Lisa Autry

Reporter/Producer

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum.  She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years.  Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville.  She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky.  Many of her stories have been heard on NPR. 

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A survey shows Donald Trump with a big lead among Kentucky Republicans ahead of the March 5 presidential caucus.

The poll was conducted by the Western Kentucky University Social Science Research Center, and shows Trump with 35 percent support.  Marco Rubio was second with 22 percent, followed by Ted Cruz at 15 percent .  John Kasich and Ben Carson are further behind. 

WKU Political Science Professor Joel Turner says Trump maintains a double-digit lead, despite having a lower favorability rating among Kentuckians.

"I think what that signifies to a lot of people is that it's not so much about Trump, like who he is, but what he represents.  He has tapped into that anger and frustration that people have toward government," Turner told WKU Public Radio.  "Our surveyed showed that some 90 percent either feel angry or frustrated at government as opposed to five percent who are relatively happy.  Trump symbolizes that for a lot of people."

Creative Commons

The Bowling Green City Commission will vote Tuesday on the hiring of ten police officers.  This will be the first round of hiring since the federal government launched an investigation into the hiring practices of the city police department.

Among the new hires are four African-Americans and one Hispanic.  The city has been working to recruit and hire more minorities since a Department of Justice investigation last summer found the city should have more black officers based on its population. 

While some changes have been made to recruit more minority candidates, Human Resources Director Mike Grubbs says the city is still hiring the overall best candidates.

"The police department looks at character for hiring.   They can train someone to be a police officer," Grubbs told WKU Public Radio.  "Candidates have to meet certain minimum requirements, which all of our candidates did, but they have to have good character and good background, and the department has not wavered on that."

The president of Western Kentucky University warned of layoffs and program eliminations in testimony before state lawmakers Thursday in Frankfort. 

Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed budget would cut higher education funding by 4.5 percent for the remainder of this year, and nine percent for the next two years.  Dr. Gary Ransdell says that’s hard for him to explain to campus faculty and staff.

"It's one thing for the past eight years when we were getting our budgets cut.  We were in a recession and the state had declining revenues," Ransdell told WKU Public Radio.  "State revenues are up significantly this year and the consensus forecast for the next biennium is a significant increase in state revenues, and we're still cutting higher education."

The state’s public colleges and universities have lost more than $173 million since 2008.  President Ransdell says it’s frustrating that nationally, most states are re-investing in higher education while Kentucky is “re-trenching further.”

Governor Bevin says the cuts to state agencies are needed to help fully fund Kentucky’s public pension systems.

Lisa Autry

This is the second of a two-part series on proposed changes to Kentucky Medicaid and how Governor Matt Bevin wants to model the program after a similar one in Indiana.  You can see Part 1 here.

When the federal Affordable Care Act was rolled out, Indiana was faced with the same dilemma as other states: give health coverage to more of the uninsured by expanding Medicaid, while taking on hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. 

Indiana Governor Mike Pence persuaded the federal government to approve an alternative for his state. Just over a year ago, the state implemented the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.  Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to launch a similar program as he looks to revamp his state's Medicaid system. 

In the year since Indiana implemented the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP, more than 370,000 Hoosiers have enrolled in the program.  Among them is Mary Buchanan, who is self-employed.  A shoulder injury no longer allows her to work full-time.  By working less, the 63-year-old from Rockport couldn’t afford the private insurance she used to carry.  She picked up the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP, about a year ago.

"One less thing for me to worry about 24\7, said Buchanon, who met WKU Public Radio at the Spencer County Library.  "What if something happens to me?  Am I going to have to file bankruptcy?  One trip to the hospital can wipe you out.”

Under HIP 2.0, Buchanan pays just under $14 a month in premiums and has no co-pays or deductibles for her medical care.

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This is the first in a two-part series on Medicaid, Kentucky's expansion of the government-subsidized program, and proposed changes to Medicaid.

As Governor Matt Bevin prepares to re-design Kentucky’s Medicaid program, a new national survey shows the commonwealth with the second-largest gains in insurance coverage. 

More than half-a-million Kentuckians obtained coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.  Some 80 percent of the newly insured went onto the Medicaid rolls. 

But many Medicaid enrollees are worried about what lies ahead under the state’s new Republican governor.  Teresa Bowley was at a recent health insurance sign-up event in Bowling Green to ask a question about changing providers.  Six months ago, she qualified for coverage through Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion. 

