Rep. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat who represents Louisville, is the newest member of the Kentucky delegation and its only Democrat.
“This is serious business,” McGarvey told Spectrum News. “We’re the first freshmen class elected after Jan. 6, and I get the sense from my class that we came here to do something.”
McGarvey criticized House Republicans, who get to set the agenda, after they decided to focus on several bills that had no chance of passing in the Democratic-led Senate.
“These messaging bills, the frustration, the sort of confusion we are seeing out of their caucus - it’s not leadership,” McGarvey said. “We all ran campaigns, and they got the majority, but they’ve actually done nothing they’ve campaigned on. They’ve done nothing to help with inflation. They’ve done nothing to help people in their everyday lives.”
McGarvey’s predecessor, former Rep. John Yarmuth, endorsed McGarvey before the primary elections. In a Spectrum News interview last May, Yarmuth shared some advice about working as the only Democrat in Kentucky’s congressional delegation.
“We generally find ways to work together when Kentucky interests are involved,” Yarmuth said using the bourbon and horse racing industries as examples. “There’s a variety of things where we can always work together.”
Over the last 10 years, McGarvey became known for working across the aisle in the state senate where Democrats held a super-minority. He served his last 4 years in Frankfort as the Democratic leader.
McGarvey seems to be taking Yarmuth’s advice to heart, joining Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., as co-chairman of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus. While caucuses do not have power like congressional committees, they provide a way for lawmakers to strengthen relationships and draw attention to issue they think are important.
“Ninety-five percent of the world’s bourbon is made in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It’s good jobs. It’s union jobs,” McGarvey said. “It’s important for people to understand how we export, how we make a profit.”
No matter how quickly McGarvey hits the ground running in Washington, this seat is losing influence because Yarmuth, who had represented the Louisville area for 16 years, had worked his way up to chair the highly influential House Budget Committee.
“Losing it just kind of takes a hit on the representation he provides to the home state,” explained Casey Burgat with the legislative affairs program at George Washington University. “[Yarmuth] is in a better position to set the agenda, to call certain witnesses, to fill legislation with certain pet prerogatives or pet items.”
Stephen Voss with the political science department at the University of Kentucky explained that with Republicans in the majority, it would be a good time for McGarvey to grow his potential for power in Congress.
“Let [McGarvey] rise up in the ranks that sometime in the future, when the Democratic Party moves into the majority… he might have a handful of years of seniority under his belt and be ready to start exercising influence,” Voss explained.
McGarvey will start out by serving as a member of the Small Business Committee and the Veterans Affairs Committee.
“I’m seeing good progress on my committees right now, with people from across the aisle,” McGarvey said. “I’ve co-sponsored a bill with a Republican representatives on the veterans committee that, we hope, will ease the backlog of complaints coming in that our veterans need to get solved.”
In a press release, McGarvey said that the Veterans’ Appeals Backlog Improvement Act “will allow the VA and Board of Veterans’ Appeals to establish a legal internship program, hire more young attorneys, and create better access to resources, cutting down on delays and improving veterans’ lives."
There are approximately 40,000 veterans in McGarvey’s district so his work on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee has the potential to affect many of his constituents. His goals include improving healthcare options and providing more education and job training resources for those who served.