Thursday, November 19, 2015

OPINION: Kentuckians on Medicaid voted against their own interests, and the Democratic base wasn't motivated

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Back in 2004, journalist and historian Thomas Frank wrote the political book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Frank explores a political landscape historically dominated by left-wing [opulist movements, until conservatives started using social issues like abortion and gay marriage to appeal to the working class.

In doing so, Republicans were able to sway middle class and low-income citizens to vote against their own economic interests.

He argues the political discourse in America’s heartland has moved from discussion of economic mobility and opportunity to culture war issues, which are based in perceived anger toward “liberal elites.” Eleven years later, Kentucky has become the new face of this phenomenon.

Prior to the Nov. 3 gubernatorial election, Kentucky was known as the only Southern state where Democrats dominate most levels of government. But with Republican candidate Matt Bevin’s victory over Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky might be the new Kansas.

During the campaign Bevin spoke against raising the minimum wage, advocated dismantling the state’s online insurance market Kynect, and posited restructuring the Medicaid expansion. And yet Bevin’s largest amount of support came from the most impoverished areas of the state which have high numbers of Medicaid recipients.

Polls consistently had Conway ahead of Bevin throughout the race, and yet Bevin defeated Conway by nearly nine percentage points. Political experts have suggested several reasons for how this happened, such as low interest among Democratic voters and conservatives being less likely to participate in polls.

Another likely reason is that religious conservatives, which make up a huge voting community in Kentucky, were motivated by the situation surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.

The escapade involving Davis and her refusal to issue marriage licenses in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage received national attention, and Bevin showed support for Davis’ cause, turning a relatively insignificant issue into a culture war issue on which many conservatives base their votes.

Bevin’s victory should serve as a wakeup call to those on the left and even the center. The Democratic base was not motivated in this election, and the party paid the ultimate political price on Election Day. Regardless of whether or not they are justified in their sentiment, much of working class America is angry, and Republicans have proven to be more capable of capitalizing on the emotions of the citizenry and turning them into victories.

Cheyene Miller is the managing editor of the Kentucky Kernel, for which he wrote this column. It also appears at http://kykernel.com/2015/11/19/kentuckians-voted-against-their-own-interests/.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Matt Bevin, who aimed to get elected governor on his own terms, does it in spectacular fashion

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Republicans, adorned in suits and dresses, sipped their drinks and rang their bells – their Bevin bells. As each set of precincts came in, the cheers grew louder for Republican Matt Bevin in the Galt House Hotel on the riverfront in Louisville. Tuesday he became only the second Republican to be elected governor of Kentucky in four decades.

The consensus of support in the room did not come, however, because Matt Bevin was Republican; it came because he is a maverick; a political outsider; a fresh face; a change.

In his two campaigns for public office, Bevin has often rubbed many Republicans the wrong way. After his primary defeat in the 2014 Senate race by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bevin refused to endorse McConnell against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. This year, he said he favored Ben Carson for president rather than Kentucky's own Sen. Rand Paul, even as Paul came to the state to campaign for Bevin.

In September, the Republican Governors Association pulled its ads from the airwaves in Kentucky, a surprising move in a year that only had three governor’s races, and did not come back into the state until just a few weeks before Tuesday’s election.

Even in victory it was clear Bevin was a party outsider. “I’m proud of the fact that this is a great night for the Republican party in the state of Kentucky,” he told the Galt House crowd, “but it is more important that this is a great night for conservatives in Kentucky.”

Bevin does things his own way. Upset with certain journalists, he often refused to answer questions from them. He blacked out Louisville’s WAVE-TV, refusing to buy advertising on the Louisville NBC affiliate. This meant popular shows like The Voice, The Blacklist and Sunday Night Football were closed to advertising for Bevin in the largest media market in the state.

In a state that traditionally leans blue for state elections, especially the governor's office, Bevin stole the show by keeping the focus on conservative social issues. While Jack Conway seemed like a Punxsutawney Phil who saw his shadow at the Fancy Farm picnic and went back in his hole for six weeks, raising money, Bevin traveled around the state defending Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

But as the campaign rounded the final turn, Bevin was still staring down the barrel of unfriendly poll numbers. He shifted his strategy, began releasing ads linking Conway to President Obama  and started calling his opponent a rubber stamp for Obama.

His strategy worked.

Bevin won over voters like Stanley Burgan, 73, a retired auto body painter in Jessamine County. Burgan said he is registered Democratic, “But I went Republican because I’m sick of what Democrats are doing; meaning Obama.” Asked about specifics, Burgan said, “the homosexual thing, the liberalism – almost socialism – the Democrats are producing.”

In an election where officials expected a 28 percent turnout, Bevin rallied social conservatives and religious groups, who may have produced larger-than-expected support; 30.7 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls, and they pushed Bevin into the governor's mansion with a margin of 8.7 percentage points.

“We are Republicans and Democrats, and we are one Kentucky at the end of the day.” Bevin said to the crowd of cheering supporters. “Kentucky is ready for a fresh start!”

But the biggest cheer of the night came from the candidate’s wife.

Bevin said that as he drove 95,000 miles around the state over the last two years, “I hear so often, ‘How is it possible that you always seem so rested and full of energy? You have all these children; how is it possible that you are able to do this?’ I’ll tell you. You marry well.”

Glenna Bevin, who appeared in a TV ad for her husband, could not wipe the smile off her face, even though the spotlight embarrassed her. She tried to hide behind the shoulder of her husband, politely declining the attention the two had earned Tuesday night, along with their nine children, four adopted form Ethiopia.

From the failure in the Senate race, to his outsider, and sometime abrasive approach to the governor’s race, one metaphor illustrates the grit of Bevin. His father Avery Bevin was asked about a story Matt once told during the Senate race.

It was a cold New England night on the farm, probably dozens of degrees below zero, as it often is. A car would not start, and Bevin and his father went out to persuade it. Bevin said that it was so cold the moisture in their leather gloves froze, and had to be removed to perform repairs – a dangerous task due to the risk of frostbite.


Avery Bevin said it happened regularly. “You either took your gloves off and made it run, or you just sat there and froze to death,” said Avery. He never imagined his son in public service, but Matt has taken the gloves off and says he can make Kentucky run.

Interviews with voters help show how Bevin won race

By Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
Information for this story was also gathered by Kevin Erpenbeck, Megan Ingros, Jerry Seale and Ben Johnson.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. – Republican Matt Bevin rode a wave of voter discontent with the status quo and negative advertising to defeat Democrat Jack Conway to become Kentucky’s next governor, according to interviews Tuesday outside polling places.

“My biggest concern right now is that I want to see the Democrats out,” said Grover Johnson, a 64-year-old retired Toyota plant worker from Georgetown. “I’m not with their agenda, even though I was raised as a Democrat. With all their liberal policies, I’ve turned against them. So I’m voting straight Republican down the line.”

One common theme expressed by many voters, particularly Republicans, is that they were tired of negative television commercials.

Rhonda Fender, a 47-year-old Toyota worker, said she wasn’t pleased with how either candidate handled their campaigns, calling them “dirty and nasty” because of all the mud-slinging in ads and televised debates.

Sheila Hein of Lexington, a 74-year-old retiree, said she had planned to vote for Conway but “couldn’t take those negative ads anymore.”

The Conway campaign ran mostly negative ads during the race, and the independent Democratic committee supporting did likewise if not more. Bevin was attacked for things such as not releasing his tax returns, failing to pay taxes, and for seeming to flip-flop on issues.

On the Conway YouTube channel, there are 10 attack ads against Bevin and seven “positive” ads featuring Conway. Four of the seven positive ads were uploaded three months ago, while eight of the 10 negative ads were uploaded within the past seven weeks, according to the timestamps in the descriptions.

