Saturday, October 31, 2015

Here are the candidates' positions on several issues

This post may be updated with summaries of other issues.

     Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin's economic positions adhere in large part to party orthodoxies. Bevin plans to make the Bluegrass more competitive by passing "right to work" legislation, which would outlaw labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues or fees. Conway's plan to bring more jobs to Kentucky primarily focuses on education. He plans to align job-training programs to the needs of employers and plans to work with schools to improve graduation rates. Conway wants an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Bevin opposes that idea, and his running mate, Jenean Hampton, said an increase to minimum wage would be "disastrous." Independent Drew Curtis favors the increase and says he will look at policies in other states and bring the successful ones to Kentucky, hoping to bring a "tech boom" to the Bluegrass by focusing on technology training. Ben Johnson

     Republican Matt Bevin says Kentucky needs to back out of the nationally adopted State Common Core Standards because they “doesn’t adequately address the diverse needs” of the state. Bevin also wants to guarantee school choice, including charter schools and tax credits for private education, and has said families who home-school their children should have access to the same public amenities provided to kids who attend state-funded schools. He favors outcomes-based funding for higher education, with emphasis on producing degrees that will help the economy.
     Democrat Jack Conway wants to expand early childhood education, first to 3- and 4-year-olds in homes with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level, with a goal of 200 percent. He supports Common Core and opposes charter schools and tax credits for private education. He says he would look at outcomes-based funding but wants to maintain a level playing field for universities.
     Independent Drew Curtis wants to expand early-college programs in high schools and says a budget cut to education is one of the last things he would recommend. However, he also says solving Kentucky’s pension problem is one of his first priorities, so education funding issues would have to wait at least a year. Kevin Erpenbeck

     Drug abuse is a growing problem for Kentucky, which has the nation’s third highest death rate from drug overdoses.  The number of heroin overdoses has tripled in the last three years alone. There are limited treatment options available, with only one-tenth of the treatment beds needed. Here is how the three candidates for governor say they will deal with that problem:
     Democrat Jack Conway notes his history of fighting drugs as attorney general. He supports the local-option needle exchange program and calls for more education and treatment but has yet to provide a solution on how he will pay for that. He opposes legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and says people on Medicaid should be tested for drugs only with probable cause.
     Republican Matt Bevin says he would randomly drug-test Medicaid recipients but otherwise has talked less about the state’s drug abuse crisis than Conway. He says the key is intervening earlier and creating better economic opportunity. He says the state spends too little on behavioral health and supports legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
     Independent candidate Drew Curtis supports decriminalizing addiction. He suggests copying Massachusetts’ program on tackling opiate addiction if it proves successful. Megan Ingros

     Expanded gambling, an issue that could have an impact on the state’s economy budget, is viewed with differently by all three candidates but isn’t a strong point of focus for any of them.
     Democrat Jack Conway favors a referendum on the issue and says the time could be right for it, to create revenue for the horse racing industry, pensions and early childhood education, since bond-rating agencies have said the state needs a dedicated revenue stream to shore up its pensions.
     Republican Matt Bevin stands on the opposite end of the spectrum. During an Oct. 6 debate, he rejected gambling as a possible solution to any of Kentucky’s problems. “I don’t think it’s the solution to what ails us financially in this state,” he said.
     Independent candidate Drew Curtis stands right in the middle. While not much more enthralled by the idea of expanded gambling than Bevin, he hasn’t been willing to completely dismiss it just yet. “Our pension system is in dire shape, so we must consider all options,” Curtis told WFPL Radio. –Jerry Seale

     In regard to Medicaid, the federal-and-state-funded health insurance for lower-income people, Democrat Jack Conway wants to stay where we are right now and Republican Matt Bevin does not.
     Conway wants to keep the Kynect health-insurance marketplace and the expansion of Medicaid to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, saying he believes the state-funded study that shows the expansion is paying for itself by adding so many people to the health-care system that enough jobs and tax revenue will be created to cover the state’s cost – starting at 5 percent in 2017 and rising to the federal health reform law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020.
     Bevin scoffs at the study, saying the expansion is unsustainable, and says he would apply for a federal waiver to change it to a program in which some people pay premiums, co-payments, deductibles or health savings accounts. He also wants to use the federal exchange and abolish Kynect, which is funded by a 1 percent fee on all health-insurance policies sold in the state. The federal exchange charges 3.5 percent on policies it sells.
     Independent candidate Drew Curtis is against abolishing Kynect and wants to stand and watch what happens with the Medicaid expansion. He says it seems likely to pay for itself in the near term. –Lauren Allen

     Democrat Jack Conway favors a statewide ban on smoking in public places. Republican Matt Bevin says local communities should decide the issue for themselves. Independent candidate Drew Curtis favors a ban that exempts cigar bars and other establishments related to smoking. –Al Cross

     Republican Matt Bevin calls for comprehensive tax reform that includes reduced income-tax rates on businesses and individuals and repeal of inheritance and inventory taxes.
     Democrat Jack Conway endorses bipartisan tax reform that would not increase overall revenue. He has called for ending the inventory tax.
     Independent Drew Curtis wants to change income-tax brackets to percentages of income, not dollar amounts, to adjust to inflation, and supports "an across-the-board reduction in exemptions, with the goal to elimimnate as many as possible over the next decade." Al Cross 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Latest poll still within error margin, but weighting recent polls shows Conway has slightly better chance to win

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The final Bluegrass Poll released Wednesday evening showed Democrat Jack Conway leading Republican Matt Bevin 45 percent to 40 percent, with an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, which applies to each number. Independent Drew Curtis was favored by 6 percent of voters polled, with 10 percent undecided.

