Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bevin turns up the heat, during debate and afterward

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

In a governor’s race that has been conspicuous for its relative silence, Republican Matt Bevin is turning up the heat on Democrat Jack Conway.

Matt Bevin and Jack Conway
(Lexington Herald-Leader photos)
Content for weeks to ride the wave of conservative anger and frustration over County Clerk Kim Davis’ fight against gay marriage in Rowan County, Bevin is now aiming directly at Conway, the two-term state attorney general.

The most spirited attack came in Tuesday night’s Bellarmine University debate when Bevin called Conway, in no uncertain terms, a liar.

That came after Conway accused Bevin of saying he would like to see the road fund in Kentucky – in dire need of cash – drained all the way to zero, then have it audited. Bevin’s anger was palpable in his response:

“First of all, so much of what comes out of your mouth, Jack, is absolutely made up. I have never once called for letting anything go to zero and then auditing it. You literally make lies up on the fly. So I would challenge those of you watching, check carefully with the facts.”

The Conway campaign later cited a Beattyville Enterprise article from last year’s U.S. Senate primary in which Bevin said government public-works projects have "served their purpose," but could not provide any evidence that Bevin wanted the highway fund to fall to zero.

Bevin lashed back at several attacks.

He is still fighting off claims that he was delinquent on taxes, something fact-checkers largely cleared him of early in the Senate primary against Sen. Mitch McConnell.

A recent Conway ad shows Bevin saying the Farm Bill was “an insult to farmers.” The screen then splits and shows him saying that was “a misrepresentation of what I said.”

Bevin has a case, since the “insult” he spoke about was the bill’s longstanding non-agriculture provisions, and the money it funneled to big agribusiness.

The ad also says Bevin told one group that early childhood education “after the age of nine serves no purpose,” then shows him denying that he opposes early childhood education.

While Bevin has said Head Start’s benefits to children disappear after the third grade, Head Start and early childhood education are not exactly the same.

More clearly, Bevin has backtracked on the expansion of Medicaid in Kentucky to include more than 400,000 people. After he said he would end the expansion, and Conway accused him of being callous, he denied saying he would end it and said he would seek a less expensive alternative, like Indiana’s.

The frustration seems to have taken its toll on Bevin. Tuesday night’s debate was not the only time he directly attacked Conway.

In an interview with Kentucky Public Radio, Bevin told host Ryland Barton, “Jack Conway supports the idea of bankrupting the coal industry.” Conway notes that he is the only Democratic attorney general who has sued to block the Obama administration’s regulation of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

While Bevin may lack evidence to back up this attack, it suggests he will keep up the heat as the race heats up.

Perhaps the most personal attack from Bevin was about race.

Bevin, who has adopted four black children from Ethiopia and chose Jenean Hampton, a black conservative activist, as his running mate for lieutenant governor, used race to question a lack of action from Conway on Gov. Steve Beshear’s appointment to university boards.

“I would question whether or not it's racially motivated that our governor and attorney general have no qualm with, even though its statutorily required, having no blacks on the University of Louisville board,” he said in the debate. Conway has said he would correct that.

Returning to his favorite argument, about the Rowan County clerk’s stand against gay marriage, and Conway’s non-appeal of a ruling that led to the Supreme Court’s legalization of it, Bevin said, “We have an attorney general who is once again turning a blind eye. We’re quick to put a Kim Davis in jail for not doing her job; we tell her to quit or do her job. We have an attorney general that repeatedly does not do his job, and a governor in the same boat. We cannot have a double standard in this state."

Conway replied that the law gives him discretion not to appeal, an appeal would have been futile and wasteful, and “the good-paying jobs of the future” will come to states that are inclusive. “I think Kim Davis went to jail because she defied a federal court order. I have sympathy for her, but we are a nation of laws.”

Matt Young is a student in Covering the Governor's Race, a course in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications, taught by Journalist In Residence John Winn Miller and Associate Extension Professor Al Cross.

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