Candidates for governor participated in a bilingual candidates forum at the La Casita Center, 223 E. Magnolia. From left are the moderator Jesús Ibañez, with two Democratic candidates, Adam Edelen and Geoff Young, and the former Gov. Steve Beshear. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Two Democratic candidates for governor and one candidate’s dad came to the La Casita Center Thursday to discuss their stances on issues affecting the Latinx community such as racial profiling, immigration and customs enforcement, and the environment.

Adam Edelen, Geoff Young and the former Gov. Steve Beshear — in place of his son, Attorney General Andy Beshear — spoke to the audience of about 30 people with an interpreter who sat in the audience translating.

Adam Edelen, candidate for governor. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Karina Barillas, executive director of La Casita, said: “Unfortunately we have been invisible for so long and we are waiting for a change. However, politicians believe that we don’t vote. We vote. And our kids will vote very soon.”

She reminded the candidates that Kentucky is a state of immigrants, and the candidates’ ancestors were immigrants, too.

Racial profiling

Moderator Jesús Ibañez of Mijente Louisville, a Latinx activist group, brought up the issue of racial profiling, or “driving while brown,” and asked the candidates what they would do to combat racial profiling within the Kentucky State Police, which he said was one of the strongest offenders. 

Edelen said the issue stems from police departments that don’t reflect the diversity of the communities they represent. He said if elected, he’d work to encourage young people of color to consider a career in law enforcement.

Beshear said 60% of Andy Beshear’s leadership in the attorney general’s office are women and people of color.

Young said the real issue is institutionalized racism. He said he’s the only candidate who is for the legalization of all cannabis products. He said the mass incarceration of people of color stems from the “failed War on Drugs.”

Environment

Geoff Young, candidate for governor. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Ibañez said many of the people fleeing Central American countries are doing so because of environmental issues. “Environmental issues are immigrant issues,” he said. He asked what the candidates would do to help strengthen environmental laws if elected.

Beshear said that Andy Beshear will enforce environmental laws: “To make sure that we have a safe environment in which to live because if we want everybody to be successful and have that opportunity to succeed, and you don’t have clean water, if you don’t have good food to eat, if you don’t have clean air to breathe, that path to success is not going to exist.”

Young, who worked for the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet for 15 years, said that he would “make the polluter pay, which is a fundamental economic principle. We can achieve both a healthier environment and a movement toward racial justice.”

Edelen touted his work as a renewable energy developer. He said he’s this year he will break ground on the largest solar installation in Kentucky by ten times, and it will bring $130 million in capital investment, creating jobs for out-of-work coal miners. “Folks, if we can create opportunity in the forgotten places using renewable energy, why can’t we do it right here in Louisville? Why can’t we create the jobs of the future?”

Jenny Bencomo-Súarez asked the candidates if they support a Green New Deal in Kentucky. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Jenny Bencomo-Súarez, an activist with the Sunrise Movement, asked whether the candidates would implement the Green New Deal in Kentucky.

After the forum, Bencomo-Súarez said she didn’t think the candidates answered her question at all.

“Only Young acknowledged institutional racism, but he didn’t talk about how to dismantle institutional racism,” she said. “Climate action is rooted in economic and racial justice, and if you do not acknowledge that then your action will fall short. Because it primarily impacts the most frontline communities — working class white people and communities of color and especially black communities in west Louisville.”

She said she wants the Green New Deal implemented in Kentucky.

“We’re facing crazy floods, people are dying of black lung disease, there’s a multitude of issues that we’re facing. And if we don’t escalate and we don’t ascend to the level that this human crisis demands, then there will be irreversible ecological devastation which in all actuality will cost a lot more economically speaking.”

Public safety

Ibañez asked if the candidates would allow undocumented immigrants to have a driver’s license. He said many undocumented people get pulled over for a minor issue and they don’t have a license. They are afraid to go to court for fear of being deported. There are 12 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico that allow undocumented driver’s licenses. 

Young said he will push for allowing more immigration to the U.S. at the federal level and creating a more “rapid, efficient and just path toward citizenship. Immigrants basically built this country and immigrants contribute a tremendous amount. They should not live in fear of being arrested just for being here.”

Former Gov. Steve Beshear participated in the forum on behalf of his son, Andy Beshear. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Beshear said he doesn’t know what Andy Beshear thinks about undocumented people getting driver’s licenses. He blamed the fear of deportation on the hatred and intimidation coming from Washington.

Edelen admitted that he wasn’t aware of the problem. “I have a campaign where we have Dreamers working on our campaign. I’m ashamed that I’ve never thought about the human impact on a basic level of people just trying to live their lives.”

Trust

Ibañez said that the Latinx community has heard a lot of promises in the past but it’s difficult to believe in politicians. How can they believe the candidates are going to deliver on their promises? 

Beshear talked about his son’s many legal wins against the Bevin administration.

Edelen said he knows what it’s like to struggle. His dad is a farmer in Meade County and his mother had him at age 16. But what made his path to success possible is no longer an option because of the high cost of living and stagnant wages. He also cited a lack of internet connectivity as a barrier to success.

Young said he’s been consistent in his life. He said Bevin, “Promises to make life worse for 99 percent of Kentuckians, and he’s been very consistent in fulfilling his promises.”

The Latinx vote

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear wasn’t able to attend the forum. | Courtesy

After the forum, Ibañez said he was pleased with the turnout and the answers given by the participants.

“It was very refreshing to hear that they were listening,” he said. “That they were willing to admit when they didn’t know something about the issue, but they were willing to learn. Of course, we wanted them to say yes on certain questions we asked, but I think it was a great turnout for being the first Latinx gubernatorial forum in Kentucky, and I think it’s only going to get bigger and better as we go forward from this forum.”

Andy Beshear will visit La Casita at noon May 1 for a tour and to answer some questions his father was unable to.

The Latinx vote is crucial, especially with the deportations and culture of fear in the political landscape, Ibañez said. “We see what’s happening to our parents. We see what’s happening to our cousins. And we notice that, and we’re going to keep that in our minds when we go to the polling booth.”

Lisa Hornung a native of Louisville and has worked in local media for more than 15 years as a writer and editor. Before that she worked as a writer, editor and photographer for community newspapers in Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, and after a 20-year career in journalism, she obtained a master’s degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016.