Lexington landlord Bill Hall, 82, said he’s a registered Democrat but voted for Bevin: “I vote for the man who would govern best and I think he has more experience in the business area. We got enough politicians.”

Voting against candidates and choosing between the lesser of two evils were also common themes among voters.

Doug Barnett, a 40-year-old attorney and member of the Fayette County Board of Education, said “Bevin’s ideas on teacher retirement were simply scary and unsustainable. . . . You do that with teachers’ retirement and you have no plan to fund it and move teachers to social security, all you’re going to do is defund the plan even more.”

Retired nurse and registered Republican Phillis Hasbrouck of Lexington said she couldn’t vote for Bevin because, “He's got a variety of answers. You never know which one's the right one. You ask him something and he tells you something one time, and the next time he tells you something else.” Hasbrouck said she voted for independent candidate Drew Curtis because she goes to a Lutheran church with him.

Curtis finished with less than four percent of the total vote. 28-year-old Shade Sloan of Georgetown said he voted for him because he likes Curtis’s ideas over the other candidates’ platforms.

“Curtis felt like a family member speaking to you,” Sloan said. “He seems like a real person and his ideals are something the state needs. He wasn’t pushing his party’s agenda. It’s all what he wants. I wholeheartedly believe he would have been the best candidate.”

Some voters, like 38 percent in the last Bluegrass Poll, said they were unhappy with the choice of candidates. Bill Gorman, a 66-year-old insurance agent from Lexington, said, “I wasn’t pleased with the choices. I think each party’s candidate did a poor job.”

Although some people did cast their votes against candidates, others still voted in favor of them.

John Sims, 51-year-old small business owner in Lexington and registered Republican, said he voted for Bevin because he believes the Republican Party will “represent small business owner needs better than the Democrats.”

For 44-year-old Veterans Affairs phlebotomist and Lexington resident Denise Emerson, the deciding factor in voting for Conway was that he “knows everything pretty much about Kentucky. Every position he’s ever carried has been Democrat and has been in Kentucky.”

President Obama was a factor for some voters.

Scott County Schools Parent Involvement Coordinator Sherry Cutright, 61, said she voted for Bevin because she shares his values and “I would not vote for anyone who identified with President Obama.”

The state’s Medicaid expansion and the Kynect health-insurance exchange were major issues in the race but were cited by few voters. None of the voters interviewed in Georgetown mentioned either, and only a few in Lexington voters mentioned health issues.

Daniel McQuin, a 45-year-old CPA, said he voted for Conway because Bevin wants to scale back the expansion of Medicaid: “It’s going to hurt a lot of people.”

Some voters said they either didn't follow the race very closely, or at all.

Rosemary Derbyshire of Lexington said she only occasionally followed it on the news and “very deliberately” did not watch debates.

“I find them somewhat ridiculous and extremely irritating,” said the 65-year-old retiree. “I think the way they do them is fairly pathetic.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Independent candidate Drew Curtis gets a low vote total but has a high-spirited event on election night

By Lauren Allen
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Drew Curtis announced the beginning of his book and the end of his race for governor in a dimly lit Lexington bar surrounded by Mason jars and purple souvenirs, celebrating his first political campaign Tuesday night in apparently the best way he knows how.

With all of the celebratory cheering and drinking going on at the Chase Brewing Co., an outsider would never have known that this candidate received less than 4 percent of the vote.

Heather Curtis laughs as her husband talks on a fark.com podcast.
With him was his wife and running mate, Heather Curtis, who wasn’t so sure about this position when he first proposed the idea. “When we started out, we were fighting a lot,” she said, because he was a little naive. When her husband realized that he needed to have better ideas, not just opinions, she decided to join him.

As much as the couple kept their children out of the race, their middle one would still say “I wanna watch the Drew Curtis for Governor show” whenever he saw Daddy on TV, Heather Curtis said.

Drew Curtis comes with a pack of loyal supporters who say they value his work ethics and morals.

Virgil Edwards is a registered Republican, but said he strongly supports, and voted for, Curtis won him over because he was the only candidate who would answer his questions.

He said Curtis answered any question he had, while Democrat Jack Conway never responded to his emails and Republican Matt Bevin outright told Edwards that his questions way not be worth his time.

Edwards, a senior at Eastern Kentucky University, said he voted for Curtis because “he represents a change to the status quo.”

Curtis's supporters may not miss him for long. He said he is writing a book about the race, already partially published on wired.com.

Curtis’ biggest fans may be his staff. Communications Director Heather Chapman said “Working for Drew has pretty much spoiled me for any other candidate.”

Dressed in an American-flag suit, campaign manager Andrew Sowders said his favorite moment of the campaign, the fourth he’s worked on, was the turnaround when he saw Curtis “start to believe in himself and what he is doing.”

From the beginning, Curtis did things differently than the typical politician, which was a big part of the appeal to his campaign manager, who is now looking for a job as fulfilling as his current one.

Friends were out supporting the independent candidate at the event as much as his staff and supporters. One was Jason Falls, a long-time friend who believes independent candidates are moving up in the polls because Americans are getting tired of the two-party system. Falls said he supported Curtis from the start because he knows he would not sell out to special interest groups.

Spirits were high throughout the night, even as Curtis's percentage of the vote stayed quite low. He said that if he were to ever join the world of politics again, “It would have to be [for an] executive” position like governor.

He said none of his personal money was lost in the campaign because he never spent much more than the $75,000 that he raised.

Conway, supposed leader until the end, comes up a loser

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Despite polling about 5 percentage points ahead for the entire governor’s race, Democratic candidate Jack Conway came up 8.7 points short in his bid for Kentucky governor.

“Folks, tonight was not the result that we had hoped for, but is a result that we respect,” Conway said in his concession speech at the Kentucky Democratic Party election-night event in Frankfort.  

Conway said that once the result was final, he had a congratulatory phone conversation with his Republican opponent Matt Bevin.

“It was a cordial phone call,” said Conway, who said he told Bevin “that if he ever needed any assistance that this Democrat is at his disposal.”

The Democratic crowd seemed to lose a little morale each time the election results were updated on the monitors.

“It’s surprising, but it doesn’t really bother me.  We live in a great country (and) we have the freedom to do this so however it turns out, that’s what the people chose and I support that,” state Rep. Dean Schamore of Hardinsburg said as the final results were being tallied.

Schamore said he doesn’t necessarily consider Bevin to be unqualified for the job. “He’s just not my choice for governor,” Schamore said.  “I’m sure he’s a good person.”

Steve Crisp, a telecommunications businessman from Georgetown, said that he is a Republican who voted Democratic Tuesday because he thought Conway was “the guy for the job.” He added, “I really just don’t know a lot about Mr. Bevin.”

Corey Hyde, a University of Kentucky computer science senior from London, said Conway’s loss was “not quite what I expected.” Hyde said his boyfriend was a union employee and feared a Bevin victory because Bevin wants a "right to work" law than bans labor contracts that require all employees to pay union dues or fees.

In his speech, Conway showed gratitude to the people of Kentucky he had met during his campaign. “You’ve opened your homes, you’ve opened your hearts.  You’ve made me a better person in so many ways,” he said.

Conway said he respected Kentucky voters and their decision, and thanked them for the “tremendous honor of serving as the state’s attorney general. He also thanked Gov. Steve Beshear, Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, his campaign team, and his family.

“Tonight I consider myself the most blessed man on the face of the earth,” said Conway in regard to his family.  During his speech he turned toward his two young daughters and said “Daddy’s going to be home a lot.”

Conway focused much of his campaign on education as well as challenging Bevin on Kynect, Kentucky’s private health insurance market established under the federal health reform, and the Medicaid expansion.