With the election Tuesday, Nov. 3, and public polling in the race likely completed, we ran a weighted aggregation on the six public polls done for the race. A weighted aggregation is an average created by assigning varying levels of significance to each set of data. Recent polls are more significant because they reflect the most current feelings of voters, but older polls still have significance because no poll surveys every voter in Kentucky, and subsequent polls may not reflect the views of all demographics or areas. Also, many voters feelings have not changed, so it is important to keep their responses, though they are not as significant as current polls.

In our weighting, each week going back in time was considered 20 percent less significant than the week following it. So in this case, this week’s two polls (the Bluegrass and the Big Red) were weighted at 100 percent significance. Last week would have been 80%, the week before 64%, then 51.2% and so on.

In the weighted aggregation Bevin still trails by 4.44 points, taking 39.71 percent to Conway’s 44.15 percent. Because the aggregation has a larger sample size, its margin of error is only 1.43 percent. This means it can be said with 95 percent certainty -- the standard in polling -- that Conway’s lead over Bevin is between 2.5 and 6.4 points. However, with 9.66 percent undecided, it is still anyone’s race.

Just how big a factor could the undecided voters be? A randomized test for the weighted poll shows that the chance Conway will win is only 50.5 percent, meaning the race is about as certain as a coin flip. A probability test assuming that if undecideds split toward Conway as other voters do, gives him a 51.7 percent chance to win. Splitting undecideds evenly gives him a 51.6 percent chance. If they break 60-40 for Bevin, Conway still has a 50.4 percent chance to win. Undecideds typically lean against incumbents, and Conway is effectively the incumbent in this race. However, voters in the Bluegrass Poll viewed Conway more favorably than Bevin.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that 79 percent of the registered voters called by the Bluegrass Poll said they were likely to vote. Turnout is never that high, and election officials and political experts expect turnout to be 30 percent or less. Also, the lack of movement in the race’s polls suggest that most voters have made up their minds, and most undecided voters typically don’t go to the polls.

All this means that the campaigns are putting more effort on turning out their supporters than persuading undecideds. Both Conway and Bevin are following tradition, and kicking off tours of key areas and get-out-the vote events to try to generate interest in the closing days. Conway began a “Moving Kentucky Forward” tour Tuesday morning, with roundtable and meet and greet events in Western Kentucky. Bevin’s get-out-the-vote tour also began Wednesday with stops in Louisville, Somerset, and Columbia. For an election that is expected to have very low voter turnout, the race may depend on which candidate can organize, rally, or excite their voting base.

Bevin doubles down on his investment to gain high office and emphasizes effort to link Conway to Obama

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
               Republican Matt Bevin knows a lot about investing. He has had a successful career managing wealth and investments for customers. But in the last two election cycles he has invested nearly $4.8 million of his own cash on a new customer: himself. Now, with one week until voters hit the polls to determine the next governor, Bevin is really hoping for a big return on the money he has given to his two campaigns for public office.
               The latest polls show Bevin down five points to Democrat Jack Conway. This is where Bevin has found himself for most of the race, but never able to really cut into Conway’s lead.
               Now, as Bevin stares down the barrel of Tuesday, Election Day, he appears to be feeling the urgency of the race. His campaign strategy has shifted over the last two weeks to be markedly more aggressive. Content for months to run a largely positive campaign, his tone seems to be sharpening.
               There was the occasional punch thrown early on, like when Bevin told Conway at a September debate, “So much of what comes out of your mouth, Jack, is absolutely made up... You literally make lies up on the fly.” Overall, though, Bevin stayed positive in his message. He stood his ground and kept talking about his issues; Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, job creation, and fighting President Obama.
               But as the race comes down to the wire, Bevin has made a stronger foray. At the final two debates of the campaign, held Sunday at Eastern Kentucky University, and Monday at KET, Bevin repeatedly called Conway a liar, challenging his assertions and often interrupting him.
               Bevin accused Conway of lying to voters, and saying anything to get elected. He cited Conway saying Bevin would kick 400,000 people off Medicaid and does not support early childhood education Conway claiming he cut his budget by 40 percent as attorney general.
               The last two debates were outliers. Bevin has changed the tone of his campaign to attack Conway as a “rubber stamp” for President Obama. Early in the campaign Bevin did not emphasize the tactic common to Republicans over the last seven years, attacking the Democrat as a clone of Obama.
                “Jack Conway is a rubber stamp for Barack Obama. ... I am not a career politician. ... I’m a guy like so many out there who simply want better opportunity for themselves, for their families, for their state and for America,” Bevin said on the Glenn Beck Show.
               In a TV ad with unidentified people speaking, one says, “He’s just like Obama, maybe worse than Obama.”
               Most recently Bevin put out an ad titled “Stamp” mirroring his public accusations:  “Career politician Jack Conway is a rubber stamp for Obama's liberal agenda. “He’s for Obamacare, just like Obama. He’s for gun restrictions, like Obama. He’s pro-abortion, like Obama. He’s anti-coal, just like Obama. Conway even voted for Obama. Twice! Jack Conway would be Obama’s Governor.”
               Conway often notes that he is the only Democratic attorney general to join a lawsuit against the Obama administration for its regulation of greenhouse gases form coal-fired power plants.. He favors applying the federal background-check law to gun shows.
               If Conway were to “be Obama’s governor” he would have only a year and a month to do so, given that Obama leaves office in January 2017. But the attempt to link the two is clear, and it is a clear shift in strategy for Bevin. A strategy that reflects a candidate who might get zero return on a nearly $4.8 million investment.
●            In February Bevin said he would reverse the Medicaid expansion immediately, but since July he has talked about changing the program but has offered few details. However, when asked Monday by moderator Bill Goodman whether he would keep the Medicaid income limit at 138 percent of the federal poverty level, Bevin simply said, “No”.
●            A Democratic video shows Bevin saying Head Start “serves no purpose after 3rd grade,” meaning its effects disappear after that point, according to one study. In a separate video Bevin appeared to compare Head Start to brainwashing, criticizing its expansion to include 4-year-olds in a federal budget deal. Bevin said “certain regimes” use early education for political gain. “Look at these various regimes throughout history and what is it that they've always said? Give me the children. Give me the minds of the children. That's what they've always said. And it's true. Because I'll tell you, it's not coincidental or accidental that you have them now trying to get 4-year olds." However, Bevin insists he supports the overall cause of early education, and has cited a United Way program, Success by Six, as an example.
●            Bevin called Conway a liar for claiming that he cut his budget 40 percent. Bevin is correct; the attorney general proposes his budget, but the governor revises it and submits it to the legislature, which changes and approves it.
●            Referring to the Medicaid expansion, Bevin said Conway’s citation of a Deloitte study showing the Medicaid expansion will pay for itself until 2020 was proof that doesn’t know what he is talking about. The study predicts that by adding hundeds of thousands of people to the health-care system, the expansion will create jobs in health care and other industries, but its conclusions have not been proven. Gov. Steve Beshear claimed Tuesday that “Right now, it is paying for itself.”


