Attorney General Jack Conway
Attorney General Jack Conway

Hours before the new Bluegrass Poll showed Democrat Jack Conway leading Republican Matt Bevin by 5 percent in Kentucky’s race for governor, the candidates — including independent Drew Curtis — participated in a spirited debate on Kentucky Sports Radio, which has become a new state political tradition over the past year.

The new Bluegrass Poll showed little movement in the race from their last poll in July, with Conway maintaining a 42 to 37 percent lead over Bevin, with Curtis garnering 7 percent.

One answer from Bevin that immediately made national headlines was to a question from the show’s host Matt Jones asking who he would vote for if the 2016 presidential election was held today. Despite the fact that Sen. Rand Paul is scheduled to headline a rally for Bevin on Saturday in Frankfort, Bevin said he would vote for Republican candidate and neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

“Of those still in the race right now, still in the race, I like Ben Carson,” said Bevin. “He’s not taking shots at people. He’s intelligent. He’s articulate. He’s respected. There’s a lot about him that America would do well to have.”

Asked why he was snubbing the home state candidate Paul, Bevin replied: “I’m looking at people who I think would have the best chance of uniting all the pieces. I think the world of Rand. He’s a friend of mine, he’s been very gracious to me, and vice versa when I ran. But in terms of who I would select right now, he’s not the first choice I would make.”

Conway interjected: “Wow, that’s going to make for a testy campaign event this weekend, Matt.”

Asked about Bevin’s remarks, Sergio Gor — the spokesman for Paul’s presidential campaign — said Paul would still attend the Saturday event for Bevin, and referred IL to a tweet by Bevin after the debate that backtracked on his answer.

“To be clear..I like Ben Carson, but am not endorsing him or anyone for POTUS,” tweeted Bevin. “Have never endorsed in my life..If I did would #StandWithRand.”

After the debate, Matt Bevin quickly backtracked on his remarks about supporting Ben Carson for president over Rand Paul
After the debate, Matt Bevin quickly backtracked on his remarks about supporting Ben Carson for president over Rand Paul

Asked who he would vote for today, Curtis named Donald Trump, saying he likes what Trump says about what is broken in America, but he is still waiting on more details about his policy positions.

Conway refused to answer this question — hinting that he was waiting on a decision by Vice President Joe Biden — with Bevin derisively adding: “Get used to that.”

Jones pressed Conway on some of his campaign’s vagueness throughout the debate, asking in particular where he would find the revenue for his proposals to increase education funding and a dedicated stream for the state’s troubled public pension plans — considering he is against raising taxes. Conway said he would do so by finding “efficiencies in state government,” as well as sitting down with leaders in both parties to “reallocate resources.”

Asked if he would defund Planned Parenthood within Kentucky if that was possible, Conway initially said this was impossible and refused to answer a hypothetical question. Pressed further by Jones, Conway answered, “If I could, I would prefer to see all family planning be done in the private context.”

Independent candidate for governor Drew Curtis
Independent candidate for governor Drew Curtis

Curtis said he would not advocate for such defunding, correctly noting that Planned Parenthood does not perform any abortions in Kentucky. Bevin said that such defunding was possible, and he would support such an action.

Conway attempted to bolster his conservative credentials throughout the debate, saying he is different from most Democrats due to his “fiscal responsibility,” and touting his lawsuit against the EPA’s regulations to combat climate change. Though he said that he believes in climate change, he added, “I don’t think Kentucky coal is creating all of the problems with climate change.”

Bevin had several tense exchanges with Jones, particularly over his refusal to release his tax returns, which every major candidate for governor has done in Kentucky over the last 30 years. Bevin disputed that figure, accusing Jones of not doing his homework, but he refused to name a single candidate who has not done so over that time period.

Bevin said whatever was in his returns was no one else’s business, and compared it to letting people root through his garage. Democrats have been hitting Bevin over this issue in TV ads, and the Bluegrass Poll showed that 67 percent of respondents believe he should release them to the public.

Asked about his conflicting statements throughout the campaign concerning whether or not he will do away with Kentucky’s expansion of Medicaid, Bevin didn’t add any more clarity. He stressed that he would not kick anyone off of their insurance, though also saying he would seek to lower eligibility for Medicaid from 138 percent of the federal poverty rate — a misleading coupling of ideas.

Conway and Curtis both endorsed an increase in Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, while Bevin instead vowed to support a so-called “right to work” law that would make paying union dues voluntary for members, saying it would attract more businesses to the state. Asked how the lack of this law is hurting Kentucky, since only 8 percent belong to a union, Bevin dismissed those who were “fighting to preserve something for 8 percent that’s killing 100 percent.”

Curtis said he was open to raising taxes if it was necessary, but he”would rather streamline the tax code and get the efficiencies out of that, instead.” Bevin indicated support for revenue-neutral tax reform that moves to a consumption-based system, saying, “While some taxes will come down, some may in fact go up… Everyone likes the idea of them only going down, (but that’s) not likely to be possible.”

Conway indicated he is for expanding gambling in Kentucky via a voting referendum, saying the state already suffers from some of the ills from gambling while losing out on the casino revenue that goes to other states.

“We have parasitic casinos lined up along our borders, and we’re getting none of the revenue benefits,” said Conway. “So I think the people of Kentucky ought to be able to vote on that.”

Bevin replied to Conway: “So we need parasites in our own state? What’s the point of that?”

Both Curtis and Bevin indicated support for the legalization and regulation of whole plant marijuana, though Conway opposed it “because the medical community has not advocated for it.”

Curtis reiterated his intention to tackle Kentucky’s pension crisis, saying his first act as governor would be to “drop a big fat audit on the Kentucky Retirement System” to root out corruption and excess fees paid to hedge fund managers.

In an answer reminiscent to that of Obama-stiff-arming Alison Lundergan Grimes in last year’s Senate race, Curtis said he could not remember who he voted for in the 2012 presidential race — less than three years ago. Bevin interrupted Curtis to say that answer was “baloney… that means Obama.”

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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