Bevin will replace current term-limited Beshear, Conway’s fellow Democrat. His victory represents a change in Kentucky’s longstanding tradition of electing Democrats to the governor’s mansion; they have held it for 40 of the last 44 years.

Bevin's social-media advantage helped make him the winner, Senate president says

By Lauren Allen and John Winn Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
This story has been updated, as indicated.

If social-media engagement is any indication, Republican Matt Bevin should win won the governor’s race partly with a big advantage on social media, state Senate President Robert Stivers said last night.by a landslide. But while social media were such an indicator for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, it remains to be seen whether that will hold true in Kentucky, political experts say.

Stivers made the comment in an interview on KET's election-night coverage. He couldn't be reached for further comment.

Bevin followed the lead of the leader of the opposite party. In 2012, against Republican Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama “logged twice as many Facebook 'likes' and nearly 20 times as many re-tweets as Romney, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, wrote on The Media Psychology Blog. “With his existing social media base and spreadable content, Obama had far superior reach.” 

Bevin’s campaign apparently got the message, because the Louisville businessman was far more active on social media during the governor’s race than his two opponents, with 50,000 Facebook likes and 12,000 Twitter followers.

Next in line is independent candidate Drew Curtis with 27,000 Facebook likes and 13,600 Twitter Followers.  That is not a surprise, given Curtis’ background as founder of a successful news-aggregation site.

Lagging far behind is Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway with 14,000 Facebook likes and 5,500 Twitter followers.

Social media are becoming greater indicators of election results because so many American adults are online now and get their news from social media.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found in 2012 that 60 percent of adults use some form of social media, and a study released this year by The American Press Institute found that "88 percent of millennials (ages 18-34) get news from Facebook regularly."

The Pew study also found that more than a third of millennials on social media have shared political information and urged followers to vote.

Obama’s campaign team took advantage of that communications channel.

“As of election night, President Obama had 32 million Facebook fans, 21 million Twitter followers, and 259,685 YouTube views,” Daniel Burrus, a best-selling author on future trends and CEO of Burrus Associates, wrote on his blog. “On the other hand, Mitt Romney had 12 million Facebook fans, 1.7 million Twitter followers, and only 29,172 YouTube views.”

Burrus concluded that if the Romney camp made a mistake by not being more aggressive on social media. “Did social media make a difference in the outcome of the election? When you have a close race, everything matters. So with that in mind, I would answer yes,” he wrote.

Social media may not have as big an impact in the governor’s race, said Stephen Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

“People who are cut off from other sources of political information and only receive their political 
tidbits through social media are the same people who are going to vote rarely if at all,” Voss said.

This group of people is not typically involved in the community or politics, he said, which could likely be the reason they do not see the importance of voting or even know there is an election.
Where social media can play a crucial role, Voss added, is in “immediacy.”

Because of the immediate impact social media can have, political campaigns can respond to anything that is thrown their way instantly through Facebook, Twitter or any other social media, Voss said.

That immediacy is one thing that convinced Curtis, founder of the irreverent news site fark.com, to run despite being a political unknown.

“I based my run on a theory: that the Internet and social media have finally made it possible for a third party candidate to win,” he wrote for Wired magazine in an essay published on election eve. “Regardless of how things turn out, I’m convinced I was absolutely correct. And I’m also convinced you’ll see more candidates like me in the near future.”

Curtis wrote that even journalists he’s talked to around the state “don’t feel they’re influencing the race much. They think that social media and the Internet in general have replaced the job they used to do.”

While it hard to measure how much influence social media will have on the election compared to television, it is clear that mixing the two is not garnering much interest.

When Conway posts his television commercials on social media, he only gets an average of 15 shares or retweets. This does not include his paid Facebook posts, which have 3,500 shares. The last advertisement that Bevin posted got 55 retweets and 212 shares on Facebook.

The candidates also exhibit different styles on their social-media accounts.

On the Facebook account Matt Bevin for Kentucky Governor in 2015 (which has 8,000 likes), the campaign posts frequently with links to Bevin’s campaign website and news about his appearances. Bevin’s main Facebook account is generally in first person and has posts directly on Facebook rather than links to sites. His Tweets are similar to his Facebook posts, just simplified for the 140 character limit. Bevin also participates in Twitter such talks as #coalpowersKY with the Kentucky Coal Association. The most personal post on his Twitter is a happy 14th birthday message to his daughter, Olivia.

Curtis gets more personal on his business page, posting things like “#MexicoSucks #mexvusa.” This was shared from his Twitter like most of his direct posts. He also frequently interacts with readers who post comments.

Conway posts many pictures of his appearances and links to articles about him and his running partner state Rep. Sannie Overly. Some of these posts are written in first person and some of them are in second person. His Twitter account has extremely similar posts, but they are designed particularly for that social media outlet. These tweets get an average of five retweets and favorites.

What all of this will mean for the Nov. 3 election is anybody’s guess. But the headline over Curtis’ Wired article made clear what he thinks the future will hold: “Someday technology will end our dumb two party system.”

For many at one Lexington poll, the choice was between an experienced officeholder and a shake-it-up outsider

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

For many voters at the polls at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church at Alumni Drive and New Circle Road in Lexington, the choice in today's election for governor was between an experienced politician who knows how to get things done in Frankfort and an outsider who wants to shake it up.

“I didn’t feel like we had much of a choice, but I thought we needed a change,” said Mary Lynne Lovingood, 66, a retired chemistry teacher who voted for Republican Matt Bevin. “I’m tired of the atmosphere of everything.”

Several voters said they favored Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway because of his eight years as attorney general.

“I feel like Conway can do a better job because he is a Kentucky guy who’s been in politics for a while,” said Paul Jenkins, 48, a registered Republican who has a small manufacturing company.

Retired architect Michael Schenck, 65, said Bevin “seems to be smarter” than Conway “but he doesn’t have the experience. . . . I don’t know how much support he would have in Frankfort.” Schenck said he typically votes Democratic.

Therapist and yoga instructor Toni Reiss, 63, who described herself as an independent Democrat, said she voted for Conway because she didn’t think Bevin “has the interests of the everyday people in mind” because of his positions on education and health care, “which is what we pay our taxes for.” Also, she said, “He seems to be quick-tempered, not one prone to conversations and problem-solving through shared ideas.”

Some voters said they couldn’t trust Bevin. Veterinarian Patricia Davis, 31, said she mostly votes Democratic and didn’t consider Bevin because “I don’t find him trustworthy at all for a governor.”

Pamela Mathis-yon, 73,a retired family therapist who said she is a registered Democrat but “sort of a Republican,” said she couldn’t vote for Bevin because he hasn’t always paid his taxes on time. “Anybody that doesn’t pay their taxes . . . that totally turned me off.”

However, the tax questions didn’t bother retired bookkeeper Sheila Hein, 74. “I got so tired of hearing about the tax thing,” she said. “If you’re in business, you always pay the penalty and pay your taxes late.”

Hein said she was going to vote for Conway but “He started getting smirky” and “I couldn’t take those negative ads anymore.”

Her husband, Republican and retired tire dealer Bernard Hein, 73, said he voted for Bevin because “Conway crucified him” and didn’t say enough good about his own record.

C.R. Gash, 40, said he usually votes Democratic but voted for Bevin because the Democratic administration of Gov. Steve Beshear forced him to increase wages of his home-health employees. He said he was planning to vote for independent Drew Curtis, but didn’t want to waste his vote. “I’ll probably vote Democratic next time, because it’ll swing too far to the right and I’ll say, ‘Why did I do that?””

Curtis drew some votes from people unhappy with the political system or the other candidates.