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nominees for governor differ greatly on issues, personality

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

One candidate’s wonkiness and the other’s confrontational personality, and their stark differences on some issues, have culminated in a virtual toss-up in the Nov. 3 election for governor.

Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin differ greatly in their stances on the race’s hottest issues, including the state’s crumbling pension system, the Medicaid expansion under federal health reform and the state’s education system, which makes up more than half the state budget.

Regarding the underfunded pension system, Bevin touts his experience as a businessman, managing pensions and making payroll.

He has advocated moving new state workers to a 401(k) style system and offering current workers the opportunity to join the system, which the legislature recently changed to save money.

Bevin said during Monday’s KET debate, “We’re not really solving the problem at all,” partly because the estimated rate of return on investments is too optimistic.

Conway has said implementing such a system would actually cost the state $8 billion more in the first 15 years, since new hires are helping to pay current benefits. He has more or less advocated keeping the revised system in place, saying the state can meet its immediate obligations because it has a $219 million surplus.

“I think we can make it. I think that’s manageable,” Conway said in the debate.

Conway has said that moving teachers to a 401(k) style system would be “absolutely off the table” because they do not participate in Social Security, which would be their safety net should the 401(k) investments fall short. Bevin has said he would apply for a waiver to let teachers participate in Social Security without the state and schools making the employer match.

On the Medicaid expansion, which has extended health coverage to about 400,000 Kentuckians, Conway favors keeping it, as well as sustaining Kynect, the state’s health-insurance market that has about 100,000 Kentuckians in private plans. Bevin wants to abolish Kynect and use the federal exchange.

Bevin said in February he would immediately reverse the Medicaid expansion upon taking office, but later denied saying that. Since July he has said he would seek a federal waiver to convert to a system like Indiana’s, where Medicaid beneficiaries pay higher premiums to receive better benefits, as well as co-payments.

“I don’t care if it’s a dollar or two dollars,” Bevin said in the KET debate. “People should have skin in the game.” Conway said in the debate that the Indiana program keeps people from getting coverage.

Bevin says the expansion is not sustainable, but Conway cites a state-funded study predicting that it will pay for itself by generating health-care jobs and tax revenue. He acknowledged during the debate that his administration would be challenged to prove that.

Conway has focused his campaign heavily on education, especially advocating more funding for early childhood education, citing research that shows 90 percent of brain development happens by age 5.  He has also shown openness to restoring some of the funding cut from higher education.

Bevin has questioned the effectiveness of Head Start and called for tax vouchers to support private education, which Conway opposes. Bevin says he would use “outcomes-based funding” to encourage more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math. Conway said on Monday’s debate that he would consider such an approach but wants a “level playing field” for universities.

Both candidates have touted their ability to improve the state’s economy, albeit through different methods.

Bevin says that the pension system is the top economic priority and calls for making Kentucky a right-to-work state because states that border Kentucky have the law that bans requirements to pay union dues or fees.

Conway opposes right-to-work and supports raising Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over a three year period.  Bevin’s opposes raising the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour.

 “I’m the only one sitting here who’s ever created a job,” the Louisville businessman said in the KET debate and on numerous other occasions.

Conway has noted that he is the only candidate who has run a government agency, and accused Bevin of not knowing how government works.

Television commercials supporting Conway have used many of the largely disproven attacks on Bevin that U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell used to beat him in last year’s Senate primary. In debates, Bevin has repeatedly accused Conway of lying about him.

In the last few days Bevin has increased his effort to associate Conway with President Obama, who is unpopular in the state. Conway has noted that he was the only Democratic attorney general to sue the Obama administration for its anti-coal regulations.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis is also on Tuesday’s ballot.

Cheyene Miller of London is a journalism senior at the University of Kentucky. He wrote this story for Covering the Governor’s Race, a course taught by Associate Professor Al Cross and Journalist-in-Residence John Winn Miller.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Candidates have three different takes on the next governor's biggest problem, underfunded state pensions

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Kentucky’s financially struggling pension system is one of the most serious issues facing the next governor, and one of the few issues all three candidates consistently discuss and have clear differences about. The system’s unfunded liabilities have already lowered the credit rating of the state, making it more expensive to borrow money and discouraging investment by employers.

But just how do pensions play such a large role? For anyone who does not study finances, understanding a pension system is complicated, and the Kentucky General Assembly has made it even more confusing over the last decade or two.

Not too long ago, at the turn of the century, the Kentucky pension funds were in great shape. The system was fully funded, and it looked like smooth sailing. But an economic downturn put a hole in the ship, the downturn of the stock market shrank the returns on investments for the pensions, which had typically accounted for about two-thirds of pension fund revenue. At the same time the economic recession left the state with less revenue to plug the holes, and the pensions have been taking on water ever since.

The legislature and governors have not fully funded  state employees’ pensions since 2000, and not for teachers since 2008. To compound the problem, lawmakers have spent money from both funds on other projects. The IOUs left in place of the cash have not been satisfied yet, leaving the unfunded liabilities in the tens of billions of dollars, depending on how far you look into the future. The estimate is based on projected payments to current employees until the end of their lives.

Another big problem is that there are more retirees in the system as the baby-boomer generation leaves the workforce. Payments from the Kentucky Retirement Systems are double what they were 10 years ago, and the worker-to-retiree ratio has fallen to nearly one worker per retiree. The problem is made worse by cost-of-living adjustments that have been approved by the legislature without being funded, making benefits even greater.

The actuarially required contribution (ARC) for the next fiscal year is anticipated to be nearly $800 million, which would be more than $100 million greater than last year. The Kentucky Teachers Retirement System is expected to ask the legislature for $520 million next year. The state already borrowed $900 million to shore up KTRS in 2010.

In 2013 the legislature undertook major overhauls of the pension fund to stop some of the bleeding. New hires were place in a hybrid style plan that required them to contribute a dedicated percentage of their income (5 percent for Kentucky Employees Retirement System non-hazardous employees) to the pension fund. Cost of living adjustments were eliminated for all retirees unless the KRS board determined liabilities were funded at 100 percent or greater, and the cost of living adjustment is fully paid for. Double dipping has been eliminated, and transparency and oversight were increased within the pension system.

Most importantly, making the ARC was changed to be the expectation by 2015, and would require a waiver by the legislature in a budget bill in order not to do so.

To avoid further downgrades in the state’s credit rating, analysts say, the changes Kentucky made in 2013 were not enough. The state must dedicate a specific stream of revenue to the pension fund, rather than continue the current plan.

The legislature has a separate pension fund for its own retirees and judges, which has been much better funded than KERS and KTRS. The return on investment for the legislature’s pension fund was also five times greater than that of the KERS, which posted a meager 2 percent return for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The candidates have substantially different ideas on how to tackle to the pension crisis.

Democrat Jack Conway does not have a concrete plan, choosing to take more of a wait-and-see approach: For KERS, he said, “I think we can get to the ARC for the next budget cycle.”
Conway said he won’t be more specific on solving the rest of the problem until after he sees the recommendations of a task force on pensions created by Gov. Steve Beshear.

“What the ratings agencies are saying to us is that, ‘This nonsense where you had last year, the legislature telling the governor to find $80 million in savings and taking $30 million out of the road plan, that’s not going to cut it. Find a dedicated source of revenue,” Conway said.

While Conway said he believes a dedicated revenue source can be found for the state employees pension, “finding one for the teachers is going to be tougher.”

Conway said he is open to a variety of options, including taxing casino gambling if voters legalize it.
Moving teachers to a defined contribution plan – like a 401(k) plan where employees and employers make contributions -- is “absolutely off the table” for Conway because they do not participate in Social Security.

Republican Matt Bevin, who opposes casinos, said he would keep all current retirees on the pension plan, but would give them the option for them to move to a defined contribution plan, like a 401(k). All new hires would be put into a defined contribution plan, which does not typically bring the same level of benefit as a pension.

The state has been too generous with its workers, Bevin argues, and has put itself in a place it can no longer afford. Bevin supports joining 29 other states in applying for a federal waiver to allow Kentucky teachers to participate in Social Security so they can have a guaranteed source of income during retirement if their 401(k) runs dry. This plan would also require the state and school districts make the employer contribution to Social Security unless this requirement were to be waived by the Social Security Administration, a move that is not likely to occur.

