Ashley Lopez

Ashley Lopez is a reporter for WGCU News. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree. 

Previously, Lopez was a reporter for Miami's NPR member station, 

WLRN-Miami Herald News. Before that, she was a reporter at The Florida Independent. She also interned for Talking Points Memo in New York City and WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. She also freelances as a reporter/blogger for the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Send news pitches to wgcunews at wgcu.org

University of Louisville

Gov. Matt Bevin on Thursday withdrew a motion from former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear that would have dismissed a lawsuit accusing Beshear of breaking state law when he did not appoint a single African-American to the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees last year.

Bevin filed pleadings Thursday with the Franklin Circuit Court “expressing his agreement” with the group that filed the lawsuit, according to his office.

Last summer, the West Louisville-based Justice Resource Center asked then-Attorney General Jack Conway to weigh in on whether U of L was out of compliance with the racial minority requirement state law, which requires the board to have a proportional representation of minorities.

Activists said Conway ducked the issue when he released an opinion requiring that Beshear appoint at least one racial minority to the board. The governor appoints 17 of the 20 U of L trustees; by appointing one African-American, Beshear would have brought the total to two.

Kentucky LRC

On Monday, reporters huddled in the state Capitol waiting for a potentially big announcement. They were aware of rumors — incorrect ones, it would turn out — that multiple Democratic state House members had switched to the Republican side, changing the balance of power in the last Democratic-controlled legislative branch in the South.

That Kentucky political observers would even entertain the thought shows a palatable shift in the balance of power in a state where Democrats have a decades-long advantage in local politics.

Now, with an ascendant state GOP, the Kentucky Democratic Party is looking for a new leader.

Last weekend, Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Patrick Hughes announced he was stepping down after less than a year on the job.

State Democrats are in a perilous position. As party leaders look to replace Hughes, they should have a couple of things in mind, political observers say.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Vox Efx

Voters taking part in Kentucky’s Republican presidential caucus in March might notice one big difference when they cast their ballots: campaign swag in the same room where they’re voting.

In typical Kentucky elections, as much as holding a campaign sign within 100 feet of a polling station is illegal. State law also prohibits people from distributing campaign literature or soliciting signatures and votes within that same distance of a voting location.

But the March 5 presidential caucus is no regular election run. Unlike typical Kentucky elections, local county clerks and state officials aren’t involved. The caucus will be made up of multiple private events held by the Republican Party of Kentucky, and the party gets to do things its way.

Republicans will choose candidates for the party’s presidential nomination at events organized by local county Republican parties. Material from the campaigns and the party will be among the first things voters see when they go to their caucus sites on March 5, RPK Executive Director Mike Biagi said.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Ruhrfisch

States initiatives to expand health insurance coverage through either traditional Medicaid or private insurance have equally good outcomes for low-income adults, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Harvard’s School of Public Health study compared survey results from 5,600 low-income adults in Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas.

The study was released as Kentucky’s new governor mulls reforming the Medicaid expansion. Kentucky expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act while Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear was in office. Arkansas, however, used federal dollars to pay for private health insurance for low-income adults.

Texas has not expanded health care at all.

Kentucky and Arkansas saw improvements in health care coverage rates and the ability of low-income adults to obtain prescription medication, chronic disease management, among other things, Sommers said.

According to the study, “the uninsured rate in Kentucky and Arkansas dropped 14 percentage points more than it did in Texas between 2013, prior to full implementation of the ACA’s health insurance provisions, and 2014, after the expansion’s first full year.”

WFPL News

For decades, Republicans have predicted that Kentucky was becoming a Red State.

The prediction seemed more reliable than ever late last year, when Matt Bevin was elected governor. Bevin, a Republican businessman, promised reforms seen currently in much of the conservative South.

“I think Kentucky is now moving into that red column, and we are joining our neighbors to the South,” said Steve Robertson, then the chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky.

