Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear faced off in the Kentucky Farm Bureau gubernatorial candidate forum.
Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear faced off in the Kentucky Farm Bureau gubernatorial candidate forum. | Screenshot via KFB video

The Kentucky Farm Bureau hosted a forum for gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin and Andy Beshear on Wednesday, where the two rivals weighed in on various agricultural and rural issues, but mostly stuck to the familiar themes and attacks on each other that have defined their campaigns.

In his opening statement, Attorney General Andy Beshear contrasted his style with that of Gov. Bevin, saying that Kentucky needed a governor “that doesn’t divide us, but brings us together” and “respects everybody,” never using “name-calling or bullying.”

He also said that his administration would protect rural health care and education, criticizing Bevin’s advocacy for for-profit charter schools and arguing that rural hospitals could close if the governor rolls back the expansion of Medicaid.

Bevin opened the forum by saying that his administration was forced to spend much of the past four years “cleaning out the barn” from the mess that had piled up in Frankfort over the previous 100 years, later laying the blame for much of that at the feet of his opponent’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear.

He also defended his effort to push through a Medicaid waiver plan that would prevent “able-bodied people” getting “free health care” and ensuring that “those who can work do work.”

The two candidates for governor would further contrast themselves on tax and pension policy, while Bevin attacked Beshear over opposition to the president. Here’s a roundup of some of the major issues the two clashed over.

Taxation

Each candidate was asked what kind of additional tax reform is needed in Kentucky, and whether the current exemptions for agricultural sales and use taxes should stay in place.

Bevin repeated his advocacy for moving Kentucky away from an income tax and becoming more reliant on a consumption-based sales tax but was noncommittal on the sales tax exemptions for agriculture.

Noting that his administration has taken no efforts to end such exemptions, Bevin said, “you are not likely to see that going forward,” though noting that this issue will be driven by the legislature and “everything should be on the table” when it comes to comprehensive tax reform.”

Beshear stated that he would keep the agricultural tax exemptions, adding that you “can’t trust” anyone who says they want to make state revenue totally reliant on consumption taxes yet promise to keep certain sales tax exemptions.

The attorney general added that comprehensive tax reform can only be accomplished by a governor “who shows you his taxes” and proves that he “pays their fair share,” a direct reference to Bevin not following through on a 2015 campaign promise to release his tax returns after being elected.

Pensions

Regarding the upcoming special session of the Kentucky General Assembly that the governor has called for to begin on Friday — addressing the drastically increased pension costs of quasi-governmental organizations and regional universities — Beshear laid the blame at the governor’s feet.

Noting that Bevin vetoed a bill to freeze those pension payments in this year’s session, Beshear said the special session had to be called “because this governor failed to get it done in a regular session.”

Bevin countered that he vetoed the quasi pension bill passed in the regular session because it was “illegal” and criticized Beshear for supporting it, which the attorney general interrupted to deny ever indicating such support.

Bevin repeated criticism of Beshear’s father for creating the huge unfunded liability of the state’s public pension system and lauded the unprecedented funding his administration has directed toward those plans.

However, Beshear referenced the increased pension payments now mandated on local governments as “crushing” their budgets, as the Kentucky Retirement Systems leadership under Bevin has pushed through more conservative assumptions on investments returns.

Bevin countered that the idea of him punishing such local governments with increased payments is “nonsense,” as “the cost of the pension is the cost of the pension.”

Trump

Bevin’s re-election campaign has sought to strongly ally himself with Donald Trump, and his closing statement in the forum attempted to call out Beshear as an open nemesis of the president.

“Do you want a governor of your state that actively works against the president of your United States?” asked Bevin. “It doesn’t matter what your party (is), it doesn’t matter what you think of the president. Do you want a governor publicly bragging about the fact that he’ll fight the policies of the standing president?”

Beshear, who made great efforts to not directly criticize Trump during his primary race, told reporters after the forum that when the president pushes good policies, he will support them, citing the administration’s funding for solving cold cases from the state’s backlog of untested rape kits.

However, when Trump pushes bad policies, Beshear said he would oppose them, citing the administration’s “drastic policies that would rip health care away from over half a million Kentuckians.”

Beshear also asked why, if Bevin has such a good relationship with Trump, he doesn’t ask the president to reverse his policies on tariffs that are hurting Kentucky soybean farmers.

“We deserve a leader who fights for Kentuckians and not a follower looking to get a job in another city from another person,” said Beshear.

Also related to Trump, both candidates were asked if they thought the president’s tweets from last weekend calling for four minority congresswomen to “go back” to the countries they came from were racist.

Beshear called those tweets “wrong” and “ugly,” but declined to call them racist.

Bevin, on the other hand, refused to criticize the tweets and said that Trump is not a racist, adding that the reporter who asked him the question should be ashamed of himself.

Asked what he would think if his own adopted children from Ethiopia were ever told to go back where they came from, Bevin said he wouldn’t comment on “hypotheses” and asked for questions that were “germane to Kentucky.”

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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]