“I didn’t like either one of the other two. I thought they were both liars,” said Mark Williamson, 46, a retired jail worker. If he hadn’t chosen Curtis, Williamson said, he would have voted for Bevin “because I don’t like Obama.” He said that while Obama won’t be in office much longer, “I believe Obamacare is going to be short-lived.” He said the president is the biggest issue for him: “Obama’s an idiot.”


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Expanded gambling fades as an issue, but lingers as a potential source of revenue; Conway eyes it for pensions

By Jerry Seale
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The long-running issue of expanded gambling is not in the primary focus of the candidates in the Nov. 3 gubernatorial election, but it could play a role in the next governor’s administration.

Republican Matt Bevin once went as far as to dismiss the issue as “almost irrelevant,” and has made it clear he has no intention of making a push to bring in casinos if he is elected.

“I don’t think it’s the solution to what ails us financially in this state,” Bevin said during the October 6 gubernatorial debate.

Democrat Jack Conway has pointed to expanded gambling as a likely source of revenue that bond-rating agencies want dedicated to Kentucky’s pension system, which has been described by many as being in a state of “crisis” because it is so underfunded, causing the state’s bond rating to drop.

“If we’re looking for new revenue, I think gaming is the most obvious place to look,” Conway said on Louisville’s WFPL Radio Oct. 9.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis is not much more enthusiastic about the idea of casinos in Kentucky than Bevin is, but is not ruling it out either. “Our pension system is in dire shape, so we must consider all options,” he told WFPL.

The expansion of gambling and the creation of casinos in Kentucky was a major part of Gov. Steve Beshear’s platform when he first ran for the office in 2007, but it has not materialized.

Many who share Conway’s stance have looked to Illinois, Indiana and Ohio as evidence that Kentucky should expand gambling. A PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP study showed more than $1 billion a year is spent by Kentuckians in casinos of other states. Some believe bringing casinos would keep a large portion of that money in the state, but the Family Foundation of Kentucky says gambling targets families, hurts businesses, corrupts government and hurts vulnerable citizens.

The horse industry in Kentucky declined during the Great Recession. The numbers of races and horses dropped, as did participation and betting at the races. Revenue from expanded gambling, if put into race purses, could help the industry prosper again.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said he will propose a bill to amend the state constitution to allow seven casinos to operate in Kentucky. If approved, tax revenue from the casinos would be given to schools, the pension system and the racing industry.

If approved by three-fifths of legislators in both houses, the amendment would go on the November 2016 ballot for voters to decide.

Despite their differing stances on expanded gambling, Conway and Bevin have both said they would like to see voters decide the issue.

However, several factors stand as obstacles to the legalization of casino gambling in Kentucky. Gene Clabes, executive editor of KyForward.com, said Ohio and Indiana have “leapt ahead” of Kentucky on the casino front, as can be seen by looking at the transformation of the Belterra race track in Indiana near Cincinnati.

“Kentucky is years behind,” Clabes said. “One factor to keep in mind is that the horse industry is divided on casino gambling versus instant racing. It seems this division doesn’t bode well for a favorable outcome for casino gambling without unity from the industry.”

Instant racing, recently introduced to Kentucky, uses devices that greatly resemble slot machines to base betting on the outcome of past horse races. It might cause support for casino gambling legalization to wane, if bettors and tracks are content with it and feel no need to try to push for more.

Instant racing is lucrative. A report to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said terminals at the Red Mile track in Lexington took in just over $5 million in wagers.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Here are the candidates' positions on several issues

This post may be updated with summaries of other issues.

ECONOMY
     Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin's economic positions adhere in large part to party orthodoxies. Bevin plans to make the Bluegrass more competitive by passing "right to work" legislation, which would outlaw labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues or fees. Conway's plan to bring more jobs to Kentucky primarily focuses on education. He plans to align job-training programs to the needs of employers and plans to work with schools to improve graduation rates. Conway wants an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Bevin opposes that idea, and his running mate, Jenean Hampton, said an increase to minimum wage would be "disastrous." Independent Drew Curtis favors the increase and says he will look at policies in other states and bring the successful ones to Kentucky, hoping to bring a "tech boom" to the Bluegrass by focusing on technology training. Ben Johnson

EDUCATION
     Republican Matt Bevin says Kentucky needs to back out of the nationally adopted State Common Core Standards because they “doesn’t adequately address the diverse needs” of the state. Bevin also wants to guarantee school choice, including charter schools and tax credits for private education, and has said families who home-school their children should have access to the same public amenities provided to kids who attend state-funded schools. He favors outcomes-based funding for higher education, with emphasis on producing degrees that will help the economy.
     Democrat Jack Conway wants to expand early childhood education, first to 3- and 4-year-olds in homes with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level, with a goal of 200 percent. He supports Common Core and opposes charter schools and tax credits for private education. He says he would look at outcomes-based funding but wants to maintain a level playing field for universities.
     Independent Drew Curtis wants to expand early-college programs in high schools and says a budget cut to education is one of the last things he would recommend. However, he also says solving Kentucky’s pension problem is one of his first priorities, so education funding issues would have to wait at least a year. Kevin Erpenbeck

DRUGS
     Drug abuse is a growing problem for Kentucky, which has the nation’s third highest death rate from drug overdoses.  The number of heroin overdoses has tripled in the last three years alone. There are limited treatment options available, with only one-tenth of the treatment beds needed. Here is how the three candidates for governor say they will deal with that problem:
     Democrat Jack Conway notes his history of fighting drugs as attorney general. He supports the local-option needle exchange program and calls for more education and treatment but has yet to provide a solution on how he will pay for that. He opposes legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and says people on Medicaid should be tested for drugs only with probable cause.
     Republican Matt Bevin says he would randomly drug-test Medicaid recipients but otherwise has talked less about the state’s drug abuse crisis than Conway. He says the key is intervening earlier and creating better economic opportunity. He says the state spends too little on behavioral health and supports legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
     Independent candidate Drew Curtis supports decriminalizing addiction. He suggests copying Massachusetts’ program on tackling opiate addiction if it proves successful. Megan Ingros

GAMBLING
     Expanded gambling, an issue that could have an impact on the state’s economy budget, is viewed with differently by all three candidates but isn’t a strong point of focus for any of them.
     Democrat Jack Conway favors a referendum on the issue and says the time could be right for it, to create revenue for the horse racing industry, pensions and early childhood education, since bond-rating agencies have said the state needs a dedicated revenue stream to shore up its pensions.
     Republican Matt Bevin stands on the opposite end of the spectrum. During an Oct. 6 debate, he rejected gambling as a possible solution to any of Kentucky’s problems. “I don’t think it’s the solution to what ails us financially in this state,” he said.
     Independent candidate Drew Curtis stands right in the middle. While not much more enthralled by the idea of expanded gambling than Bevin, he hasn’t been willing to completely dismiss it just yet. “Our pension system is in dire shape, so we must consider all options,” Curtis told WFPL Radio. –Jerry Seale

HEALTH CARE AND INSURANCE
     In regard to Medicaid, the federal-and-state-funded health insurance for lower-income people, Democrat Jack Conway wants to stay where we are right now and Republican Matt Bevin does not.
     Conway wants to keep the Kynect health-insurance marketplace and the expansion of Medicaid to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, saying he believes the state-funded study that shows the expansion is paying for itself by adding so many people to the health-care system that enough jobs and tax revenue will be created to cover the state’s cost – starting at 5 percent in 2017 and rising to the federal health reform law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020.
     Bevin scoffs at the study, saying the expansion is unsustainable, and says he would apply for a federal waiver to change it to a program in which some people pay premiums, co-payments, deductibles or health savings accounts. He also wants to use the federal exchange and abolish Kynect, which is funded by a 1 percent fee on all health-insurance policies sold in the state. The federal exchange charges 3.5 percent on policies it sells.
     Independent candidate Drew Curtis is against abolishing Kynect and wants to stand and watch what happens with the Medicaid expansion. He says it seems likely to pay for itself in the near term. –Lauren Allen

SMOKING BAN
     Democrat Jack Conway favors a statewide ban on smoking in public places. Republican Matt Bevin says local communities should decide the issue for themselves. Independent candidate Drew Curtis favors a ban that exempts cigar bars and other establishments related to smoking. –Al Cross

TAXES
     Republican Matt Bevin calls for comprehensive tax reform that includes reduced income-tax rates on businesses and individuals and repeal of inheritance and inventory taxes.
     Democrat Jack Conway endorses bipartisan tax reform that would not increase overall revenue. He has called for ending the inventory tax.
     Independent Drew Curtis wants to change income-tax brackets to percentages of income, not dollar amounts, to adjust to inflation, and supports "an across-the-board reduction in exemptions, with the goal to elimimnate as many as possible over the next decade." Al Cross 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Latest poll still within error margin, but weighting recent polls shows Conway has slightly better chance to win

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The final Bluegrass Poll released Wednesday evening showed Democrat Jack Conway leading Republican Matt Bevin 45 percent to 40 percent, with an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, which applies to each number. Independent Drew Curtis was favored by 6 percent of voters polled, with 10 percent undecided.

With the election Tuesday, Nov. 3, and public polling in the race likely completed, we ran a weighted aggregation on the six public polls done for the race. A weighted aggregation is an average created by assigning varying levels of significance to each set of data. Recent polls are more significant because they reflect the most current feelings of voters, but older polls still have significance because no poll surveys every voter in Kentucky, and subsequent polls may not reflect the views of all demographics or areas. Also, many voters feelings have not changed, so it is important to keep their responses, though they are not as significant as current polls.

In our weighting, each week going back in time was considered 20 percent less significant than the week following it. So in this case, this week’s two polls (the Bluegrass and the Big Red) were weighted at 100 percent significance. Last week would have been 80%, the week before 64%, then 51.2% and so on.

In the weighted aggregation Bevin still trails by 4.44 points, taking 39.71 percent to Conway’s 44.15 percent. Because the aggregation has a larger sample size, its margin of error is only 1.43 percent. This means it can be said with 95 percent certainty -- the standard in polling -- that Conway’s lead over Bevin is between 2.5 and 6.4 points. However, with 9.66 percent undecided, it is still anyone’s race.

Just how big a factor could the undecided voters be? A randomized test for the weighted poll shows that the chance Conway will win is only 50.5 percent, meaning the race is about as certain as a coin flip. A probability test assuming that if undecideds split toward Conway as other voters do, gives him a 51.7 percent chance to win. Splitting undecideds evenly gives him a 51.6 percent chance. If they break 60-40 for Bevin, Conway still has a 50.4 percent chance to win. Undecideds typically lean against incumbents, and Conway is effectively the incumbent in this race. However, voters in the Bluegrass Poll viewed Conway more favorably than Bevin.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that 79 percent of the registered voters called by the Bluegrass Poll said they were likely to vote. Turnout is never that high, and election officials and political experts expect turnout to be 30 percent or less. Also, the lack of movement in the race’s polls suggest that most voters have made up their minds, and most undecided voters typically don’t go to the polls.

All this means that the campaigns are putting more effort on turning out their supporters than persuading undecideds. Both Conway and Bevin are following tradition, and kicking off tours of key areas and get-out-the vote events to try to generate interest in the closing days. Conway began a “Moving Kentucky Forward” tour Tuesday morning, with roundtable and meet and greet events in Western Kentucky. Bevin’s get-out-the-vote tour also began Wednesday with stops in Louisville, Somerset, and Columbia. For an election that is expected to have very low voter turnout, the race may depend on which candidate can organize, rally, or excite their voting base.

Bevin doubles down on his investment to gain high office and emphasizes effort to link Conway to Obama

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
               Republican Matt Bevin knows a lot about investing. He has had a successful career managing wealth and investments for customers. But in the last two election cycles he has invested nearly $4.8 million of his own cash on a new customer: himself. Now, with one week until voters hit the polls to determine the next governor, Bevin is really hoping for a big return on the money he has given to his two campaigns for public office.
               The latest polls show Bevin down five points to Democrat Jack Conway. This is where Bevin has found himself for most of the race, but never able to really cut into Conway’s lead.
               Now, as Bevin stares down the barrel of Tuesday, Election Day, he appears to be feeling the urgency of the race. His campaign strategy has shifted over the last two weeks to be markedly more aggressive. Content for months to run a largely positive campaign, his tone seems to be sharpening.
               There was the occasional punch thrown early on, like when Bevin told Conway at a September debate, “So much of what comes out of your mouth, Jack, is absolutely made up... You literally make lies up on the fly.” Overall, though, Bevin stayed positive in his message. He stood his ground and kept talking about his issues; Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, job creation, and fighting President Obama.
               But as the race comes down to the wire, Bevin has made a stronger foray. At the final two debates of the campaign, held Sunday at Eastern Kentucky University, and Monday at KET, Bevin repeatedly called Conway a liar, challenging his assertions and often interrupting him.
               Bevin accused Conway of lying to voters, and saying anything to get elected. He cited Conway saying Bevin would kick 400,000 people off Medicaid and does not support early childhood education Conway claiming he cut his budget by 40 percent as attorney general.
               The last two debates were outliers. Bevin has changed the tone of his campaign to attack Conway as a “rubber stamp” for President Obama. Early in the campaign Bevin did not emphasize the tactic common to Republicans over the last seven years, attacking the Democrat as a clone of Obama.
                “Jack Conway is a rubber stamp for Barack Obama. ... I am not a career politician. ... I’m a guy like so many out there who simply want better opportunity for themselves, for their families, for their state and for America,” Bevin said on the Glenn Beck Show.
               In a TV ad with unidentified people speaking, one says, “He’s just like Obama, maybe worse than Obama.”
               Most recently Bevin put out an ad titled “Stamp” mirroring his public accusations:  “Career politician Jack Conway is a rubber stamp for Obama's liberal agenda. “He’s for Obamacare, just like Obama. He’s for gun restrictions, like Obama. He’s pro-abortion, like Obama. He’s anti-coal, just like Obama. Conway even voted for Obama. Twice! Jack Conway would be Obama’s Governor.”
               Conway often notes that he is the only Democratic attorney general to join a lawsuit against the Obama administration for its regulation of greenhouse gases form coal-fired power plants.. He favors applying the federal background-check law to gun shows.
               If Conway were to “be Obama’s governor” he would have only a year and a month to do so, given that Obama leaves office in January 2017. But the attempt to link the two is clear, and it is a clear shift in strategy for Bevin. A strategy that reflects a candidate who might get zero return on a nearly $4.8 million investment.
FACT CHECK
●            In February Bevin said he would reverse the Medicaid expansion immediately, but since July he has talked about changing the program but has offered few details. However, when asked Monday by moderator Bill Goodman whether he would keep the Medicaid income limit at 138 percent of the federal poverty level, Bevin simply said, “No”.
●            A Democratic video shows Bevin saying Head Start “serves no purpose after 3rd grade,” meaning its effects disappear after that point, according to one study. In a separate video Bevin appeared to compare Head Start to brainwashing, criticizing its expansion to include 4-year-olds in a federal budget deal. Bevin said “certain regimes” use early education for political gain. “Look at these various regimes throughout history and what is it that they've always said? Give me the children. Give me the minds of the children. That's what they've always said. And it's true. Because I'll tell you, it's not coincidental or accidental that you have them now trying to get 4-year olds." However, Bevin insists he supports the overall cause of early education, and has cited a United Way program, Success by Six, as an example.
●            Bevin called Conway a liar for claiming that he cut his budget 40 percent. Bevin is correct; the attorney general proposes his budget, but the governor revises it and submits it to the legislature, which changes and approves it.
●            Referring to the Medicaid expansion, Bevin said Conway’s citation of a Deloitte study showing the Medicaid expansion will pay for itself until 2020 was proof that doesn’t know what he is talking about. The study predicts that by adding hundeds of thousands of people to the health-care system, the expansion will create jobs in health care and other industries, but its conclusions have not been proven. Gov. Steve Beshear claimed Tuesday that “Right now, it is paying for itself.”