Bevin, who was supported by Tea Party factions in the Republican Party, promised to scale back the state’s expansion of Medicaid — which he started working on Wednesday — as well as setting his sights on other welfare programs in the state.

Among his proposals was a plan to drug-test welfare recipients. Bevin said during the Republican gubernatorial primary he would also take aim at what he calls “New Deal-type” programs.

The broad spectrum of plans from the new governor means Kentucky could start looking like the state’s southern neighbors, and welfare for low-income people could be scarcer than it’s been in the past couple decades.

WKU PBS

In the wake of the deadly attacks last week in Paris, Sen. Rand Paul plans to introduce legislation that “would suspend visa issuance for countries with a high risk of terrorism.”

Paul’s intentions, announced Monday, join a chorus of Republicans seeking to take steps following the Paris attacks. About a dozen Republican governors — including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — have also announced they intend to block the intake of refugees from countries dealing with ISIS and other terrorist groups.

In September, Secretary of State John Kerry promised that the U.S. would take in 100,000 refugees from the war-ravaged Syria by 2017.

Paul’s proposed legislation would also “impose a waiting period for background checks on visa issuance from other countries until the American people can be assured terrorists cannot enter the country through our immigration and visa system,” according to a statement from his office released Monday.

The time has come to stop terrorists from walking in our front door,” Paul said in a statement. “The Boston Marathon bombers were refugees, and numerous refugees from Iraq, including some living in my hometown, have attempted to commit terrorist attacks.

Kentucky voters may be able to register to vote and update their information online during next year’s presidential election.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announced in Louisville Tuesday that her office will be extending online registration to all eligible voters in the state. The service is currently only available to military voters.

Grimes had advocated for a bill earlier this year creating online registration, but it didn’t pass through the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Grimes instead went through the state’s administrative regulation process, and now the program is effective law.

“Kentucky can’t wait any longer,” Grimes said. “We are finally entering the 21st Century as it relates to election administration.”

Owens said he appreciated Grimes’ efforts to get online registration approved in the state.

“This is probably, as far as I am concerned, one of the most monumental events taking place in our commonwealth today because we are now going to ensure that everyone will have an opportunity to register and update their registration electronically,” said state Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville.

WFPL

Friday is the deadline for U.S. Senator Rand Paul to give the Republican Party of Kentucky $250,000 to help offset the costs of a presidential caucus in March.

The caucus will provide a way for Paul to seek re-election to the Senate and run for the White House simultaneously next year. 

However, Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says Paul’s performance in the presidential polls and fundraising efforts have been on the decline.

"Perhaps he should turn his focus to his Senate seat entirely, but I think it's unlikely he'll drop out," remarked Skelley.  "If indeed he does fork over the money for the caucus, I'll think he'll stick it out."

If the party doesn’t receive the money, which would only partially cover the cost of the caucus, Republicans will be part of the state’s regular primary in May.

U.S. Pacific Fleet / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

State Sen. Ralph Alvarado is looking into whether Kentucky can start selling its successful health insurance exchange program, Kynect, to other states.

Alvarado wants to offer the technology and expertise behind Kynect to other states for a fee. States currently have the option of creating their own insurance marketplace or using the federal government’s under the Affordable Care Act. More than 30 states currently rely on the federal exchange.

Alvarado, a Republican physician who represents Winchester, said profits from his plan could help pay for the future costs of expanded Medicaid in Kentucky, which are estimated at $1.1 billion over the next six years.

“It will provide our neighbors who want state exchanges a service that they want, and it would give our taxpayers a break from having to foot that bill in the future,” he said.

Conway/Overly campaign

Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Jack Conway released his education plan in Louisville Tuesday.

In it, Conway continues his push for more early childhood education programs in the state. His plan aims to expand access to preschoolers in families at 138 percent of the poverty level.

The big question is, though, how the state would pay for that expansion.

Conway said the state can restructure how much of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement money would go toward early childhood education, which currently receives about one-fourth of the funds. State government could vie for more federal support and apply for more grants, too, he said.

However, Conway said eliminating government waste would be the major source of funding.

