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Website exposes politicians who talk independence at home, but toe the Trump line in DC

By BERRY CRAIG

Even if you warm a seemingly safe seat in Congress, it’s smart politics to tell the home folks you’re not just a rubber stamp for you party’s powers-that-be.

It’s especially wise when your party controls the House, the Senate and the Oval Office.   

“When I vote for a bill, I always put my people and my country ahead of my party” is a tried-and-true lawmaker line for constituent consumption. 

During a town hall teleconference in Paducah the other day, Kentucky First District Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, promised the not entirely supportive crowd that he wasn’t “tied to his party’s philosophies,” according to Jennifer Smith, whose hometown is Paducah.

“Comer started his address touting his independence,” recalled Leslie McColgin, who lives near Lowes in rural Graves County. “He said he was willing to vote for a good idea whether it came from a Democrat or a Republican.”

Smith and McColgin are political activists and Democrats who belong to Four Rivers Indivisible, a local branch of the national group that opposes the Trump agenda. McColgin is on the Graves County Democratic Executive Committee.

Smith and McColgin came to the teleconference to speak against the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s now failed replacement for the Affordable Care Act. A freshman lawmaker, Comer had announced his support for the AHCA.

Though he claimed to be independent-minded and less than a partisan purist, according to Smith and McColgin, Comer has yet to oppose any Trump-backed bill, according to “Tracking Congress In the Age of Trump,” a FiveThirtyEight website, which uses percentages to show how often a representative or senator “votes in line with Trump’s position.”

Besides Comer, three of Kentucky’s four other GOP congressmen are 100 percenters: Brett Guthrie, Hal Rogers and Andy Barr. So is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Bluegrass State’s longest-serving senator.

Rep. Thomas Massie is a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, which played a key role in helping derail Trumpcare. But he’s at 87.5 percent on Trump bills.

Sen. Rand Paul made no bones about his disdain for Trumpcare. He’s an 89.7 percent backer of Trump-approved legislation.

I taught history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah for 24 years. I went by a pretty standard college and university grade scale: 90 to 100 was an A; 80 to 89 was a B; 70 to 79 was a C; 60 to 69 a D and below 60, flunking. 

Based on my scale, Comer, Guthrie, Rogers, Barr and McConnell would be A+ Trump loyalists. “Mavericks” Massie and Paul would fall into the B+ category.

It will be interesting to see if Comer decides to do more than talk legislative independence from his party and his president if Trump’s troubles get worse. Anyway, proof will be just a click away.

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L to R: Leslie McColgin, Karla Johnson and Lea Wentworth attend the Paducah town hall

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-- Berry Craig of Mayfield, where he was born and reared, is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. He is a member of the Graves County Democratic Executive Committee, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Committee and the author of a half dozen books on Bluegrass State history including True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo.