- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Ky. governor snags Obama invitation to speech

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s high performance for health care sign-ups through its state-run website has earned Gov. Steve Beshear a White House invitation to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Beshear, a strong supporter of Obama’s health-care law, will be among the guests sitting with first lady Michelle Obama when the president delivers the annual speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. Beshear said the president’s invitation came in a phone call from senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

“It will put Kentucky in the national spotlight for being the model in the nation for successfully implementing the Affordable Care Act,” the Democratic governor said before leaving for Washington, D.C.

Beshear’s wife, Jane, also was invited and will be seated in the gallery.

Many states refused to set up their own online insurance marketplaces, a centerpiece of the health care law. Those states shifted the task to the federal website, which hit a series of embarrassing early snags in its efforts to sign up people for health coverage.

Beshear, however, embraced the opportunity for a Bluegrass state site, even as the state’s Republican U.S. senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, pressed for the health-care law’s repeal.

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McConnell: Farm Bill to promote hemp revival

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Hemp production may be on the verge of a comeback in Kentucky, where the non-potent cousin of marijuana once thrived.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the final version of the federal Farm Bill will allow limited hemp cultivation in pilot programs in states that permit the production.

Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill last year to allow industrial hemp’s reintroduction but only if the federal government lifts its ban.

McConnell says the Farm Bill language he secured will allow state agriculture departments to oversee pilot hemp projects. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has promoted the crop, which can be turned into products ranging from paper to cosmetics.

Hemp was banned decades ago when the government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp has a negligible content of the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

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Ex-fish and wildlife official faces ethics charges

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s former top wildlife official was charged Monday with a series of ethics code violations, stemming partly from claims that agency employees performed personal work for him while on state time.

The state Executive Branch Ethics Commission filed nine civil charges against Jonathan Gassett, a former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Other counts contend that Gassett used his position to obtain Kentucky State Police guest passes to the Kentucky Derby, and that he acquired 15 art prints for free that were among 500 prints to be sold as a fundraiser by the wildlife department, the ethics commission said.

Gassett resigned last September while under investigation. He could face up to $45,000 in fines if he’s found to have committed the ethics code violations.

He was among four current or former wildlife agency employees charged Monday with ethics violations.

“These are significant violations of the ethics code by Mr. Gassett and the others, who used their positions for personal gain,” said Ethics Commission Executive Director John Steffen.

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Former Paul staffer joins Matt Bevin’s campaign

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A former aide to Sen. Rand Paul has joined Republican Matt Bevin’s Senate campaign, saying the Louisville businessman is “the best man” in the race and offers needed change in his bid to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bernie Kunkel will serve as the Bevin campaign’s field director in the 4th Congressional District, which includes the urban counties just south of Cincinnati and has become a hotbed of tea party activity. Kunkel served as Paul’s field representative in the 4th District in northern Kentucky until taking the campaign job.

Kunkel, a veteran GOP activist in the region, has helped a slew of Republican candidates at the city, state and federal levels, and has been active in promoting anti-abortion and school choice causes.

“I have to help the best man in the upcoming U.S. Senate race and that man is Matt Bevin,” Kunkel said in a written statement. “It is time for a change.”

Bevin is waging a long-shot bid to topple Kentucky’s longest-serving senator in the state’s May 20 Republican primary. McConnell, the top-ranking Senate Republican, is seeking a sixth term this year. The Democratic front-runner in the race is Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Bevin said Monday that Kunkel brings years of conservative grassroots experience to his campaign.

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