Senate candidate Sellus Wilder comes to Bowling Green

Sellus Wilder talks to supporters during a meet and greet on Sunday, April 10 at Mellow Mushroom in Bowling Green. Sellus Wilder is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent senator Rand Paul. Wilder held a meet and greet where voters would come and ask questions. Wilder was a Frankfort City Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem. Shaban Athuman/HERALD

Andrew Henderson

Several patrons of Mellow Mushroom seated themselves around a table in a side room of the restaurant on Sunday as light filtered in from the windows nearby. With drinks in hand and queries in their minds, people fielded questions left and right to Sellus Wilder, a Democrat seeking the party’s nomination to run for Kentucky’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

Running for the Senate isn’t Wilder’s first bullet on his political resume. He previously served as Frankfort City Commissioner and Mayor Pro Term. Wilder registered with the office of the Secretary of State on Jan. 26.

During the meet-and-greet event, Wilder fielded questions from attendees on a variety of different topics. These included the economies of eastern and western Kentucky, his support for term limits, women’s reproductive rights and the threat posed by the Islamic State to name a few.

In regards to the coal industries in both eastern and western Kentucky, Wilder said one of the biggest problems with the coal industry is that it is a motto industry, and people are very invested in that motto.

Wilder said there’s a need to diversify the economy in these areas of the state so they aren’t just coal dependent. To combat this, he said, more technology infrastructure such as more broadband access is essential to boosting a 21st century economy.

“We’re not going to bring new industries or new companies into eastern and western Kentucky without that level of connectivity, and that also makes the case for increased educational opportunities,” Wilder said.

Wilder spoke about his experience holding government positions in Frankfort. He said politicians often make decisions for the benefit of the short term and not the long term, and he said this is common in politics as politicians feel the need to make decisions that pay off in their term so they can ensure their reelection.

Wilder said imposing term limits would result in the loss of “some good legislators” as well as people like Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator and House Majority Leader. Wilder also said he would self-impose term limits and said he was looking at two terms as it would be hypocritical for him to subscribe to this and not follow through himself.

“The real value of term limits is the fact then when you’re not worried about reelection, when you’re limited on being able to run for office again, then you’re free to vote with your heart instead of by way of political calculation,” Wilder said.

Wilder also answered questions regarding his stances on women’s reproductive rights. He said he believes all people should have the right to make choices about their health, including abortion and end-of-life care. However, he said it’s important to understand both sides of the issue and understand where people are coming from in regards to abortion.

“I see value in trying to reduce or limit second and third term abortions; I don’t think the way to do that is to criminalize abortions,” Wilder said.

Wilder said in order to limit late-term abortions is to fund Planned Parenthood to ensure affordable and easy access to reproductive services and to offer more realistic sex education.

A few people also questioned Wilder on stances of his foreign policy, specifically in regards to the Islamic State. He said a problem with dealing with terrorism is we often arm the enemy of our enemy, and this can lead to negative situations later.

He said in the short term, we need to deal with the threat the group poses militarily, but we need to do more than just address the problem from solely a defense standpoint. Wilder said expanding education, humanitarian efforts and diplomacy would reduce animosity towards the U.S. and “get us more bang for our buck.”

“When we take actions that hurts folks that aren’t even involved in this … we end up encouraging more animosity towards the United States,” Wilder said. “We have a relationship with the rest of the world, and I think it would help us to do our best to encourage a more friendly world.”

Wilder also talked about facing off against Rand Paul in the general election on Nov. 8. He said he’s looking forward to an opportunity to debate with Paul and said he could “go toe-to-toe” with him.

What has Wilder most concerned, however, are the six other candidates running for the Democratic nomination, especially Lexington mayor Jim Gray. Wilder said he’s been disappointed in Gray’s candidacy thus far. In his opinion, Gray’s intent for his campaign is to run on similar platforms Democrats in Kentucky often run on.

“I’m trying to prove to the party that we can actually run as honest progressives and still compete in Kentucky,” Wilder said.

He conceded that his campaign would not be able to compete with Gray’s in term of fundraising. Gray’s campaign reported they had raised $1.75 million, according to the Herald-Leader. Wilder, however, pointed to the defeats of Alison Grimes in the Senate race against McConnell and Jack Conway in the race for Kentucky governor to make his point that running on money alone won’t work.

Bowling Green native Chris Joffrion was one of those in attendance at Mellow Mushroom. He said he believes Wilder is running for the right reasons and that his campaign makes sense and contrasts to Democrats the state has seen as of late.

Joffrion said he found Wilder’s confidence to speak his mind on issues appealing to him. He said he’s unsure if Wilder would get the Democratic nomination or win the Senate seat as that’s ultimately up to the voters of Kentucky.

“He has a much harder road to hoe in order to secure the nomination, and I think it really depends upon the willingness of Kentucky’s voters to get to know their candidates,” Joffrion said.

Kentucky’s primary election will take place on May 17, and the general election will take place on Nov. 8. The last day to register to vote for the primary is April 18.