But experts said moving new hires to a defined contribution plan could cause the funds to run out of money even sooner because there would be no new workers contributing to the fund to cover benefits paid out to current and future retirees. Conway says it would create an $8 billion problem in the next 15 years.

The idea of bonding billions more to pay down the unfunded liabilities is not agreeable to Bevin, either. The fund would have to garner four times its current return to make bonding a viable alternative. In 2015 the return on investment was only 2 percent for the pension fund. When interest rates for bonds (in a state with a less than stellar credit rating) and fees to the investment managers are factored in, a 2 percent return would only dig the fund deeper into a hole.

Independent Drew Curtis sees the problem differently: “What it all comes down to is the checks must go out. If we don’t send the checks out, that instantly throws the state economy into recession.”
He proposed a $5 billion dollar line of credit to help cover the pension shortfalls. Rather than a bond, which would take out all $5 billion at once, and immediately begin to require interest payments, a line of credit would allow smaller amounts to be taken out when needed, similar to the way a credit card works.

“We don’t need to get to 100 percent funding if we have checks going out,” he said.

When the pension system performs well and can produce enough return on investment to send the checks out, the line of credit would be left alone. In years the fund needs extra cash, the line of credit could be tapped to pick up the shortfall, and paid back when times improve. This system would guarantee retirees still get their benefits, but would leave the legislature free to put funding toward the ARC rather than payments to beneficiaries, Curtis says. He says he would fund “ARC plus,” at 110 percent for the next 20 years.

Curtis admits that funding KTRS is trickier, but he takes a similar approach to Conway, saying there are a few years of wiggle room to assess the situation before the funding shortfall must be addressed.


ARC: Actuarially Required Contribution. This is the minimum yearly payment that must be made into each pension fund to cover the normal cost of pensions for the state, as well as the amount needed to pay down unfunded liabilities. If this payment is not made, unfunded liabilities increase.
ARC plus: A higher payment made to the pension system to bring down unfunded liabilities more quickly.
Unfunded Liabilities: The amount that is projected to be owed to current retirees in future years that the state will not have under current funding rates. Unfunded liabilities are measured in terms of years (the 10 year unfunded liability measures how much more money the state needs to pay pensions for the next decade) or in terms of how much more is needed to pay current retirees for as long as they are expected to live.
KERS: The Kentucky Employees Retirement System. The pension fund that goes to all non-hazardous state employees. From secretaries to police officers, about 120,000 retirees are currently in KERS.
KTRS: The Kentucky Teachers Retirement System. This covers all public school teachers in Kentucky, and includes about 141,000 retirees. Teachers do not receive Social Security, leaving this pension as their only guaranteed source of income.
Defined Contribution Plan: A system that sets the amount an employee pays in as the standard. The amount the employee gets in payouts depends on the performance of the investment. The 401(k) fits into this category.
Defined Benefit Plan: An employee makes contributions to the system, usually a set percentage of wages, for as long as they work. After retirement they are guaranteed a certain payment each month, often a percentage of their monthly pay when employed.
KRS: The Kentucky Retirement System. This is the system that manages all pension plans for the state, such as KERS and KTRS.

ANALYSIS: Republican Governors Association re-enters ad fray, again trying to tie Conway to Obama

By Matthew Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Republican Governors Association is back, and in a big way: $1.6 million big. After spending $2.6 million in the governor's race on ads in the summer and early fall, the RGA pulled its support for Republican candidate Matt Bevin at the end of September. While no official reason was given, it left Bevin, who has a huge fundraising deficit in his race with Democrat Jack Conway, alone in a race where he needs help. After Bevin spent almost $1 million of his own money on ads and was unable to gain any ground in the polls, the RGA stepped back in. In a race that has generated little public interest, the RGA is hoping it can tip the scales toward Bevin in the last two weeks by connecting Conway to Obama.

Ad message
A new ad, called “Trust” is set in black and white, while gloomy string music plays in the background. The top of the screen shows families and workers struggling to make due. It begins by saying: “Our families are struggling, healthcare costs have skyrocketed, too many jobs have been lost, our paychecks seem smaller while career politicians make government bigger.” The bottom of the screen is split with a black and white portrait of President Obama next to Conway with the label “Obama-Conway Record.”

“Struggling families” and “paychecks seem smaller”: Data from the Census B ureau shows that median income in Kentucky fell by almost 3 percent from 2013 to 2014. The ad would like you to believe that Democratic policies, led by President Obama, are to blame, but the responsibility is not clear. Income has been falling for quite some time, and not just in Kentucky. Americans not in the top 10 percent of income earners are doing worse than in years past. Almost all growth in wealth since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 has gone to the top 10 percent of income earners. Adjusted for inflation, median household incomes peaked around 2000, when George W. Bush was elected, and have been on the decline ever since. If the president in office is to blame for income and wealth performance, the RGA might not want to throw stones. The claim is true, but it certainly does not say what the RGA wants you to believe.