“Potentially we could maybe double the funding for early childhood education in the first budget, and that is something that I am going to shoot to do,” he said during a news conference at the main public library in downtown Louisville.

flgov.com

Florida Governor Rick Scott will visit Kentucky this month in an effort to recruit businesses to relocate or expand to Florida. 

About two years ago, Scott tried something similar. He sent letters to businesses in Kentucky inviting them to the Sunshine State. 

At the time, Gov. Steve Beshear called the letters a “crude method of recruitment.”

Kenny Colston with the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy agrees. 

"Right to work laws don’t grow jobs," said Colston. "Not in manufacturing. Not in other sectors."

Colston disagrees with Scott’s main pitch to companies that Florida has a better business climate because it’s a Right to Work state.  Colston says he thinks the trip is a political stunt.

“You know this is attention seeking for one reason of the other," said Colston. "I don’t know the governor and I don’t know why he is coming here, but I know the last time he came here he got a pretty strong rebuke from our governor, Steve Beshear.”

Beshear doesn’t have nice things to say about Rick Scott’s latest recruitment effort, either. In a statement, he said Scott’s trip will be waste of time.

Over the weekend, Kentucky Republican Party leaders made a big decision.

GOP voters will pick their presidential nominee in a caucus next March, instead of the usual primary election in May. It was done mostly to help Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is also running for the White House.

But as WFPL's Ashley Lopez reports, Republicans also hope this will give the party some added attention and excitement.

US Geological Survey, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Kentucky Coal Association is under fire for again planning a closed-door meeting with the state’s leading gubernatorial candidates.

KCA President Bill Bissett told CN2 last week that the major party candidates for Kentucky governor — Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway — would be speaking during private events at the association’s annual meeting in October.

This would be the second private meeting between energy industry representatives and the state’s leading gubernatorial candidates. Bissett moderated a secret debate this summer in Virginia between Conway and Bevin before coal industry leaders.

The closed-door meetings have drawn criticism from media outlets. In a recent column, Courier-Journal political reporter Joseph Gerth wrote that open discussions are especially important in the close gubernatorial election “because neither of the candidates has been terribly accessible.”

WFPL News

If Sen. Rand Paul wants a presidential caucus in Kentucky, state Republican Party leaders want to see the money to pay for it upfront.

Scott Lasley, chair of a special committee created by the Republican Party of Kentucky, said one of the latest conditions for approval of a state party rule change is that money for a caucus be secured before the GOP central committee decides the matter on Aug. 22.

Earlier this year, Paul asked state Republicans to consider a caucus instead of a primary in 2016.

The state’s major political parties have traditionally held primary elections for president. But a state law prohibits candidates from appearing twice on a ballot. A presidential caucus would allow Paul to seek re-election to the U.S. Senate while also seeking home state support for his presidential campaign.

Paul’s campaign has said it would fund the caucus, which Lasley expects to cost $500,000. But as the Kentucky GOP’s central committee mulls over a draft plan sent out last week, they want more assurances.

“The deal is that the money is supposed to be there,” Lasley said. “If it’s not there, I think there’s going to be problems.”

WFPL News

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul got plenty of attention Saturday during the Fancy Farm Picnic in Western Kentucky.

But it wasn’t the good kind.

“Now, Rand Paul is busy,” Fancy Farm emcee Matt Jones told the crowd. “He has a presidential race to lose. He has to make sure to take care of that.”

Jones and others — Democrats, particularly — piled up on Paul all weekend.

With the Kentucky senator’s White House bid in the national news for its recent struggles, state Democrats are uniting behind the belief that he may also be vulnerable in his simultaneous effort to retain his Senate seat.

Most polls show Paul getting in the range of 5 percent of the vote in the crowded Republican presidential primary field. His fundraising efforts have been equally lackluster.

In a recent story, Politico reported that Paul’s aversion to seeking big campaign donations from wealthy contributors is part of what’s holding him back.

Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said the biggest problem is Paul’s personality.

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