney said. "Forums such as this enable us to determine how our policies mesh with the philosophies of those who seek to represent us. We appreciate the cooperation of Senator McConnell and Secretary of State Grimes."
Among the issues discussed were farm policy, international trade and marketing, fiscal policy, health care, immigration and farm labor, environmental issues and education. In addition to fielding questions on those issues, the candidates gave opening and closing statements.
McConnell, the five-term incumbent, told the KFB leaders "this is a big race about big things." He said if the Republicans take control of the Senate, he would be head of that chamber and "in a position to take us to a new place."
Secretary Grimes, meanwhile, blamed McConnell for the gridlock in Washington and vowed "to be a Senator who can work on a bipartisan basis to get things done." She described herself as "a strong, independent Kentucky woman who will fight for our farm families."
Secretary Grimes spoke first in the "opening remarks" segment and went on the attack, criticizing McConnell for not getting a farm bill enacted in 2013 and for repeated absences from Senate Agriculture Committee meetings. "Mitch McConnell can no longer deliver," she said.
McConnell, meanwhile, detailed his many achievements for Kentucky agriculture, including the tobacco buyout program, a reduction in the estate tax, funding for state agricultural colleges and clearing the way for a pilot project on hemp production. He also noted that he is the only current Senator who has received two "Golden Plow" awards from the American Farm Bureau Federation in recognition of supporting the organization's policy.
The candidates expressed disagreement on handling immigration reforms and the Affordable Care Act. McConnell said immigration reform should be addressed "on a piecemeal basis" because that looms as the most feasible political approach. Secretary Grimes said she would push for a comprehensive bipartisan package.
McConnell repeated his oft-heard call on the new health care law. "It ought to be pulled out root and branch." Secretary Grimes said the new law has given more Kentuckians access to affordable health care, but later added: "We have to work to streamline the Affordable Care Act."The two agreed on opposition to a controversial EPA proposal to expand regulations on streams and other small bodies of water under the Clean Water Act.
Information provided by Kentucky Farm Bureau
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