“Politicians make government bigger” is also a claim that deserves more scrutiny. The RGA is not so subtle in its insinuation that Conway is making government bigger; his picture is the focus of the ad as the statement is made. As evidence of this claim the RGA points to the growth in the budget of Kentucky over the last three years, and the expected growth for the next two. In those years, the state budget has grown slightly faster than the gross state product, which is the amount of goods and services produced in the state, but the attorney general doesn’t control the purse strings; the state legislature does.

“Skyrocketing health-care costs”: Health-care costs are up, but “skyrocketed” stretches too far. While horror stories of individual premiums rising as much as 40 percent are not difficult to find, data show these are outliers. An analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that the average premium increase from 2014 to 2015 was effectively zero, a significant difference from annual premium increases in the previous decade of about 10 percent. Comparative numbers for 2016 will not be available for some time, but we do know that individual policies on the state’s Kynect insurance exchange are averaging increases between 5.2 percent and 12.2 percent, not including an 11 percent decrease for WellCare. Seeing a rate increase at or below the 10-year average could hardly be called skyrocketing. This claim is largely false.

“Too many jobs have been lost”: The RGA’s documentation for this point cites Kentucky’s loss of more than 1 in 10 coal jobs during the first three months of 2014. In the last three years, about half the state’s coal jobs have been lost. However, the ad does not mention coal, and unemployment in Kentucky is 5 percent, the lowest in 14 years. The total number of people with jobs in Kentucky is 13,000 fewer than five years ago, but that may not be the best way to measure it. The total nonfarm employment is more than 133,000 higher than five years ago, and 34,000 higher than last year.

"Our families can't afford four more years of the liberal policies of President Obama and career politicians like Jack Conway”: As evidence for this the RGA points to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. But this claim conflicts with the conclusions of an analysis done for the state by Deloitte Consulting. The study says the added tax revenue from jobs created in the medical sector, due to the increase in the number of Kentuckians with health coverage, will pay for the expansion of Medicaid through 2020. Kentucky must start paying 5 percent of the expansion cost in 2017, rising in steps to the law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020. But that is six years away. This ad cites fur years as the time frame, and the available data shows that the Medicaid expansion will not cost Kentucky in the next four years.

Conclusion: The ad breaks to a black and white video of President Obama saying his “policies are on the ballot.” A woman is shown next to Obama with her face in her hands, upset. The video is form 2014 and Obama has said nothing of the sort about this governor's race. Some voters may remember the comment from last year’s Senate race, but most are unlikely to do so. The ad closes, “Can you really trust Obama and Conway to make things better?” Should Conway become governor, his term and that of President Obama will only overlap for little more than a year and a month. As far as we know, Obama is not planning to be an adviser to the governor of Kentucky after he moves out of the White House. This is an attempt to connect Conway to Obama, but it is a stretch at best.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bevin endorses, Conway opposes legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes; next-to-last debate heated at times

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Health care dominated Sunday night’s gubernatorial debate at Eastern Kentucky University and both candidates strayed from party lines on the issue of medical marijuana.

“I would in fact sign such legislation into law,” Republican candidate Matt Bevin said of a bill to legalize medical marijuana.  The Louisville businessman said research shows marijuana can treat patients with epilepsy and other disorders and that these patients desperately need help.

Democratic candidate Jack Conway said he would not support a bill legalizing medical marijuana, and that doing so could lead to an increase in recreational drug abuse.  He said he wouldn’t consider legalization unless the Kentucky Medical Association advocated it.

“Medical marijuana is the only medicine I can think of that would be prescribed in joints,” said Conway, who has been the state’s attorney general for almost eight years.

The candidates also sparred over the expansion of the Medicaid program under federal health reform, a move that covers about 400,000 Kentuckians. 

“The people that are enrolled now, will be enrolled in the future,” said Conway, who said there are too many people on Medicaid, “but to kick them off now would be callous.”

Bevin initially said he would abolish the Medicaid expansion, but later backtracked and said he would seek a federal waiver to change the program, an idea Conway criticized as being fiscally irresponsible.

“It won’t save us any money,” Conway said. “That’s just a red herring.”

In regard to education, Conway said he would look into restoring funding for Bucks for Brains, which endows professorships at universities, as well as restoring some of funding to higher education. “I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver though,” he added.

Bevin advocated outcomes-based funding, saying the state needs to start differentiating between French literature and electrical engineering.

In response to a reporter’s question after the debate, he endorsed incentives for students seeking careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“If you are going to ask for taxpayer money to subsidize that education … then it should be used for things that are going to be to the best benefit of the taxpayers themselves,” he said.

On the issue of safety on college campuses, Bevin said he supports the right for trained teachers to carry concealed deadly weapons on campuses. Conway advocated detailed contingency plans by university police departments and reiterated afterward that he does not favor arming teachers.

The debate heated up during several moments, with Bevin persistently accusing Conway of lying to voters.  A squabble ensued after Conway claimed to have cut his office’s budget by 40 percent.

“You keep taking credit for it, and it’s a lie, stop lying to these people,” said Bevin, who noted that the legislature and the governor write state budgets.

Conway said he returned $300 million to Kentucky taxpayers, and that he doesn’t “need a lecture in fiscal responsibility from anybody.”

Both candidates said they would protect and promote Kentucky’s coal industry, which has seen a major reduction in jobs over the past few years.

Bevin said “there is more demand now” for coal than in the history of the world, and the idea that coal jobs are not coming back is false. He said he would stand up to federal over-regulation of the industry.