Now when she gets sick, she goes to the doctor. But that hasn’t always been the case. 

”You just don’t. You just try to think this will go away on its own.  You have to miss work," Bowley explained.

Kentucky Republicans have until Friday to request an absentee ballot for the March 5 presidential caucus. 

Ballot applications must be requested by February 19 and can be found on the state GOP website.  Absentee ballots must be returned to the Kentucky Republican Party headquarters by March 4.  Since this is the first caucus in Kentucky in more than three decades, Warren County Caucus Chairman David Graham says turnout is a concern.

"I think statewide we had only around 30 percent in our gubernatorial election, and sad to say, we'd be tickled to have 30 percent turnout at the caucus, but that's why we're getting out the word the best we can to make sure everyone's aware of it," Graham told WKU Public Radio.

Eleven GOP presidential candidates qualified for the Kentucky caucus, though several have already dropped out of the race, including Senator Rand Paul.  Their names will still appear on the pre-printed ballots.

The last time that Kentucky held a presidential caucus was in 1984 when both the Republican and Democratic parties participated.  This year, Kentucky Democrats will pick their presidential nominee in the regular May primary.

KCTCS

Kentucky’s improving economy is driving steep declines in community college enrollment, but the head of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System says those schools are not losing their relevance.  In an interview with WKU Public Radio, Dr. Jay Box said community colleges remain key in building a stronger workforce which translates into a stronger middle class.

Box:  We are the primary provider of workforce education and training in all states and we realize the jobs that our graduates get are those middle class jobs, the jobs that are so important in our economy.

Autry:  You were recently appointed to a national community college board called Reclaiming America’s Middle Class.  One of its missions is to promote community colleges and the role they play in serving students, whether right out of high school or adult learners who perhaps are coming from jobs into the classroom.  Talk about some of the priorities of this national board.

Two weeks after Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell announced plans to retire next year, the process to find his successor has officially begun. 

In a special meeting Friday afternoon, the WKU Board of Regents appointed a search committee of mostly current and former regents.  Search Committee Chairman Dr. Phillip Bale told WKU Public Radio that the seven-member group could be expanded.

"Western Kentucky University involves more than just the university," stated Bale.  "Obviously, it's a very important part of Bowling Green and this surrounding region, so we'll be looking to see if there's any other stakeholders who need a voice or larger voice than what we have right now."

The presidential search committee will include:

  • Dr. Phillip Bale, Chair and current Regent
  • Dr. Barbara Burch, current Faculty Regent
  • Mrs. Cynthia Harris, current Board of Regent's Secretary
  • Mrs. Julie Hinson, WKU Alumni Association President
  • Mr. James Meyer, former Board of Regents Chairman
  • Mr. Jay Todd Richey, current Student Regent
  • Dr. Tamela Smith, current Staff Regent

The Board of Regents also voted to immediately issue a request for proposals from executive search firms.  The deadline to submit proposals will be March 2, 2016.

The search committee hopes to have the candidate pool narrowed to no more than five finalists by this December with the selection of a new president by March 2017. 

This will only be the seventh presidential search in the 110-year history of the university.  Dr. Ransdell has said that he will not be a part of the search process.

KCTCS

The head of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System has been appointed to a new national board that advocates for the needs of community colleges. 

KCTCS President Jay Box says the board called “Reclaiming America’s Middle Class” promotes the value of community colleges to students, communities, and the economy. He says that’s something often not wellunderstood by policy makers.

"We are the primary provider of workforce education and training in all states, and we realize that the jobs our graduates get are those middle class jobs, the jobs that are so important in our economy," Box told WKU Public Radio.

The board has several priorities, including an expansion of Pell Grants for summer classes. Box says that would help students complete their education quicker and with less cost. 

The board is made up of leaders from the nation’s largest community college systems.  KCTCS has 16 schools and 70 campus locations.

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Kentucky Baptists who have experience in providing clean drinking water in under-developed countries are headed to Michigan. 

Five teams will leave Monday for Flint to install water purification systems for families dealing with lead contamination. 

Coy Webb, head of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief, said the teams want the residents of Flint to know people are paying attention to what happened there.

