Saturday, September 12, 2015

Candidates use religious values: Bevin on Rowan clerk, Conway on Bevin's attitude toward Medicaid expansion

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The big job at stake this year is Kentucky governor, but the headlines and sound bites suggest that the Nov. 3 election is about religious values.

In a race that doesn’t seem to be gathering much public interest, Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and Republican businessman Matt Bevin are using religion to appeal to Kentucky voters, who remain a highly religious voting base.

Bevin is using Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’s jailing for refusing to issue marriage licenses to his advantage, saying Davis’s religious liberties and First Amendment rights are being violated.

Bevin criticizes Conway, who refused to appeal last year’s federal ruling that Kentucky’ same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, for not doing his job.

Conway said last year that he would not appeal because the lower-court judge got it right, an appeal would be on the wrong side of history, and good-paying jobs are going to states that allow marriage equality.

The independent candidate, CEO Drew Curtis, says clerks have the right to their own personal beliefs but must follow the law as public officials.

The Davis situation did not mark the first time Bevin spoke about Christian values, as he made it one of his primary talking points during Fancy Farm Picnic weekend July 31-Aug. 1. “We need to stop apologizing for the Christian principles, the great American values that make this country great,” he said at a Republican dinner.

Conway has found his religious angle with the Medicaid expansion and Kynect, the Kentucky health insurance market, established under federal health reform. The two functions have given coverage to about 521,000 people and helped Kentucky reduce its uninsured rate more than almost any state in the nation.

In his speech at Fancy Farm, Conway criticized Bevin for not applying his Christian values to his views on health care. He said voters should elect someone who “understands that the truly Christian thing to do is to say that we are our brother’s keeper and healthcare for our people makes us a healthier and better society.”

Bevin has said that he would dismantle Kynect, but has backtracked on plans to abolish the Medicaid expansion, saying he would adopt a less expensive program, perhaps like Indiana’s, in which clients can pay premiums to get better benefits and get refunds if they don’t use the benefits.

In addition to health care, Conway and Bevin have also sparred on Kentucky’s pension system, which is considered one of the worst in the country. 

Bevin cites his experience at managing pension-fund assets, but was unfamiliar with a key facet of the state’s pension system when questioned about it this summer. He advocates moving away from Kentucky’s current pension system in favor of a 401k-style system and offering incentives to current employees who switch.

Conway says he is committed to making the pension payments required by a recent law, and wants to find a designated source of revenue for that.

Curtis proposes issuing a $5 billion bond, structured as a line of credit, that can be tapped in years when pension funds aren’t keeping up with their obligations, and pay back the debt in years when it runs ahead.

Conway is focusing his campaign strategy on education and Bevin’s statement in the Republican primary debate that early childhood education’s effects disappear after the third grade.

Conway released his education plan on Tuesday, proposing early education for 3-year-olds with parents making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (the same level as those who qualify for the Medicaid expansion) to during his first year in office, and all 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level by the end of his first term.

Bevin is more conservative on education and favors charter schools.

On television, the candidates and their supporters have questioned each other’s integrity.  Conway has used recycled verbal jabs from the 2014 Senate Republican primary, in which Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign called Bevin an “East Coast con man” and a “pathological liar.” He also criticizes Bevin for not releasing his tax returns, which Bevin says he will do if elected.

Bevin hasn’t run TV ads in the general election, but outside groups supporting him are trying to tie Conway to President Obama,

All three candidates have female lieutenant-governor running mates, Democrat Sannie Overly, Republican Jenean Hampton and independent Heather Curtis, the candidate’s wife. Hampton would be Kentucky’s first black statewide elected official.

The most recent Bluegrass Poll, in late July, had Conway leading with 43 percent of respondents, Bevin with 38 percent and Curtis with 8 percent.

The first debate with all three candidates will be held Tuesday at Bellarmine University in Louisville, from 7 to 8 p.m. ET. It will be televised and streamed by WHAS-TV and WKYT-TV, and is also sponsored by The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader. The four news outlets sponsor the Bluegrass Poll.

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