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Stivers lends ear to Paducah residents

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

The reason for Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers' visit to western Kentucky this week came as a surprise to some locals.

The Republican lawmaker from Manchester said he was touring the opposite corner of the state not to drum up support for any campaign, but rather to listen to the concerns of residents in the region. That's not what many Paducahans expected from his visit, Stivers said.

"I think they were a little skeptical because they thought I was running for something," he said. "Is it (the visit) a little atypical? It probably is."

Stivers' district includes Clay, Knox, Lee, Owsley, Whitley and Wolfe counties. He's served as Senate president for a year and a half and sees familiarizing himself with other regions in the state as part of his job.

"I'm not here in any other shape, fashion or form but to just become more aware," Stivers said, though he wouldn't rule out ever running for another office.

Stivers said during a meeting at The Paducah Sun that one of the leading concerns of western Kentuckians is a lack of representation in Frankfort. He argues that's not necessarily the case, as Bob Leeper (I-Paducah) and Joe Bowen (R-Owensboro) serve as chairmen for key committees - Leeper on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee and Bowen on the State and Local Government Committee.

Still, "They (residents) don't think attention is given to the region by the elected officials in Frankfort. And that's one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, to come here," he added.

Stivers' day in Paducah included a visit to the Chamber of Commerce, where local leaders updated the senator on the status of the United States Enrichment Corporation and the progress of the Kitchens Building, the future site of the Paducah School of Art & Design's 2-D program.

Stivers said he doesn't hold much sway when it comes to persuading the Department of Energy to grant a major contract that would bring cleanup jobs to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

"I could write (the DOE) a nice letter," Stivers said. "It would be rhetoric, but it would be rhetoric that was well received."

The DOE allocated a total of $324 million to ongoing and future cleanup of the site in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Despite pressure from U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and Rep. Ed Whitfield, the department has yet to spend the money.

The update on the Paducah School of Art & Design proved more positive.

The local campaign for $2.5 million to renovate the Kitchens Building in Lowertown should be completed this month, according to Ashley Wright, vice president for institutional advancement at West Kentucky Community & Technical College. She and Chamber of Commerce President Sandra Wilson expressed gratitude to the state for its role in helping to fund the $10 million project through agency bonds. Stivers' trip included stops in Hopkinsville on Tuesday, followed by visits to Cadiz, Eddyville, Murray, Hickman, Clinton and Mayfield on Wednesday. He will be in Owensboro today.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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