               

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nominees for governor differ greatly on issues, personality

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

One candidate’s wonkiness and the other’s confrontational personality, and their stark differences on some issues, have culminated in a virtual toss-up in the Nov. 3 election for governor.

Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin differ greatly in their stances on the race’s hottest issues, including the state’s crumbling pension system, the Medicaid expansion under federal health reform and the state’s education system, which makes up more than half the state budget.

Regarding the underfunded pension system, Bevin touts his experience as a businessman, managing pensions and making payroll.

He has advocated moving new state workers to a 401(k) style system and offering current workers the opportunity to join the system, which the legislature recently changed to save money.

Bevin said during Monday’s KET debate, “We’re not really solving the problem at all,” partly because the estimated rate of return on investments is too optimistic.

Conway has said implementing such a system would actually cost the state $8 billion more in the first 15 years, since new hires are helping to pay current benefits. He has more or less advocated keeping the revised system in place, saying the state can meet its immediate obligations because it has a $219 million surplus.

“I think we can make it. I think that’s manageable,” Conway said in the debate.

Conway has said that moving teachers to a 401(k) style system would be “absolutely off the table” because they do not participate in Social Security, which would be their safety net should the 401(k) investments fall short. Bevin has said he would apply for a waiver to let teachers participate in Social Security without the state and schools making the employer match.

On the Medicaid expansion, which has extended health coverage to about 400,000 Kentuckians, Conway favors keeping it, as well as sustaining Kynect, the state’s health-insurance market that has about 100,000 Kentuckians in private plans. Bevin wants to abolish Kynect and use the federal exchange.

Bevin said in February he would immediately reverse the Medicaid expansion upon taking office, but later denied saying that. Since July he has said he would seek a federal waiver to convert to a system like Indiana’s, where Medicaid beneficiaries pay higher premiums to receive better benefits, as well as co-payments.

“I don’t care if it’s a dollar or two dollars,” Bevin said in the KET debate. “People should have skin in the game.” Conway said in the debate that the Indiana program keeps people from getting coverage.

Bevin says the expansion is not sustainable, but Conway cites a state-funded study predicting that it will pay for itself by generating health-care jobs and tax revenue. He acknowledged during the debate that his administration would be challenged to prove that.

Conway has focused his campaign heavily on education, especially advocating more funding for early childhood education, citing research that shows 90 percent of brain development happens by age 5.  He has also shown openness to restoring some of the funding cut from higher education.

Bevin has questioned the effectiveness of Head Start and called for tax vouchers to support private education, which Conway opposes. Bevin says he would use “outcomes-based funding” to encourage more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math. Conway said on Monday’s debate that he would consider such an approach but wants a “level playing field” for universities.

Both candidates have touted their ability to improve the state’s economy, albeit through different methods.

Bevin says that the pension system is the top economic priority and calls for making Kentucky a right-to-work state because states that border Kentucky have the law that bans requirements to pay union dues or fees.

Conway opposes right-to-work and supports raising Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over a three year period.  Bevin’s opposes raising the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour.

 “I’m the only one sitting here who’s ever created a job,” the Louisville businessman said in the KET debate and on numerous other occasions.

Conway has noted that he is the only candidate who has run a government agency, and accused Bevin of not knowing how government works.

Television commercials supporting Conway have used many of the largely disproven attacks on Bevin that U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell used to beat him in last year’s Senate primary. In debates, Bevin has repeatedly accused Conway of lying about him.

In the last few days Bevin has increased his effort to associate Conway with President Obama, who is unpopular in the state. Conway has noted that he was the only Democratic attorney general to sue the Obama administration for its anti-coal regulations.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis is also on Tuesday’s ballot.

Cheyene Miller of London is a journalism senior at the University of Kentucky. He wrote this story for Covering the Governor’s Race, a course taught by Associate Professor Al Cross and Journalist-in-Residence John Winn Miller.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Candidates have three different takes on the next governor's biggest problem, underfunded state pensions

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Kentucky’s financially struggling pension system is one of the most serious issues facing the next governor, and one of the few issues all three candidates consistently discuss and have clear differences about. The system’s unfunded liabilities have already lowered the credit rating of the state, making it more expensive to borrow money and discouraging investment by employers.

But just how do pensions play such a large role? For anyone who does not study finances, understanding a pension system is complicated, and the Kentucky General Assembly has made it even more confusing over the last decade or two.

Not too long ago, at the turn of the century, the Kentucky pension funds were in great shape. The system was fully funded, and it looked like smooth sailing. But an economic downturn put a hole in the ship, the downturn of the stock market shrank the returns on investments for the pensions, which had typically accounted for about two-thirds of pension fund revenue. At the same time the economic recession left the state with less revenue to plug the holes, and the pensions have been taking on water ever since.

The legislature and governors have not fully funded  state employees’ pensions since 2000, and not for teachers since 2008. To compound the problem, lawmakers have spent money from both funds on other projects. The IOUs left in place of the cash have not been satisfied yet, leaving the unfunded liabilities in the tens of billions of dollars, depending on how far you look into the future. The estimate is based on projected payments to current employees until the end of their lives.

Another big problem is that there are more retirees in the system as the baby-boomer generation leaves the workforce. Payments from the Kentucky Retirement Systems are double what they were 10 years ago, and the worker-to-retiree ratio has fallen to nearly one worker per retiree. The problem is made worse by cost-of-living adjustments that have been approved by the legislature without being funded, making benefits even greater.

The actuarially required contribution (ARC) for the next fiscal year is anticipated to be nearly $800 million, which would be more than $100 million greater than last year. The Kentucky Teachers Retirement System is expected to ask the legislature for $520 million next year. The state already borrowed $900 million to shore up KTRS in 2010.

In 2013 the legislature undertook major overhauls of the pension fund to stop some of the bleeding. New hires were place in a hybrid style plan that required them to contribute a dedicated percentage of their income (5 percent for Kentucky Employees Retirement System non-hazardous employees) to the pension fund. Cost of living adjustments were eliminated for all retirees unless the KRS board determined liabilities were funded at 100 percent or greater, and the cost of living adjustment is fully paid for. Double dipping has been eliminated, and transparency and oversight were increased within the pension system.

Most importantly, making the ARC was changed to be the expectation by 2015, and would require a waiver by the legislature in a budget bill in order not to do so.

To avoid further downgrades in the state’s credit rating, analysts say, the changes Kentucky made in 2013 were not enough. The state must dedicate a specific stream of revenue to the pension fund, rather than continue the current plan.

The legislature has a separate pension fund for its own retirees and judges, which has been much better funded than KERS and KTRS. The return on investment for the legislature’s pension fund was also five times greater than that of the KERS, which posted a meager 2 percent return for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The candidates have substantially different ideas on how to tackle to the pension crisis.

