Grimes' Jobs Plan: Just How Much Can One Senator Do?

Mar 20, 2014

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U.S. Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes described her jobs plan for western Kentucky last night in Hopkinsville. But while she touts the length and depth of her plan, some question just how much one senator can do for the Commonwealth.

Teenagers welcomed the more than 450 audience members to Grimes’ event, many of them wearing tie-dye shirts with “My Gal” printed on the front in fluorescent pink. Local officials and a veteran introduced Grimes, who’s now Kentucky’s Secretary of State, praising her for what she could do for the Commonwealth. And true to her pro-woman stance, she walked on the stage to Katy Perry’s song “Roar.”

Grimes mentioned former Governor Ned Breathitt and his economic development program that created 57,000 new jobs in the early 1960s. She says that’s what Kentuckian need today.

“As in Gov. Breathitt’s time, we find ourselves faced with that very same challenge before us here today in the Commonwealth of Kentucky: The need to create and build a larger and stronger middle class,” she said.

But even with all the pomp and circumstance and the 20-page plan laying out her ideas on coal, veterans, agriculture and many other jobs-related issues, Eastern Kentucky University political scientist Joe Gershtenson says if Grimes was elected senator there’s only so much she could do.

“Particularly in the case of a senator that doesn’t necessarily have a leadership position, is maybe not a backbencher because there’s not such a thing in the U.S. Senate per say,” Gershtenson said. “Sometimes the folks in leadership may be a little bit more influential but even in that situation a single senator is going to have limited ability to shape the economy.”

And Murray State University economist Martin Milkman agrees. He says any one senator is limited in what they do for their state’s economy. But he says which party is in power of each chamber is impactful.

“I think a Democratic senator, if Democrats are maintaining control of the Senate, can do a lot,” Milkman said. “It will help many of the lower income and middle income people in Kentucky, and we have our share. We’re not one of the most prosperous states in the country.”

Milkman says that McConnell and Grimes are actually on the same page with many issues such as investing in clean coal technology research. He says it’s the social issues where the two differ. And Gershtenson says as the Grimes campaign goes on, assuming she and her opponent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell win their primaries, the race will be about who controls the debate.

“There will be this struggle over is it going to be a referendum on President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, War on Coal. Or are we going to talk about fair pay for women and job training,” Gershtenson said. “And so there will be that battle over who’s defining the terms of the debate and I think so far Alison’s done a pretty decent job.”

The Hopkinsville crowd agrees with Gershtonson that she’s doing well. Gail Hardy, a retired teacher from Trigg County says she was pleased to hear about increasing the minimum wage and is ready for a change in Kentucky leadership.

“I’ve been keeping up with McConnell’s voting record, and the things she’s saying they’re right on target. They’re based on facts. They’re based on his voting record,” Hardy said. “He has not done anything for Kentuckians. He does for himself, and that’s a shame.”

But Grimes doesn’t have a voting record Hardy can criticize, which could be a risk for voters.

When it comes to Grimes’ goal of changing Kentucky’s economy for the better, Milkman at Murray State says many of the Commonwealth’s problems will persist. He says it’s not a matter of national politics but issues that need to be dealt with on the local level.

The details of Grimes’ job plan can be found here