Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bevin and Conway clash at Farm Bureau forum

By Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin and Jack Conway attacked each other's character and accused each other of being liars at the Kentucky Farm Bureau "Measure the Candidates" event in Louisville July 23.

The event, labeled as "a forum, not a debate" in a press release, felt more like a debate due to all the back-and forth attacks. The two also disagreed on issues such as Medicaid expansion, and debated other issues such as public-private partnerships and tax breaks.

One of the more important topics was the lack of high-speed Internet service in rural Kentucky. Both candidates agree that it needs to be expanded to those areas. Conway says he supports public-private partnerships, paid for partly by the government and partly by business, in order to bring broadband to those counties.

A public-private partnership was made in December between the state and Macquarie Capital, an Australian financial services group, to achieve that goal. Conway, a Democrat, accused Bevin, a Republican, of being against public-private partnerships.

Bevin denied the accusation, saying he’s a “strong proponent of it.” Bevin added, “We need to be very mindful of the way in which we enter into these and who is actually ultimately gonna pay for them.”

Another big issue was the topic of Medicaid, a federal-state program that funds health coverage for low-income people. According to Conway, “about 350,000 new people” signed up for Medicaid once it was expanded, through additional funding from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to people with household incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, bringing the total to 1.2 million Kentuckians.

“I agree too many people are on Medicaid. We need a healthier economy so that we get people off Medicaid,” Conway said. He said Bevin would eliminate the state’s Medicaid expansion on his first day in office, which would be "callous."

Bevin denied the accusation, calling it an “absolute lie.” However, Bevin said at a press conference in February that he would eliminate the expansion: “No question about it. I would reverse that immediately.”

UPDATE: On July 28, at a state Chamber of Commerce forum, Bevin said he wouldn’t end the expansion but would transition to a modified program, perhaps like Indiana’s, which state Senate President Robert Stivers had mentioned as an alternative the day before.

On the issue of "tax expenditures," which are tax credits, deductions, and exemptions, both candidates said they support continuing them for Kentucky’s farmers. Conway again accused Bevin of lying, saying that Bevin had said he would eliminate all tax expenditures.

Bevin denied the accusation, saying he’s not opposed to all of them. “We need to look very closely at them,” he said. ”There’s many of them that, frankly, make good sense. . . but there are many that don’t,” he added.

However, at a forum hosted by the Jessamine County Republican Party in April, Bevin said, “We have gotta get rid of what are called ‘tax expenditures’ in the state of Kentucky. Tax expenditures are Frankfort-speak for ‘loopholes’ that cost the taxpayers $10 billion a year.”

The two threw out numerous attacks. Bevin trivialized Conway’s time as a private-sector attorney, saying Conway only worked “for maybe five or six years total, in your entire life, in between political jobs, when you’ve lost an office and your dad’s hired you for a little while.”

Bevin also told Conway,. “You’ve been very strongly supportive of President Obama time and time and time again.”

They also bragged about their accomplishments. Conway mentioned how he and other attorneys general sued the Environmental Protection Agency over coal regulations, while Bevin brought up his achievements as a small business owner.

In his closing remarks, each candidates said the choice in the election is a question of trust. Bevin said he would govern as a Christian. “I’m running for a civic office, but I am unapologetic about the fact that my Christian faith defines my decision-making process. . . I will bring those Christian principles and that mindset to Frankfort.”

Conway said Kentuckians would "vote for the attorney general who has stood up for them the last seven and a half years," and noted that Bevin has refused to release his tax returns. "Yeah, who do you wanna trust the future to? Someone with a record of accomplishment? Or someone that the McConnell people have called ‘an East Coast con-man’ who is the number-one tax delinquent in his hometown of Connecticut?” Bevin, who ran against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in last year's Republican primary for senator, said later that he never lived in Connecticut.

This was the second public meeting of the two candidates. The first was June 19 at the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association/Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association joint summer conference in Louisville, but they spoke back to back and had no interchanges.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis, Lexington resident and creator of the news aggregator, wasn’t invited to either event or the Chamber forum.

In a press release, Curtis expressed his dissatisfaction with the two candidates. “Bevin is a Tea Party extremist and Conway is trying so hard to get Republican swing voters that he was actually quoting Reagan. If Kentucky voters want a real change in Kentucky, they need to vote for a candidate who looks at facts first, not party politics.”