Ron Leach, the ex-Green Beret running for the U.S. senate in Kentucky, says some people are surprised to hear he’s a Democrat.
“We’ve got a volunteer army that primarily comes from lower middle class and poor families,” he replies. “There is a desire to serve, of course.
“But for many, it’s a chance to get a leg up. When they return home, whether after a short enlistment or a career, they should have the expectation of earning a living wage for their families. They should have the expectation of affordable health care and of getting an education for themselves or their children.
“I’m sorry, but that’s not being offered by the other side. So yes, I’m a combat vet and a Democrat, and there is no contradiction there.”
Leach, a 51-year-old physician’s assistant from Brandenburg, is one of seven Democrats seeking their party’s nod in the May 17 primary. The favorite is apparently wealthy Lexington mayor Jim Gray.
Leach confesses he’s running his campaign on a shoestring and lacks the money and name recognition Gray has. He's barnstorming the state in a little blue Ford Focus, stopping by union halls and introducing himself to local Democrats.
“Part of the problem is that we currently have fewer senators and congressmen with any military experience than at any time since prior to World War II.”
In any event, the winning Democrat will almost certainly face Sen. Rand Paul, a Bowling Green Republican who has suspended his presidential bid to concentrate on winning a second term.
Paul has a pair of primary opponents. Neither is given much of a chance to wrest the nomination from him.
Leach, who lost a 2014 bid to unseat Second District U.S. Rep Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, recently campaigned in Paducah, far western Kentucky’s largest city. His stops included the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, an umbrella organization for AFL-CIO-affiliated unions in the state’s 13 westernmost counties.
“I have the best resume to stand up to Sen. Paul,” Leach told council delegates at their February meeting. “I retired from the army after eight years in the National Guard and 21 years on active duty, including four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Leach said he also taught high school agriculture classes.
His wife, Kelly, is an army lieutenant-colonel based at Fort Knox, near Brandenburg. He retired as a major, but was a medical sergeant in the Special Forces, dubbed the “Green Berets” for their distinctive headwear.
Unions consider the senator Leach wants to replace—and Kentucky’s senior senator—two of the most anti-labor lawmakers in Washington. Paul and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, have backed legislation to create a national “right to work” law.
Leach said he strongly supports unions and their issues, adding that Paul’s idea of freedom is not his.
“As I listened to his bow out speech, I heard Sen. Paul talk about the ‘Freedom Coalition’ and I thought about that. Freedom means something different to him.
“He believes in the freedom to continue buying our elections, which is allowing our country to become no longer a democracy but a plutocracy where a handful of folks dictate the outcome of elections and buy elections. His mentor [McConnell] says the freedom to spend all the money you want on elections equals free speech. That’s not the freedom I’m looking for.
“I’m looking for freedom to rebuild the middle class that once was the largest and greatest middle class in the world but is no longer.”
He said only about 49 percent of Americans are classified as middle class, down from a peak of 63 percent. “That steady decline seems to correspond quite well with the last 35 years of trickle-down, supply-side economics, the crushing of labor and the silencing of the majority in this nation."
Leach said his idea of freedom is reflected in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. “It was a march for freedom and jobs—jobs with dignity, jobs which we would call now ‘jobs with a living wage.’ The two go hand in hand.
“Try to tell the single mother working 60 hours a week and still living from paycheck to paycheck how much freedom and liberty she has. Try to tell the folks that are disfranchised from the system and can’t get a job or can’t get a living wage how much freedom they have.”
Leach also said his military background gives him a better understanding of foreign policy than Paul has. Paul is not a military veteran.
“Part of the problem is that we currently have fewer senators and congressmen with any military experience than at any time since prior to World War II,” Leach said.
Veterans, especially combat veterans, understand that “sending our sons and daughters off to war is a very solemn decision.” Leach said as a senator he would “make sure our troops are deployed properly.”
He added, “Politicians say they respect our troops. I say if you do, you use them prudently and appropriately and, yes, be prepared to back them when they come home” by providing them proper health, education, training and other veterans’ benefits.
Leach can be reached by email at email@example.com and by phone at 910-391-3702.
Berry Craig III