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.

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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.

My Make OU, 123rf Stock Photo

Kentuckians may be changing their minds—very slowly—when it comes to same sex marriage, a new poll suggests.

A Bluegrass Poll released Monday shows 53 percent of voters disagree with a Supreme Court ruling in June legalizing gay marriage throughout the U.S.

That’s compared to 57 percent of Kentucky voters who earlier this year said they opposed same-sex marriage.

Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman said public opinion in Southern states has been slow to change on same-sex marriage.

“I am not surprised that attitudes aren’t changing immediately,” he said. “But I think that we are going to see that.”

Both of Kentucky’s U.S. Senators are working to defund Planned Parenthood following the release of controversial videos secretly shot during a sting operation.

GOP leaders held a press conference in the Capitol Wednesday to discuss a bill that would shift funds to other community health clinics.

Local Planned Parenthood officials say the proposed legislation could affect almost 7,000 people in Kentucky and southern Indiana.  The chain of health clinics includes sites in Louisville, Lexington and New Albany.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood leaders said removing those federal funds would disproportionately affect low-income patients who rely on them for reproductive health care and annual wellness exams.

The bill was drafted by Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky, Joni Ernst of Iowa and James Lankford of Oklahoma.  Paul says the government shouldn’t be subsidizing the organization.

"There's absolutely no need for any public funding of Planned Parenthood," suggested Paul.  "There's no excuse for it."

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has fast tracked the bill. He says senators will vote on it next week.

WKYU PBS

U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell says he will be at the Fancy Farm picnic next month.

Kentucky’s senior senator talked about the event during a stop in Bullitt County Monday.

McConnell said he plans to attend---and take part---in Kentucky’s biggest political event of the year.

"I'm looking forward to being there," McConnell commented.

Other years, he’s missed it, but McConnell explained that’s only when there isn’t a big state race in play that year.  This year, Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway are squaring off for the Governor’s office. So, McConnell says he will be making a speech at the picnic.

McConnell—who is one of the most prominent Republicans in the state and country—says he will also help craft the message for other members of his party making a speech that day.

"We are talking to other people that are participating and hope to make it interesting," McConnell added.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul recently announced he won’t attend Fancy Farm and will be campaigning for president in New Hampshire instead.

Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Rand Paul says he won’t attend the Fancy Farm political picnic next month. 

Paul is also running for re-election to his Senate seat next year, and some analysts say this could prompt future challengers to criticize Paul for not paying attention to his home state while he runs for two offices simultaneously.

Al Cross with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues says Fancy Farm is a must stop for any politician in Kentucky running for statewide office.

"People in far western Kentucky who are very isolated from the rest of the state expect statewide politicians to come ask for their votes," Cross noted.

But Rand Paul is also battling it out for the Republican Presidential nomination in a very crowded race. So, even though he’s also running for his Senate seat next year—Paul recently told the press he won’t be going to Fancy Farm.

"I think right now they have me in New Hampshire that weekend," explained Paul.

Cross says it’s not surprising Paul is focusing on looming presidential primaries. There are more than a dozen people running for the Republican nomination.  Paul doesn’t have any challengers yet for his Senate seat. Cross says if he does get an opponent, missing Fancy Farm could become a campaign issue.

"I think it does provide an opening for people who want to criticize him for not concentrating on his Senate job," stated Cross.

Rand Paul attended the picnic last year and says he plans to be there in 2016.

Republican leaders in Kentucky are still figuring out whether a presidential caucus next year is feasible.

The vote allowing Senator Rand Paul to run for both his seat in the Senate and the White House is less than two months away, but many details still need to be hammered out.

Scott Lasley is the chair of a special committee created by the Republican Party of Kentucky. The group is working to plan how a presidential caucus in 2016 would work. Lasley’s plan will eventually need approval from state party leaders, and he says it’s not a sure thing yet that this idea will get approved.

"I think a lot of people are still waiting to hear the details in terms of what the process is going to look at and what it's going to entail," comments Lasley.

Among those Republican state leaders waiting for details is Jim Skaggs.

"The two things I am most concerned with is that we make it fair and accessible to all registered Republican voters and that the cost is somehow covered," Skaggs states.

The whole effort is aimed at coming up with a system that would allow Senator Rand Paul to run for both president and his current seat in the U.S. Senate next year, but the state party would have to foot the bill for a caucus. So far, Paul’s campaign has said it would help defray the costs if the caucus is approved.

There’s also the issue of getting county party chairs around the state to agree to this plan. County chairs would be in charge of carrying out the caucus.

Both Lasley and Skaggs say there is support among party leaders to figure this out, though. For one, a caucus would make Kentucky stand out during the election, and it could possibly help get one of the state’s most prominent politicians in the White House.

Sherry Cooke’s brother, Dennis, died during stint in a nursing home in Louisville. Years ago, Dennis fell from a ladder and sustained serious brain injuries. He was only in his 40s, and spent the next several years bouncing from one nursing home to another.

Cooke, who lives in Pewee Valley, said she kept her brother company and checked on him practically every day. Despite her vigilance, she said he starved to death within seven months of entering a nursing home.

“Time after time I went in and the tube feeding was not running,” said Cooke, who is now a nursing home reform advocate.

Making sure her brother was getting proper care from the nursing home staff was a constant battle, Cooke said. She said she sometimes saw Dennis’ feeding tubes tied in knots and his body covered in bed sores.

She kept records of his time there and eventually took some final pictures of him right before he died. Her brother had entered the nursing home at a healthy weight and died an emaciated man. Dennis—who was 5-foot-7 –died weighing 106 pounds.

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