Democrat Jack Conway does not have a concrete plan, choosing to take more of a wait-and-see approach: For KERS, he said, “I think we can get to the ARC for the next budget cycle.”
Conway said he won’t be more specific on solving the rest of the problem until after he sees the recommendations of a task force on pensions created by Gov. Steve Beshear.

“What the ratings agencies are saying to us is that, ‘This nonsense where you had last year, the legislature telling the governor to find $80 million in savings and taking $30 million out of the road plan, that’s not going to cut it. Find a dedicated source of revenue,” Conway said.

While Conway said he believes a dedicated revenue source can be found for the state employees pension, “finding one for the teachers is going to be tougher.”

Conway said he is open to a variety of options, including taxing casino gambling if voters legalize it.
Moving teachers to a defined contribution plan – like a 401(k) plan where employees and employers make contributions -- is “absolutely off the table” for Conway because they do not participate in Social Security.

Republican Matt Bevin, who opposes casinos, said he would keep all current retirees on the pension plan, but would give them the option for them to move to a defined contribution plan, like a 401(k). All new hires would be put into a defined contribution plan, which does not typically bring the same level of benefit as a pension.

The state has been too generous with its workers, Bevin argues, and has put itself in a place it can no longer afford. Bevin supports joining 29 other states in applying for a federal waiver to allow Kentucky teachers to participate in Social Security so they can have a guaranteed source of income during retirement if their 401(k) runs dry. This plan would also require the state and school districts make the employer contribution to Social Security unless this requirement were to be waived by the Social Security Administration, a move that is not likely to occur.

But experts said moving new hires to a defined contribution plan could cause the funds to run out of money even sooner because there would be no new workers contributing to the fund to cover benefits paid out to current and future retirees. Conway says it would create an $8 billion problem in the next 15 years.

The idea of bonding billions more to pay down the unfunded liabilities is not agreeable to Bevin, either. The fund would have to garner four times its current return to make bonding a viable alternative. In 2015 the return on investment was only 2 percent for the pension fund. When interest rates for bonds (in a state with a less than stellar credit rating) and fees to the investment managers are factored in, a 2 percent return would only dig the fund deeper into a hole.

Independent Drew Curtis sees the problem differently: “What it all comes down to is the checks must go out. If we don’t send the checks out, that instantly throws the state economy into recession.”
He proposed a $5 billion dollar line of credit to help cover the pension shortfalls. Rather than a bond, which would take out all $5 billion at once, and immediately begin to require interest payments, a line of credit would allow smaller amounts to be taken out when needed, similar to the way a credit card works.

“We don’t need to get to 100 percent funding if we have checks going out,” he said.

When the pension system performs well and can produce enough return on investment to send the checks out, the line of credit would be left alone. In years the fund needs extra cash, the line of credit could be tapped to pick up the shortfall, and paid back when times improve. This system would guarantee retirees still get their benefits, but would leave the legislature free to put funding toward the ARC rather than payments to beneficiaries, Curtis says. He says he would fund “ARC plus,” at 110 percent for the next 20 years.

Curtis admits that funding KTRS is trickier, but he takes a similar approach to Conway, saying there are a few years of wiggle room to assess the situation before the funding shortfall must be addressed.


PENSION TERMS EXPLAINED

ARC: Actuarially Required Contribution. This is the minimum yearly payment that must be made into each pension fund to cover the normal cost of pensions for the state, as well as the amount needed to pay down unfunded liabilities. If this payment is not made, unfunded liabilities increase.
ARC plus: A higher payment made to the pension system to bring down unfunded liabilities more quickly.
Unfunded Liabilities: The amount that is projected to be owed to current retirees in future years that the state will not have under current funding rates. Unfunded liabilities are measured in terms of years (the 10 year unfunded liability measures how much more money the state needs to pay pensions for the next decade) or in terms of how much more is needed to pay current retirees for as long as they are expected to live.
KERS: The Kentucky Employees Retirement System. The pension fund that goes to all non-hazardous state employees. From secretaries to police officers, about 120,000 retirees are currently in KERS.
KTRS: The Kentucky Teachers Retirement System. This covers all public school teachers in Kentucky, and includes about 141,000 retirees. Teachers do not receive Social Security, leaving this pension as their only guaranteed source of income.
Defined Contribution Plan: A system that sets the amount an employee pays in as the standard. The amount the employee gets in payouts depends on the performance of the investment. The 401(k) fits into this category.
Defined Benefit Plan: An employee makes contributions to the system, usually a set percentage of wages, for as long as they work. After retirement they are guaranteed a certain payment each month, often a percentage of their monthly pay when employed.
KRS: The Kentucky Retirement System. This is the system that manages all pension plans for the state, such as KERS and KTRS.

ANALYSIS: Republican Governors Association re-enters ad fray, again trying to tie Conway to Obama



By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Republican Governors Association is back, and in a big way: $1.6 million big. After spending $2.6 million in the governor's race on ads in the summer and early fall, the RGA pulled its support for Republican candidate Matt Bevin at the end of September. While no official reason was given, it left Bevin, who has a huge fundraising deficit in his race with Democrat Jack Conway, alone in a race where he needs help. After Bevin spent almost $1 million of his own money on ads and was unable to gain any ground in the polls, the RGA stepped back in. In a race that has generated little public interest, the RGA is hoping it can tip the scales toward Bevin in the last two weeks by connecting Conway to Obama.

Ad message
A new ad, called “Trust” is set in black and white, while gloomy string music plays in the background. The top of the screen shows families and workers struggling to make due. It begins by saying: “Our families are struggling, healthcare costs have skyrocketed, too many jobs have been lost, our paychecks seem smaller while career politicians make government bigger.” The bottom of the screen is split with a black and white portrait of President Obama next to Conway with the label “Obama-Conway Record.”

Analysis
“Struggling families” and “paychecks seem smaller”: Data from the Census B ureau shows that median income in Kentucky fell by almost 3 percent from 2013 to 2014. The ad would like you to believe that Democratic policies, led by President Obama, are to blame, but the responsibility is not clear. Income has been falling for quite some time, and not just in Kentucky. Americans not in the top 10 percent of income earners are doing worse than in years past. Almost all growth in wealth since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 has gone to the top 10 percent of income earners. Adjusted for inflation, median household incomes peaked around 2000, when George W. Bush was elected, and have been on the decline ever since. If the president in office is to blame for income and wealth performance, the RGA might not want to throw stones. The claim is true, but it certainly does not say what the RGA wants you to believe.

“Politicians make government bigger” is also a claim that deserves more scrutiny. The RGA is not so subtle in its insinuation that Conway is making government bigger; his picture is the focus of the ad as the statement is made. As evidence of this claim the RGA points to the growth in the budget of Kentucky over the last three years, and the expected growth for the next two. In those years, the state budget has grown slightly faster than the gross state product, which is the amount of goods and services produced in the state, but the attorney general doesn’t control the purse strings; the state legislature does.

“Skyrocketing health-care costs”: Health-care costs are up, but “skyrocketed” stretches too far. While horror stories of individual premiums rising as much as 40 percent are not difficult to find, data show these are outliers. An analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that the average premium increase from 2014 to 2015 was effectively zero, a significant difference from annual premium increases in the previous decade of about 10 percent. Comparative numbers for 2016 will not be available for some time, but we do know that individual policies on the state’s Kynect insurance exchange are averaging increases between 5.2 percent and 12.2 percent, not including an 11 percent decrease for WellCare. Seeing a rate increase at or below the 10-year average could hardly be called skyrocketing. This claim is largely false.

“Too many jobs have been lost”: The RGA’s documentation for this point cites Kentucky’s loss of more than 1 in 10 coal jobs during the first three months of 2014. In the last three years, about half the state’s coal jobs have been lost. However, the ad does not mention coal, and unemployment in Kentucky is 5 percent, the lowest in 14 years. The total number of people with jobs in Kentucky is 13,000 fewer than five years ago, but that may not be the best way to measure it. The total nonfarm employment is more than 133,000 higher than five years ago, and 34,000 higher than last year.