Conway said he was the “only one who’s actually done anything for coal” and was the only Democratic attorney general to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over coal regulations.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis did not meet the League of Women Voters’ criteria to participate in the debate, at least 10 percent in established, nonpartisan polls.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Candidates make misstatements and questionable assertions in televised debate

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Many of the questionable assertions and outright misstatements in Sunday night's debate for governor were about health care. Here's a fact check:

Conway said he had cut his budget as attorney general by 40 percent. Bevin said that was a lie because the legislature writes the budget. The governor receives budget requests from agencies and proposes a budget to the legislature, which passes it.

Bevin said Conway lied when he said Bevin would kick half a million people off health care. Bevin said in February that he would immediately end Gov. Steve Beshear's expansion of the Medicaid program. He has since denied saying that, and said last night that Democratic videos of his quotes omit the question he was asked, but that is not the case with his February quote. He now says he would seek a federal waiver to change the program. It might be argued that he could issue another executive order to replace Beshear's, but the Medicaid program has certain requirements that must be met unless waived, and waivers are not available immediately. While Bevin has been vague about his Medicaid plans, he has made clear for the last three months that his actions would not be as abrupt as he first said they would be.

Conway said the Kynect health-insurance exchange, which Bevin wants to abolish, is three and a half times more efficient than the federal exchange, to which policyholders would go. Bevin said that is "an absolute falsehood" because Kynect is funded by a 1 percent fee on all health-insurance policies in Kentucky and only 2 percent of the policies are bought through Kynect. Conway said afterward that he was referring to the 3.5 percent fee charged by the federal exchange, which would make those policies more expensive. While the term "efficient" could arguably be applied to the cost of those policies, a more common interpretation of Conway's comment would be that he was talking about Kynect's operating efficiency.

Bevin said the Kentucky Health Cooperative, a non-profit health insurer that is closing due to losses and lack of money, was "a distinct part" of the study that predicted the Medicaid expansion would pay for itself until 2020. The cooperative is not mentioned in the study. Bevin said afterward that the co-op was part of the "inputs" considered by the study. Reminded that the issue was the sustainabilty of the Medicaid expansion, Bevin noted the 51,000 co-op policyholders who will be losing their coverage. Reminded that Kynect has seven other insurers they can select from, Bevin asked, "Where are those taxpayers dollars going to go?" He was reminded that the co-op was funded by federal dollars, and "Those are our dollars." Bevin is running for governor, not president, but he is trying to appeal to people who dislike the entire "Obamacare' system. He appears to be using the co-op's failure to suggest that the system is not sustainable. However, the co-op, Kynect and the Medicaid expansion operate separately and are separately funded.

Conway quoted Bevin as saying that early childhood education, Conway's main issue, "serves no purpose." Bevin said was "another of those Democrat lies" because his full quote was that it serves no purpose after the third grade. That is based on a study that showed the effects of Head Start disappear after the third grade. Head Start is not the same as the early-childhood education program advocated by Conway, but Bevin has equated the two in the past.

Bevin said the state does not have the surplus that Conway mentioned because it has "tens of billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities." He was referring to state pension funds, which get annual appropriations from the budget but are financially separate. Budgets are for two years and the unfunded liability is for projected payments for current employees for the rest of their lives.

Bevin said, "It's a false idea that coal jobs can't come back." He noted that world coal demand has never been higher, but that ignores the facts that many electric plants in the U.S. have abandoned coal for cheaper natural gas and the coal in Central Appalachia is by far the most expensive to mine in the U.S. The Kentucky part of that coalfield has lost half its coal jobs in the last three years.

Fate of health coverage through Medicaid expansion and Kynect could rest on the outcome of the election

