McConnell stepping down as Republican leader in U.S. Senate this year; he has deep ties to Owensboro

February 29, 2024 | 12:13 am

Updated February 29, 2024 | 1:11 am

Graphic by Owensboro Times

Mitch McConnell has announced he will step down as Republican leader in the U.S. Senate this November after nearly 2 decades, a historically long tenure.

McConnell, who turned 82 years old last month, announced his decision Wednesday morning during a speech on the Senate floor.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter. So I stand before you today, Mr. President and my colleagues, to say this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate,” McConnell said.

McConnell said he plans to serve out the remainder of his Senate term, which ends in January 2027.

“I will finish the job the people of Kentucky hired me to do as well – albeit from a different seat in the chamber. I am looking forward to that,” he said.

You can read his full prepared statement here, or watch him read that full statement on the Senate floor here.

He was first elected to the Senate in 1984 and officially took office the next year. He became party leader in 2006 and has held the position ever since, marking the longest run in U.S. history.

McConnell has a longstanding relationship with the city of Owensboro. Mayor Tom Watson said that connection has helped with many local development projects.

“His friendship not only to me but also OBKY has been invaluable,” Watson said. “I think, as always, he stepped down as leader with class and careful consideration of what was best for him and his family and the U.S. Senate.”

Watson noted perhaps the biggest impact McConnell had locally was helping secure the initial funding for development along the riverfront.

“He’s always loved Owensboro and he’s loved the river,” Watson said. “He was able to acquire $50 million from the Transportation budget for waterfront development. That’s how all that got started down there. When he called me (about the funding back then), I like to fell out of the chair.”

For his help, the Mitch McConnell Plaza and Walkway was named in the senator’s honor in 2018.

Watson said it will take a little time to be able to reflect fully on what McConnell has done for Owensboro.

“After 40 years of being friends, a lot goes through your head,” he said.

McConnell has also played a role in helping local law enforcement combat the war on drugs. In May 2021, announced that Daviess County had been chosen for inclusion into the Appalachia HIDTA program, which provides federal support to law enforcement agencies. Inclusion into the program provides coordination, equipment, technology, and additional resources to combat drug production and trafficking.

Then-Daviess County Sherriff Keith Cain said at the time he believed that entry into the program would play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges that illegal drugs pose to the community.

“Today’s announcement is a long-sought recognition of the challenges facing our community from illegal drugs. Understanding the scope of the problem is the first step to tackling it,” Cain said in 2021. “By investing critical resources and promoting law enforcement collaboration, we can help save lives from this dangerous scourge. This HIDTA designation is the result of years of substantial efforts by many dedicated individuals. Senator McConnell was a constant champion for our cause.”

McConnell said at the time: “Kentucky law enforcement has proven time and again the value of the HIDTA program in keeping our families safe from illicit substances. … With the resources and coordination to track down and stop the worst drug traffickers and abusers, Daviess County can help reduce violence across the region, protect law enforcement officers in their critical work and continue to make this a safe community for everyone who calls it home.”

There have since been several major drug busts in the area, many made possible by the HIDTA designation.

February 29, 2024 | 12:13 am

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