"Our families can't afford four more years of the liberal policies of President Obama and career politicians like Jack Conway”: As evidence for this the RGA points to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. But this claim conflicts with the conclusions of an analysis done for the state by Deloitte Consulting. The study says the added tax revenue from jobs created in the medical sector, due to the increase in the number of Kentuckians with health coverage, will pay for the expansion of Medicaid through 2020. Kentucky must start paying 5 percent of the expansion cost in 2017, rising in steps to the law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020. But that is six years away. This ad cites fur years as the time frame, and the available data shows that the Medicaid expansion will not cost Kentucky in the next four years.

Conclusion: The ad breaks to a black and white video of President Obama saying his “policies are on the ballot.” A woman is shown next to Obama with her face in her hands, upset. The video is form 2014 and Obama has said nothing of the sort about this governor's race. Some voters may remember the comment from last year’s Senate race, but most are unlikely to do so. The ad closes, “Can you really trust Obama and Conway to make things better?” Should Conway become governor, his term and that of President Obama will only overlap for little more than a year and a month. As far as we know, Obama is not planning to be an adviser to the governor of Kentucky after he moves out of the White House. This is an attempt to connect Conway to Obama, but it is a stretch at best.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bevin endorses, Conway opposes legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes; next-to-last debate heated at times

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Health care dominated Sunday night’s gubernatorial debate at Eastern Kentucky University and both candidates strayed from party lines on the issue of medical marijuana.

“I would in fact sign such legislation into law,” Republican candidate Matt Bevin said of a bill to legalize medical marijuana.  The Louisville businessman said research shows marijuana can treat patients with epilepsy and other disorders and that these patients desperately need help.

Democratic candidate Jack Conway said he would not support a bill legalizing medical marijuana, and that doing so could lead to an increase in recreational drug abuse.  He said he wouldn’t consider legalization unless the Kentucky Medical Association advocated it.

“Medical marijuana is the only medicine I can think of that would be prescribed in joints,” said Conway, who has been the state’s attorney general for almost eight years.

The candidates also sparred over the expansion of the Medicaid program under federal health reform, a move that covers about 400,000 Kentuckians. 

“The people that are enrolled now, will be enrolled in the future,” said Conway, who said there are too many people on Medicaid, “but to kick them off now would be callous.”

Bevin initially said he would abolish the Medicaid expansion, but later backtracked and said he would seek a federal waiver to change the program, an idea Conway criticized as being fiscally irresponsible.

“It won’t save us any money,” Conway said. “That’s just a red herring.”

In regard to education, Conway said he would look into restoring funding for Bucks for Brains, which endows professorships at universities, as well as restoring some of funding to higher education. “I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver though,” he added.

Bevin advocated outcomes-based funding, saying the state needs to start differentiating between French literature and electrical engineering.

In response to a reporter’s question after the debate, he endorsed incentives for students seeking careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“If you are going to ask for taxpayer money to subsidize that education … then it should be used for things that are going to be to the best benefit of the taxpayers themselves,” he said.

On the issue of safety on college campuses, Bevin said he supports the right for trained teachers to carry concealed deadly weapons on campuses. Conway advocated detailed contingency plans by university police departments and reiterated afterward that he does not favor arming teachers.

The debate heated up during several moments, with Bevin persistently accusing Conway of lying to voters.  A squabble ensued after Conway claimed to have cut his office’s budget by 40 percent.

“You keep taking credit for it, and it’s a lie, stop lying to these people,” said Bevin, who noted that the legislature and the governor write state budgets.

Conway said he returned $300 million to Kentucky taxpayers, and that he doesn’t “need a lecture in fiscal responsibility from anybody.”

Both candidates said they would protect and promote Kentucky’s coal industry, which has seen a major reduction in jobs over the past few years.

Bevin said “there is more demand now” for coal than in the history of the world, and the idea that coal jobs are not coming back is false. He said he would stand up to federal over-regulation of the industry.

Conway said he was the “only one who’s actually done anything for coal” and was the only Democratic attorney general to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over coal regulations.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis did not meet the League of Women Voters’ criteria to participate in the debate, at least 10 percent in established, nonpartisan polls.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.


Candidates make misstatements and questionable assertions in televised debate

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Many of the questionable assertions and outright misstatements in Sunday night's debate for governor were about health care. Here's a fact check:

Conway said he had cut his budget as attorney general by 40 percent. Bevin said that was a lie because the legislature writes the budget. The governor receives budget requests from agencies and proposes a budget to the legislature, which passes it.

Bevin said Conway lied when he said Bevin would kick half a million people off health care. Bevin said in February that he would immediately end Gov. Steve Beshear's expansion of the Medicaid program. He has since denied saying that, and said last night that Democratic videos of his quotes omit the question he was asked, but that is not the case with his February quote. He now says he would seek a federal waiver to change the program. It might be argued that he could issue another executive order to replace Beshear's, but the Medicaid program has certain requirements that must be met unless waived, and waivers are not available immediately. While Bevin has been vague about his Medicaid plans, he has made clear for the last three months that his actions would not be as abrupt as he first said they would be.

Conway said the Kynect health-insurance exchange, which Bevin wants to abolish, is three and a half times more efficient than the federal exchange, to which policyholders would go. Bevin said that is "an absolute falsehood" because Kynect is funded by a 1 percent fee on all health-insurance policies in Kentucky and only 2 percent of the policies are bought through Kynect. Conway said afterward that he was referring to the 3.5 percent fee charged by the federal exchange, which would make those policies more expensive. While the term "efficient" could arguably be applied to the cost of those policies, a more common interpretation of Conway's comment would be that he was talking about Kynect's operating efficiency.

Bevin said the Kentucky Health Cooperative, a non-profit health insurer that is closing due to losses and lack of money, was "a distinct part" of the study that predicted the Medicaid expansion would pay for itself until 2020. The cooperative is not mentioned in the study. Bevin said afterward that the co-op was part of the "inputs" considered by the study. Reminded that the issue was the sustainabilty of the Medicaid expansion, Bevin noted the 51,000 co-op policyholders who will be losing their coverage. Reminded that Kynect has seven other insurers they can select from, Bevin asked, "Where are those taxpayers dollars going to go?" He was reminded that the co-op was funded by federal dollars, and "Those are our dollars." Bevin is running for governor, not president, but he is trying to appeal to people who dislike the entire "Obamacare' system. He appears to be using the co-op's failure to suggest that the system is not sustainable. However, the co-op, Kynect and the Medicaid expansion operate separately and are separately funded.

Conway quoted Bevin as saying that early childhood education, Conway's main issue, "serves no purpose." Bevin said was "another of those Democrat lies" because his full quote was that it serves no purpose after the third grade. That is based on a study that showed the effects of Head Start disappear after the third grade. Head Start is not the same as the early-childhood education program advocated by Conway, but Bevin has equated the two in the past.

Bevin said the state does not have the surplus that Conway mentioned because it has "tens of billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities." He was referring to state pension funds, which get annual appropriations from the budget but are financially separate. Budgets are for two years and the unfunded liability is for projected payments for current employees for the rest of their lives.

Bevin said, "It's a false idea that coal jobs can't come back." He noted that world coal demand has never been higher, but that ignores the facts that many electric plants in the U.S. have abandoned coal for cheaper natural gas and the coal in Central Appalachia is by far the most expensive to mine in the U.S. The Kentucky part of that coalfield has lost half its coal jobs in the last three years.