Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Major-party nominees leave independent Drew Curtis plenty of room to run in their first debate

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

When you are polling at only 8 percent, you can afford to take some risks. This is the position in which independent candidate Drew Curtis entered Tuesday night’s gubernatorial debate, the first among the three candidates.

Being the long-shot provided Curtis insulation from attacks by Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway. When candidates were given time to ask each other questions, neither of the two major party candidates directed theirs toward Curtis, leaving him free to state his case largely unchallenged. Happy to let Conway and Bevin take shots at the other, Curtis also provided comedic relief.

The political circus surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, whose refusal to issue marriage licenses following the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage landed her in jail for five days, provided Curtis with his first of many memorable lines.

Drew Curtis
“I think you’re both wrong,” Curtis told his foes to an uproar of laughter. Bevin had reiterated his view that Conway and Gov. Steve Beshear should provide some accommodation for Davis’s religious freedom – a step they say they have no power to do.

Curtis said, “As the executive you have an oath to uphold the laws of your land ... When the rule of law is not upheld society falls apart at the seams.”

When Conway asked Bevin why he had not released his tax returns, Bevin dodged the question, complaining that this was only a distraction from issues unfavorable to Conway.

Curtis again cut the tension with a joke: “So, I’ll actually answer this question.” Curtis had to wait a few seconds for the laughter in the room to subside before saying he will also release his tax returns, and offered anyone a tour of his house to prove his transparency.

When Curtis was asked about the state’s underfunded pensions, he had another line ready for Bevin: “You know you have been trying to ignore me, and I appreciate that.”

Curtis then asked for specific math on how Bevin’s proposed pension plan would work. When Bevin again sidestepped a specific answer Curtis used humor to display his displeasure. “On a math base the money is not there. [We] can’t convert everyone to a 401k plan right now and we cannot start putting new hires into it because the revenue bankrupts the system a good year earlier; and I’ll make a spreadsheet and send it to you.”

To fix the pension system, which is underfunded by over $9 billion, Curtis would create a line of credit for the state by issuing $5 billion in bonds. During years when annual return on the invested pension funds is lower the credit line could be tapped to fund the pension fund at 100 percent. During years when the return is high the accrual could be used to pay down the line of credit.

Bevin’s plan is to move all newly hired employees into a new 401(k) system of defined contributions – a type of savings where the employee and the state make contributions.

Perhaps Curtis’ most memorable line of the night came in response to a question about why he chose his wife Heather as his running mate, given the history of governors and lieutenant governors not getting along even after running together as they have since the early 1990s.

“I’ve been surprised by the number of people who think that it's a strange thing. I'm really starting to question all the rest of your marriages,” Curtis said.

He explained that while his strength is strategy, his wife’s is operations, pointing to the success of Fark.com, which she has run for years.

When he wasn’t lightening the occasion with his wit, Curtis used the stage to make voters more familiar with his positions, which include:
●            Using data analytics to make state government more efficient
●            Support for a statewide needle exchange program
●            Bringing broadband networks to all corners of Kentucky
●            Addressing mental health issues to keep guns away from mentally unstable, and
●            Restoring voting rights to 180,000 non-violent released convicts.

At the end of the night each candidate got what they wanted from the debate, said Bill Stone, former Jefferson County Republican Party chairman. Curtis benefited from his exposure to the spotlight, which has been hard for him to find as the independent.


  1. Matthew, this is fine work. I think it's all the more noteworthy considering the lack of coverage from larger outlets such as the Associated Press. Shine on. Your efforts reflect well on yourself, UK and Al Cross (who taught me the class you're in now).

  2. You might want to ask a banker if Curtis's plan is feasible. No banks or investors are going to provide a $5 billion slush fund to feed the state's pension system. Even if you found a source for this slush fund the carrying costs of such a fund would be substantial (ie nobody sits on their money waiting for you to use it without charging you a pretty penny to do so).

    This "plan" is pie in the sky