McConnell brings special lesson to Bernheim

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By Alex Wimsatt

 CLERMONT - Teaching the mechanics of American government, Bernheim Middle School social studies teacher Jennifer Faith wanted to bring her subjects to life and show her students that the concepts they learned were real and the people behind them were flesh and blood.

    "I wanted them to see that it's not just something in their text books-these are real people," she said.
    With that in mind Faith contacted the office of Kentucky's senior senator, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, to invite him to Bernheim Middle.
    Initially she was told the senator would not be able to stop by the school, but that a representative from his office would come in his place.
    Faith couldn't be more surprised when McConnell himself called the school to accept her invitation.
    McConnell made good on his word and on Wednesday afternoon he was at Bernheim Middle to address 50 students who were selected to attend the question-and-answer session in the school's library.
Eighth grader Jacob Calvert, who serves as a national officer in the Junior Beta Club, was honored to introduce the senator and shake his hand.
    After sharing a brief overview of the evolution of the Congress and explaining some of the differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives, McConnell took questions from a handful of students specially chosen to address the senator.
    The first student asked McConnell if he believed the health care bill signed into law last year was constitutional.
    McConnell said it was disputed whether requiring people to have health care violated the constitution, telling students that the issue was being considered in the court system.
    The senator couldn't say how the courts would rule, however, he did say he hoped that part of the law would be deemed unconstitutional.
    Later, a student asked if there was a chance the health care law could be repealed given the recent election.
    McConnell said the legislation was the worst mistake the country has made since he's been in the senate, adding that he expected the Republican controlled House to repeal it, but he said it was unlikely it would be repealed with a Democratic president, adding that they would try in the Senate.
    Another student asked if members of Congress were more at risk in light of the recent shooting in Phoenix, Ariz. where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot.
    "I don't," McConnell responded.
    "There is evil in the world. Once in a while someone does something evil...We shouldn't look beyond that."
    McConnell went on to say that he didn't think the shooting should or would change the way members of Congress freely interacted with the public.
    The next student asked if protests during military funerals, like the ones orchestrated by the Westboro Baptist Church, should be allowed.
    McConnell said that issue was a case of the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly clashing with the right to privacy, stating that an appropriate balance to the rights of free speech, assembly and privacy is to allow protestors to assemble, but from a great distance.
    "If you're going to tolerate free speech you have to tolerate speech you don't like," he said.
    The senator was asked if he supported term limits and he said he did not.
    "We have term limits now; they're called elections," he said.
    Among the final questions posed to McConnell, a student asked how serious a threat North Korea posed.
    McConnell said the threat was very serious, explaining that North Korea and Iran were considered "rogue states" seeking nuclear capabilities despite global disapproval.
    "It's easier to state the problem than it is to fix the problem," he said.
    He told students that one of the challenges lay with the fact that North Korea was isolated from the rest of the world, with the exception of their neighbor China. However he said the Chinese were reluctant to apply as much clout as they could.
    "Until they do there's no solution to the problem," he said.
    McConnell said Iran was equally challenging because the country was not so isolated and getting the world to cooperate has proven to be difficult.
    A student asked McConnell if he had considered running for president.
    "I have the job that best fits my skills," he replied before going on to say that he enjoyed serving as Republican Leader in the senate and he had no ambition to run for president but several of his colleagues did.
    Following the question-and-answer session Jacob Calvert was inspired by McConnell's visit and meeting him in person.
    "I've seen him on TV, but I never met him," he said, "It was an honor introducing him. I couldn't believe it."
    McConnell stopped by Bernheim after visiting other area schools, including Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, where he joined students in a moment of silence for the victims of the Arizona shooting.