Wednesday, September 16, 2015

As Bevin and Conway debate Medicaid, taxes and truth, Curtis gets the limelight

By Jerry Seale, Kevin Erpenbeck and Ben Johnson
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
With seven weeks to the election, all eyes were initially on Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin during the gubernatorial debate in Louisville Tuesday night -- but independent candidate Drew Curtis may have stolen the show.

In a debate that covered a wide range of issues, Curtis got off to a quick start separating himself from the other bickering candidates with jokes and a sharp focus on how he would fix the state’s problems.

Conway criticized Bevin for his stance on Medicaid that he says would kick half-a-million people off Medicaid, the federal-state program to provide health care for the poor.

Bevin, who backed off that stand in late July, said Tuesday night that he would apply for a federal waiver that would let Kentucky customize Medicaid to save money.

Curtis said he is in favor of keeping the Medicaid expansion as it is, citing a state study that it will pay for itself by adding health-care jobs.

When Conway chided businessman Bevin for not releasing his tax returns -- insinuating Bevin has something to hide, Bevin called his claims a “smoke screen.” He said voters should “pay attention to what really happens, not what comes out of Conway’s mouth.”

When Conway claimed Bevin said Kentucky should “let the road funds go to zero and audit it for the last 10 years,” Bevin hotly denied it.

“So much of what comes out of your mouth, Jack, is absolutely made up,” Bevin replied. “I’ve never once called for letting anything go to zero and auditing it. You literally just make lies up on the fly.”

The Conway campaign did not respond to requests for documentation of the claim.

Another contentious exchange was over the jailing of Rowan County Kim Davis for ignoring a federal court order to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Bevin said that trampled Davis’s freedom of religion, and Gov. Steve Beshear could have avoided the controversy with an executive order.

Conway, who is the state’s attorney general and has said Beshear does not have the power, said he sympathized with Davis but she needed to follow federal court orders.

Once again Curtis, standing between the other two men at Bellarmine University lecterns, drew laughter with his response.

“I think you all are both wrong,” he said. “It is the job of the executive to back up even the laws they don’t like.”

The three also differed significantly on how to deal with the economy, particularly in Eastern Kentucky.

“We need a governor who can take a look forward and anticipate problems before they actually occur,” Curtis said. “I don’t think we currently have that, no offense to these guys here. I don’t think it’s been done in American politics before. That is the thing I’m looking to change.”

Bevin said the problem isn’t just in Eastern Kentucky, but the whole state. “If there’s a hole in the boat, all our feet are going to get wet.” he said.

Conway endorsed the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative of Beshear and 5th District U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers.

On education funding, Conway said it would be a top priority, but Curtis said he couldn’t address that issue until the state’s pension problems are fixed and its finances are in better shape. He predicted twice that a recession is coming.

Bevin did not address elementary and secondary education, but said higher education needed to be better stewards of state funds and do more to prepare people for jobs.

That answer was a theme for many of Bevin’s answers in the debate.

The candidates had different opinions on how to shore state pension plans, which are the second most underfunded in the nation.

Conway said the problem is starting to take care of itself and will take some time for the full effects to be seen. To the contrary, Bevin said, the state is only “digging deeper and deeper into the hole,” and that major change will be needed.

Curtis has proposed his own plan, which would involve a line of credit, which could be tapped into when needed and paid back when times were better. Bevin criticized this plan, and said officials in Frankfort should not be trusted with such a system.

Conway was asked how he would fund the early-childhood education plan he proposed this month. He cited his record in office, saying he has returned over $300 million to the treasury, as assurance that he can find the money. Bevin and Curtis were skeptical.

Conway also pointed to his work against drug abuse and said he would put a plan in place to bring more treatment and drug education to Kentucky.

Curtis endorsed a statewide needle exchange program but Conway only backed the current local option, and Bevin did not provide a clear answer to the question.

The candidates found a rare moment of agreement on expunging the records and restoring voting rights for non-violent drug offenders who have served their time.

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