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Kentucky reacts to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell's plan to step down

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky announced this week that he would be stepping down from his leadership role. Sylvia Goodman of Kentucky Public Radio spoke to political leaders in her state and to some of McConnell's constituents about what the change means to them.

SYLVIA GOODMAN, BYLINE: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is an institution in Kentucky. He's held onto his Senate seat for nearly four decades and has been the Senate leader for his party since 2007. And state political leaders say his position as a Senate leader is one of the reasons Kentucky stayed on the national radar. This is state House Speaker David Osborne.

DAVID OSBORNE: I do believe that he has been instrumental in not only access to funds. I mean, you look at the infrastructure bill alone - generating billions of dollars for the commonwealth. So I think you have to be a little bit concerned.

GOODMAN: Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers said McConnell has had a huge influence on state politics, as well. While the governor is a second term Democrat, Stivers says McConnell deserves some of the credit for Republican success in flipping the state legislature in favor of his party.

ROBERT STIVERS: But for some of the things that Senator McConnell did, we would not be in the position, nor would this state be in the position that it's in today.

GOODMAN: But it's not as if McConnell is leaving his congressional seat or totally giving up his immense influence on state or national politics. McConnell has also not announced whether he's planning on running for reelection in 2026. Social worker Ebony O'Rea, a Democrat from Louisville, thinks it's time for a change.

EBONY O'REA: I appreciate anyone who's willing to stand and serve, I really do, but at the end of the day, we have to start recognizing when it's time for folks to make room for new leaders.

GOODMAN: Others, like Matthew Callahan from northern Kentucky, said he's been concerned that the senator's health could stand in the way of doing his job. McConnell publicly froze while answering reporters' questions twice last year. The attending physician for the U.S. Congress said in a letter after the second incident that his health checked out. But Callahan, an independent who said he didn't vote for McConnell, said that didn't assuage his concerns.

MATTHEW CALLAHAN: Having the power that he does have, but still facing certain health issues that the public is not entirely aware of is not necessarily the best for the commonwealth of Kentucky or just the country in its entirety.

GOODMAN: McConnell has remained firm that he will complete his term. For NPR News, I'm Sylvia Goodman in Louisville, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sylvia Goodman