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A legacy of vigilance

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Lawmaker urges voters to hold elected officials accountable for their votes during Bardstown’s MLK Day celebration

By Forrest Berkshire, Editor

The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. was commemorated in Bardstown Monday by a call to hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

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“Our weapon is our vote,” state Rep. George Brown said, quoting King at St. Monica Catholic Church in Bardstown at the annual community MLK celebration.

“We have got to be vigilant. We have got to pay attention. We have to keep score,” Brown said.

Brown is a Democratic state representative from Lexington serving his second term in Frankfort. Before his election to the state legislature he was a councilman in Lexington for 12 years.

On Nov. 8, Republicans won a super majority in the state House, capturing control of that chamber for the first time since 1921. With Republican Matt Bevin in the Governor’s Mansion and GOP control of the state Senate, long pent-up, sweeping legislation was passed in the first week of January and signed into law. Those laws included a “right-to-work” bill that labor activists say have been shown to harm organized labor and suppress workers’ wages, repeal of prevailing wage laws and abortion restrictions, among others.

Brown said all seven laws were rushed through the process without time for debate or hearings in the first week before the legislature went into recess. He warned that more laws favored by Republicans would likely pass easily once lawmakers reconvene on Feb. 7 that would affect education and health care.

He urged his audience to pay attention and hold lawmakers accountable. He reminded them that the next election is less than two years away. While Nelson County voters can’t vote for him, he said, they can vote for state Rep. Chad McCoy, who was in the audience and was called on by name several times.

“So keep a scorecard. Make Representative McCoy represent you. If he doesn’t, he’ll be on the ballot next year. Make sure you hold Representative McCoy responsible. That’s what you should do.”

McCoy voted in favor of the laws to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, to force women seeking abortion to undergo an ultrasound, to repeal the prevailing wage and to make union dues optional for workers represented under collective bargaining agreements.

Democrats are largely powerless to stop Republican initiatives in Frankfort following November’s historic electoral wave, but Brown urged voters not to lose heart.

“Where we are right now, we hit a bump in the road, in my opinion,” he said. “But a bump in the road only gives us the opportunity to do a little bit better as we move forward.”

Brown’s comments were more overtly political this year than in recent years at the community celebration of the slain civil rights leader, who is most remembered for his fight for racial equality. In recent years black ministers were mostly the keynote speakers. But King, late in his life, transitioned his crusade to fighting poverty, not just among blacks, but all Americans. In the weeks before his assassination he was working to organize a march in Washington, D.C., known as the “Poor People’s Campaign.”

Brown was invited to speak by former Bardstown mayor and current city councilman Bill Sheckles in light of “the political climate in the last year and a half.”

The annual event is hosted by the Concerned Parents of Nelson County organization, which works to support local students’ education needs.

St. Monica’s church was filled to capacity with community members and elected officials. In attendance were McCoy, all of Bardstown’s City Council members — although Mayor John Royalty was a no-show — Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts and Magistrate Keith Metcalfe, representatives from Bardstown and Nelson County schools and Bethlehem High School, among others.

Councilwoman Kecia Copeland and former Councilman Francis Lydian were recognized with community service awards for their service in elected office on the Bardstown City Council. Copeland is in her second term. Lydian served for 24 years under eight mayors. Lydian lost his bid for reelection in November, and was unable to attend Monday due to recently undergoing minor surgery, Sheckles said.

“He will always be remembered as a loud voice for the working man,” Sheckles said of Lydian.