Tribute in Honor of Karen Kelly

Floor Speech

Date: July 21, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ROGERS of Kentucky. Madam Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Karen Kelly, one of the most dynamic female leaders in Kentucky politics, who has worked with me through various roles in southern and eastern Kentucky over the last 28 years. She has served as my District Director for Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District since 2013, and as she moves on to the private sector, I want to honor her today before my House colleagues who understand the immense value of having a fierce and loyal leader on the frontlines in the district while we are working diligently on Capitol Hill for our people at home.

Karen is the most recent of many incredible female leaders that I have been blessed to have on staff, starting with my very first Chief of Staff in Washington, Marty Driesler. Marty was a force of nature and was instrumental in many of my early successes in Congress--just as Karen Kelly has been in Kentucky for nearly three quarters of my tenure in Congress. Much of my staff in Washington and in Kentucky have become long-tenured experts in their respective fields, providing excellent aid to folks across Kentucky's Appalachian region, and trusted advisors during my public service in the U.S. House of Representatives--and chief among them being Karen Kelly.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, ``If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.'' As we know well in Congress, the world of politics isn't for weak-minded, spineless individuals. To be effective, you must stand firm on the values you hold dear, even at the risk of losing popularity; however, Karen has managed to maintain both. In fact, she has become one of the most highly respected leaders in Kentucky because of her relentless commitment to her conservative values and her courage of conviction to do what's best for the people of our region, even when the going gets tough.

In 1994, Karen started out answering the phones and doing casework in my Pikeville office, quickly working her way up to become a Field Representative in my Hazard office. From day one she proved to be a highly motivated and promising visionary with an intense work ethic to accomplish any task that I set in her path. Soon after, I asked her to lead the Eastern Kentucky PRIDE organization, a non-profit environmental education and improvement task force to help clean up our hillsides, lakes, and streams across Kentucky's Fifth District. She quickly learned the complex ropes of grant funding and grew PRIDE's outreach operations in the schools. She also led the charge for more water and sewer project opportunities with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and exponentially grew volunteer cleanup participation.

In the early 2000s, I quickly realized that we had another crisis to clean up in Eastern Kentucky when a deadly scourge of prescription overdose deaths was ignited by a flood of overprescribed powerful painkillers in our rural region. When I considered the best person to give life to this multifaceted response, I tapped Karen to take on an unprecedented role and lead the nation's first rural holistic organization to combat the growing drug epidemic. Together, we named it Operation UNITE--Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education. She formulated my vision into a comprehensive task force that become a model for the rest of the country--and she didn't stop in Eastern Kentucky. Karen helped me coordinate with like-minded leaders in Washington on the issue to launch the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, putting Operation UNITE's efforts on the national stage. We welcomed approximately 750 attendees to the first Rx Summit in 2012 in Orlando, Florida, and today, it is the largest comprehensive convention of its kind, with four U.S. Presidents serving as keynote speakers, along with leaders from each ofNation's top agencies on illicit drug-related policies.

Nine years ago, I asked her to return to my Congressional office to help me reinvigorate and revitalize southern and eastern Kentucky just as the coal industry was targeted by a relentless regulatory war that led to the loss of more than 12,000 coal mining jobs. During that time, she helped me established the bipartisan SOAR initiative--Shaping Our Appalachian Region, with former Governor Steve Beshear. Her diligent work and coordination were invaluable to our early comprehensive efforts to formulate and lead the SOAR organization and gain the trust of our constituents as we worked hard to bring jobs and new industry opportunities to the region, including the state's largest rural broadband expansion project and much more.

I often remind folks that our best resource in Eastern Kentucky isn't coal, tobacco, or timber--it's our people--and Karen exemplifies that. Her sheer determination to improve our region through compassionate advocacy and excellence in project execution has made a resounding impact across our region. While she has rightfully earned recognition and many accolades for her public service, her quiet generosity behind the scenes is a testament to her heart for God. Over the years, she has personally taken some of our less fortunate youth under her wing, providing support and encouragement to help them take hold of their own destiny. Today, many of them are now following in her footsteps to become the next generation of bright young rising leaders.

I am personally grateful to have had such a wonderful leading lady by my side over the last 28 years and I wish Karen and her family the very best in years to come.