"I think anytime there's long-term problems they just feel like people aren't taking notice of their needs, which many times is not true, but they still feel that way," Webb told WKU Public Radio.  "We hope our teams going door to door can not only give them safe drinking water, but also let them know there are people who care about them."

Flint Residents' Broken Faith: 'The People We Trusted Failed Us'

Teams will be leaving from several Kentucky cities, including Beaver Dam.  In the past year, the Baptists have been deployed to Zambia and Mozambique to provide safe drinking water, but Webb said this will be the first time to his knowledge, that relief teams have been dispatched in the U.S. on a water purification mission.

Counties surrounding Fort Knox are working to lessen their reliance on the post in the face of military cutbacks. 

A study is underway to determine how the region might diversify to improve the local economy.  Wendell Lawrence, executive director of the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, says discussions like this are happening across the country.

"It is Army wide because the end strength seems to be going down quite frequently, and when you have cutbacks in strength, it affects units and installations," Lawrence told WKU Public Radio.

Fort Knox has lost at least 2,3000 soldiers since 2010, in addition to their family members and civilian employees. 

Lawrence says cutbacks at Fort Knox have the potential to affect more than 150,000 residents of Hardin, Larue, and Meade counties. 

He added that the region has several assets as it looks to diversify, including manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism.

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A diverse group of education, economic, and health organizations is banding together to push for tax reform in Kentucky. 

The Kentucky Together Coalition was formed days after Governor Matt Bevin proposed steep budget cuts to many state agencies.  Coalition Spokesman Kenny Colston said the commonwealth currently loses more in tax breaks and loopholes than it receives in revenue.

"Many of these tax breaks were set up years or decades ago without any sunset provisions, and it's really a drain on the state budget," Colston told WKU Public Radio.  "It's not necessarily raising taxes on people.  We think these special interest tax breaks should be one of the first things looked at."

Governor Bevin’s administration has said it would consider tax reform after the current legislative session. 

A commission established by former Governor Steve Beshear presented a plan in 2012 to modernize Kentucky’s tax system and generate nearly $700 million a year.  However, state lawmakers didn’t act on the plan.

With proposed budget cuts to offset a major pension shortfall, the coalition argues tax reform is needed to protect the state’s vital public services.

In just over a month, Kentucky Republicans will hold a presidential caucus for the first time in more than three decades. Republicans in the past have joined Democrats in holding a May primary election for president. But this year is different.

Warren County Caucus Chairman David Graham spoke to WKU Public Radio about the differences between a caucus and primary.

Graham:  Caucuses can be very different, but in our case, it's going to be very much like a primary, only it will be at a different date, and it will be run by the party and not the county or state.  Our caucus will be March 5.  Most every county will have one voting location and voters can come in anytime between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and vote very much like they would in a normal primary.

Abbey Oldham

As U.S. Senator Rand Paul prepares for a Republican presidential debate Thursday night, a former Kentucky House Speaker says Democrats could benefit from Paul’s White House bid.

Glasgow attorney Bobby Richardson was a state Representative from 1972-1990, and served as House Speaker during the 1982 and 1984 General Assembly sessions.

Richardson says whoever emerges as the Democrat’s nominee for U.S. Senate should remind voters Paul is seeking two offices at the same time.

“I think he needs to say he’s running for the United States Senate, and I’m going to be a Senator. I’m not going to be running for President, and I’m not going to be running for anything else. I’m going to be there taking care of business.”

The Kentucky Republican Party is holding a presidential caucus March 5 so that Paul can run for re-election to the Senate and seek the White House simultaneously.

Last week’s winter storm set a record in Bowling Green.  Friday’s snowfall was the third unusually large snowstorm to impact the region in the past 12 months. 

The 12.2-inch snowfall was the third largest single-day snowfall in Bowling Green history dating back to 1893.  State Climatologist Stuart Foster at WKU said the snow also came on the heels of nearly ten inches in February 2015 and more than seven inches last March.

"Those came with a lot of complicating factors in terms of some frigid temperatures and then after one of those events, we had a lot of rain on top of that," Foster said.  "While we had a lot of snow this time, we kind of dodged a bullet too."

During the peak of Friday’s snow storm, more than seven inches of snow fell in a six-hour period between 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. 

Eastern portions of the state also posted some impressive snowfall amounts of up to 22 inches.  Accumulations were much lower in western Kentucky.

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