Guest Opinions

In Senate race Idahoans should be watching, McConnell is the one to beat in 2020

Editor’s note: This column has been corrected to reflect that U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is running for a third term, not his fourth term in the Senate.

As we look ahead to the 2020 election, there is one U.S. senator who towers over his fellow senators seeking re-election, including Idaho’s Sen. Risch who recently announced his intention to run for a third term and another six years. That is the election in Kentucky that could unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader. The Darth Vader of the Republican Party (he actually referred to himself as the Grim Reaper), McConnell is the epitome of what’s wrong with this country’s politics, especially its inability to return to bipartisan governing that will rebuild a center to our politics.

Among the many monikers McConnell has earned, “Moscow Mitch” seems to be the one that separates him from Senate Republicans of a previous generation when taking on Russia was a litmus test for party loyalty. How far we’ve strayed from those days. McConnell refused to call two bills dealing with Russia’s interference in our 2010 election. Two of those bills require campaigns to report to federal authorities any attempts by foreign entities to interfere in U.S. elections, and the third protects from hackers the personal accounts and devices of senators and some staffers. One D.C. columnist dubbed him a “Russian asset” in 2016 when he refused to join with President Obama in warning Russia not to interfere in the election.

The candidate who can send McConnell back to his old Kentucky home is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marines who is positioning herself as a bipartisan candidate who will work with both sides of the aisle. (She points out that her husband is a Republican.) Amy McGrath’s bio reads more like a Tom Clancy novel than the real deal. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and had every intention of becoming a pilot, but without 20/20 vision, she started her career as a weapons systems officer, taking the second seat in the fighter jet. In that capacity, she flew more than 50 combat missions into Afghanistan and became the first woman to fly in a F/A-18 in combat for the U.S. Marines.

That second seat position didn’t suit Amy McGrath, so she had Lasix surgery to correct her vision and eventually piloted fighter jets, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan. In keeping with the dirty politics of the day, in a previous unsuccessful run for the U.S. House, Republicans questioned her second seat position in her earlier career as though it required less courage. You have to get down there with riffraff to attack a Marine who puts herself in harm’s way in the service of her country.

By the time McGrath’s flying career was over, she flew in more than85 combat missions then worked in the Pentagon, then as a Congressional aide and as an instructor at the Naval Academy. Top that off with a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in international and global security studies and it’s hard to understand why Kentuckians would prefer McConnell.

In decided contrast, McConnell’s service record has been a source of controversy since he joined the U.S. Army Reserves during the Vietnam era when young men were doing so to avoid combat in the Vietnam War. He was released with a medical discharge after a few months on duty.

McConnell’s role as majority leader of the Senate will be the issue next year as voters confront his record in office. The list is a long one, including his opposition to stricter campaign finance laws, his career-long denial of climate change, his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which has resulted in many Americans losing access to health care and his mockery of Senate tradition and procedures when he refused to hold hearings on President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland.

Idahoans focused on removing President Trump from office must consider the role Sen. McConnell has played giving aid and comfort to Trump and destroying any efforts to achieve a bipartisan consensus in Washington. Idahoans with time on their hands and money in their pockets should think about contributing to Amy McGrath’s campaign and visiting Kentucky in the fall of 2020 to campaign for Amy McGrath.

Having lived in Kentucky, I can vouch for what a beautiful state it is, especially in the fall. Nothing registers with voters like retail politics, folks going door to door and asking for a vote for their candidate. It will also take a sizable war chest to knock off McConnell who will have unlimited access to the dark money lying in wait for the McConnell re-election campaign.

What a way to make a difference in the 2020 outcome! Time to think about your fall 2020 plans and make a difference in a U.S. Senate election that could have a lasting impact for generations.

Bob Kustra served as President of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a member of the Statesman editorial board.
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