Former Kentucky lawmaker challenging Mitch McConnell in GOP primary for U.S. Senate

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A former Republican state lawmaker wants to replace U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in next year’s Kentucky race for U.S. Senate.

C. Wesley Morgan, a Richmond liquor store owner, announced on Facebook Tuesday he will run against McConnell in the 2020 GOP primary election.

“We still have a while to go and I won’t be ‘politicking’ much this early, but your prayers and support are appreciated,” said Morgan. He also included information on how to donate to his campaign.

McConnell, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984 and is the longest serving U.S. Senate leader in history, did not seem too concerned about Morgan’s entry into the race.

“It is difficult to take Wesley Morgan as a viable threat in a Republican primary,” said Kevin Golden, McConnell campaign manager, in an email. “He has supported Democrats over Republicans in the past and said he will do it again in 2020. Wesley Morgan’s campaign will end no differently than anyone else who has ever challenged Mitch McConnell.”

Golden referenced news coverage of Morgan’s loss in the 2018 Republican state House primary to Deanna Frazier. In a Facebook post on election night, Morgan announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and supporting the Democratic nominee, Morgan Eaves.

“Tonight the GOP lost a true conservative and patriot. I will no longer be associated with the Republican Party,” Morgan wrote.

The next day, Morgan said he had changed his mind. Frazier replaced Morgan in the House after he had served one two-year term.

Morgan, who said he has been thinking about running against McConnell for years, said he knows McConnell will attack him. “That’s the way he operates.”

“I’m 69,” said Morgan. “If he wants to come after an old man like me, I will go after an old man like him.” McConnell is 77.

Morgan also said he is aware of McConnell’s huge campaign war chest. McConnell raised more than $2 million in the first three months of this year and had about $5.6 million on hand for his reelection campaign.

— Lexington Herald-Leader

Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte plans run for governor, opening up at-large House seat

WASHINGTON — Rep. Greg Gianforte, Montana’s lone House member, is planning to announce a run for governor in 2020, according to the state’s MTN News network.

Gianforte was elected to the House in the first special election of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2017. He would be the fourth Republican to announce a run for governor in the state, which has trended increasingly red in recent local elections, although Democrats have notched some marquee wins in statewide office races.

No Democrats have announced campaigns for Montana governor so far.

Publicly, Gianforte is keeping any plans for a run for the governor’s mansion close to the vest.

“Greg has received a lot of encouragement from Montanans about running for Governor,” a spokesman for the congressman said in a statement. “Greg’s considering how best he can use his executive experience and background in creating high-wage Montana jobs to best serve Montana, and he will announce his decision in the coming weeks.”

Term-limited Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who is running for president in 2020, defeated Gianforte by 4 percentage points in his 2016 reelection bid. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester successfully defended his seat from state auditor Matt Rosendale by a 3-point margin in the 2018 midterms.

If Gianforte emerges from the crowded Republican primary field next year, that would also open up Montana’s at-large House seat for the 2020 election.

Rosendale would be in pole position among Republicans to replace Gianforte in Washington, according to a February poll from the conservative Club for Growth, a national organization that promotes Republican candidates with a track record of free-enterprise and deregulation policies.

— CQ-Roll Call

Colombia’s Supreme Court orders release of ex-guerrilla Santrich

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Jesus Santrich, a former FARC guerrilla commander at the center of a judicial saga related to a U.S. request to have him extradited.

Santrich, who is less well known by his real name, Seuxis Hernandez, was arrested more than a year ago on charges of planning to smuggle cocaine to the United States.

Nearly two weeks ago, he was released after the country’s post-conflict tribunal, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, or JEP, said there was not enough evidence to justify his extradition.

But immediately after his release, Santrich was rearrested after prosecutors said they had found new evidence against him.

Twists in the affair have included the resignation of attorney general Nestor Humberto Martinez and a suicide attempt by Santrich in his cell.

Colombia’s 2016 peace deal turned FARC from a guerrilla movement into a political party and guaranteed it 10 seats in Congress. One of them went to Santrich, who could not occupy it because of his arrest.

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it agreed with an objection presented by Santrich’s lawyers against his imprisonment, local media reported.

The Supreme Court also said that because of Santrich’s high status as a congressman, the court itself would hear his case.

“The Supreme Court of Justice orders the release of our companion Jesus Santrich … we expect a response and compliance from the part of the government,” FARC leader Rodrigo Londono tweeted.

The Santrich case is at the center of disagreements between President Ivan Duque and the JEP, which is tasked with handling war crimes and which Duque accuses of being too lenient on former guerrillas.

The president has presented objections to part of the legislation regulating the functioning of the JEP. The validity of the objections is due to be determined by the Constitutional Court.

Duque’s critics say he is trying to undermine the JEP in an attempt to cover up human rights violations by politicians and the army, and that such moves endanger the country’s peace process.

The 2016 peace deal signed by Duque’s predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, led to the demobilization of about 7,000 FARC guerrillas after 52 years of conflict.

— dpa