U.S. Senate candidate Jim Gray visits Bowling Green

Emma Collins

Candidate for U.S. Senate, Jim Gray, visited the Warren County Democratic Headquarters in Bowling Green Saturday for a meet and greet with voters.

Gray, a Democrat and the current mayor of Lexington, spoke to a crowd of around 30 people about his campaign platforms, and specifically, his ideas for improving Kentucky’s economy.

Gray said he supports a thriving economy with opportunities for everyone. Gray said his economic platform has four points: build infrastructure, build American manufacturing, build small businesses and build the middle class.

“I’m someone who wants to see positive change, investment in America so our country will grow, so young people have opportunities, the opportunities that I had growing up,” Gray said. “The only way we’re going to get there is for the country to make investments.”

Gray used his time as mayor to illustrate his ability to improve the economy.

When he was first elected as mayor in 2010, Gray said Lexington had a $30 million budget deficit and the pension system for firemen and policemen was underfunded by $350 million. In addition to the deficits, Gray said the healthcare plan for city employees was also losing around $20 million.

“It was a perfect storm,” Gray said. “We had to put a bear hug around these problems and wrestle them to the ground.”

In the years following his first election, Gray said his office was able to fix the underfunded pension system, invest in public safety and affordable housing and create a more effective health care plan. Gray said the process also added around 15,000 new jobs.

In addition to focusing on the economy, Gray said he also plans to focus on college education, particularly the rising cost of student loans. Gray said there is no perfect solution to the problem, but he believes allowing the refinancing of student loans may be one step.

Jack Eason, a junior at Bowling Green High School, said Gray’s concern with student loans is one reason why he supports Gray.

“[Loans] are so much a part of the American college experience,” Eason said. “As someone planning to attend college, it is just really important to me that our candidates care how big of a problem the cost of college is.”

Gray, a Glasgow native, said he first entered the world of politics at 19 when he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Around the same time, Gray’s father died of lung cancer leaving behind a construction business, a wife and six children. Gray said he returned home from school to help support his family.

“Seven years after dad passed away, we were flat on our backs broke,” Gray said. “With the help of family and friends, we recovered.”

Gray said his family went on to develop the business into one of the nation’s leading builders of advanced manufacturing. The business, which is headquartered in Lexington, has built plants that have provided numerous jobs for Kentuckians.

Gray said his time spent working in the family business and the private sector provided him with skills he has been able to transfer to public office.

“Good business principles and practices can be translated into government,” Gray said.

During his speech, Gray also emphasized his Kentucky roots and how he has lived in Kentucky for much of his life while pointing out how his opponent Rand Paul, the current U.S. senator and a Bowling Green native, has spent very little of his adult life in Kentucky.

“Rand Paul knows more about the cornfields of Iowa and the coffee shops of New Hampshire than he does about Kentucky and Kentuckians’ problems and challenges,” Gray said.

Cathy Lindsey, communications director for Gray’s campaign, said Gray wants the people of Kentucky to be aware of his history as a Kentuckian and his commitment to the state.

“His main message is that as a senator that he will focus on the issues relevant to Kentuckians,” Lindsey said. “He does not have any personal aspirations than to do anything more than serve the people of Kentucky.”

Lindsey said that unlike Paul, Gray has no desire to run for president of the United States.

Gray took numerous opportunities to compare himself to Paul. He called Paul an “obstructionist” who is often unwilling to compromise.

“I am for working together, finding common ground, and when we need to, compromising,” Gray said. “That’s what progress is all about.”

As the challenger against the incumbent Paul, who has held the Senate seat since 2011, Gray will face a unique set of challenges.

Lindsey said one of these challenges is not being as well known as Paul. Because of his campaign for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election, Paul received a lot of media coverage earlier this year making him even more well-known than he already was.

Gray said running against an incumbent does not worry him because he faced an incumbent when he ran for mayor in 2010.

“I’m at ease, very comfortable in that role, in that position,” Gray said. “This is America; anything can happen.”

Brenda McGown, a Bowling Green local and a volunteer at the Democratic Headquarters, said she believes it will take a lot of work for Gray to win. McGown said Gray needs to get his message out to the people of Kentucky.

“I think it’s going to take going to the people,” McGown said.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @thebest_dilemma.