By Cheyene Miller and Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
            The fate of health coverage for about half a million Kentuckians could rest on the outcome of the Nov. 3 election for governor. Democrat Jack Conway wants to stick with the state’s embrace of federal health reform while Republican Matt Bevin does not.
            Gov. Steve Beshear expanded the Medicaid program and created an online insurance market known as Kynect. Between the 400,000 in the expansion and 100,000 private insurance plans purchased on Kynect, the percentage of people without health insurance dropped more in Kentucky than any state in the nation, from more than 20 percent to just over 9 percent, according to the Gallup Poll.
            Kentucky was the only Southern state to create its own insurance exchange, and one of only two Southern states to expand Medicaid, along with Arkansas.
Beshear is on his way out of the governor’s mansion, however, and his possible successors have two drastically different stances on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Conway’s stance throughout the race has been to keep what is arguably one of the greatest accomplishments of his fellow Democrat, while Bevin has promised to dismantle Obamacare in Kentucky, albeit with an inconsistent stance on the Medicaid expansion.
Bevin told reporters in February that he would immediately end the expansion, but in July he denied saying that and started talking about seeking a federal waiver to receive Medicaid money in a grant and create a system resembling Indiana’s, in which Medicaid beneficiaries pay premiums to get better benefits.
“We can’t afford the current structure as it exists,” Bevin said in September. Beshear questioned Bevin’s knowledge of the system, and said the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that such waiver plans “will likely cost more than the expansion as we have implemented it in Kentucky.”
Bevin has said a waiver might allow Medicaid to offer some help to people with incomes above 138 percent of the federal poverty level, perhaps by helping them with health savings accounts.
Before the expansion, only Kentuckians with household incomes at or below 69 percent of the federal poverty level qualified for Medicaid. The expansion doubled that to 138 percent of poverty.
The federal government is paying the full cost of the expansion through 2016, at which point Kentucky would start paying 5 percent of the cost, rising in yearly steps to the law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020. By the 2020-21 fiscal year, the expansion is expected to cost the state $363 million a year.
A state-funded study by Deloitte Consulting predicted in February that the expansion will generate enough jobs and tax revenue to pay for itself through 2020, but Bevin has called the study “nonsense.” Conway has cited the study in saying he supports the expansion but would monitor its costs.
In his speech at the Fancy Farm Picnic in August, Conway said Kentuckians should vote for a candidate who “understands that the truly Christian thing to do is to say that we are our brother’s keeper and health care for our people makes us a healthier and better society.”
            The candidates are playing to their bases Bevin by taking a stance against Kynect and the Medicaid expansion, and Conway by following the footsteps of Beshear in supporting it, University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss said.
“They’ve already managed, without saying very much, to give that basic signaling that each side wanted to hear from them,” said Voss, adding that both candidates are also doing their best to remain vague when discussing health care: “For both candidates, delving more deeply into the specifics is fraught with risk.”
Bevin has been more consistent with his stance on Kynect, saying he would "facilitate the transition of enrollees" onto the federal exchange as he dismantles Kynect. In September, Bevin said he would consider a suggestion from Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado to keep Kynect operating and finance it by expanding it to other states, but he was skeptical of the idea.
            Lexington-based litigation attorney Douglas McSwain, who specializes in constitutional and health-care law, said Kynect is one of the reform law’s biggest success stories nationwide. “The main issue is that health-care reform has been a very good success under the Beshear administration,” McSwain said.
Kynect is funded by a 1 percent assessment on all Kentucky health-insurance policies, while the federal fee is 3.5 percent on policies sold on the exchange.
Independent candidate Drew Curtis has said the state can probably afford the first round of expenses from the Medicaid expansion, and should leave it and Kynect “alone as it is” until the state sees the long-term effects. “You can’t drop a massive system change on people, and (then) do it again in two years,” he said.
Kynect Director Carrie Banahan has said that Kynect would cost at least $23 million to dismantle and that most of the seven insurance companies using it would probably not go to the federal exchange.
            Whoever is elected governor will likely have many obstacles on his plate regarding health care, since Kentucky is one of the least healthy states. According to America’s Health Rankings, Kentucky is 47th in overall health, with major issues facing the state including high rates of smoking and preventable hospitalizations. Kentucky also ranks first in the nation for lung cancer deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cheyene Miller and Anthony Pendleton are journalism seniors at the University of Kentucky. They wrote this story for the Covering the Governor’s Race course being taught by Associate Professor Al Cross and Journalist in Residence John Winn Miller.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Major-party candidates for lieutenant governor debate education and other issues for an hour on KET

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Early childhood education has been a recurring talking point for the Democratic gubernatorial ticket, but “wasn’t even on the radar” of the Republican slate, its candidate for lieutenant governor said Monday night.

Overly, left, and Hampton (Lexington Herald-Leader photos)
Republican Jenean Hampton and Democrat Sannie Overly rehashed arguments over education and several other key gubernatorial race issues for an hour Monday evening on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight.” Independent Heather Curtis was not invited.

Half the time was spent on schools. Overly said that she and running mate Jack Conway released a detailed education plan “to ensure that Kentucky kids get the very best education possible.”

The state representative from Paris said she and Conway want to oversee “a historic expansion” of early learning opportunities, and she criticized Hampton running mate Matt Bevin for saying that programs like Head Start serve no purpose because their impact disappears after the third grade.

Hampton said she and Bevin would take a close look at Head Start’s results and make sure that the dollars are being spent “effectively and efficiently.”

Hampton questioned the efficiency of Head Start and pointed out Kentucky’s low literacy rates. “That is simply offensive to even accept that,” she said.

According to Hampton, early childhood education was not the issue of choice for her and Bevin’s campaign. “This is a non-issue for us,” she said. “This wasn’t even on our radar.”

Overly said that there has been extensive research proving that Head Start “is the one thing that can break a cycle of poverty in a state like Kentucky,” said Overly, adding that there are stark differences between the two tickets on education, such as the Democrats’ support of, and Republicans’ opposition to, the Common Core State Standards.  “It’s not limited to early learning programs.”

The two women also sparred on how to improve business and the economy in Kentucky, one of the poorest states in the nation.

Hampton, an industrial-process specialist, said she and Bevin have more than 60 years of business leadership experience between them, and would make Kentucky a right-to-work state and improve its ways to attract businesses.

While the candidates largely agreed on promoting Kentucky’s tourist attractions, they took polar stances on raising the state minimum wage, which currently reflects the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and $2.13 per hour for tipped workers.

“The minimum wage was never meant to be a livable wage,” said Hampton, who said that minimum wage hikes have “disastrous effects” on small businesses.  She said it was better to attract businesses and promote competition.

Ideally, Overly said, the federal government would raise the minimum wage nationwide, but she and Conway favor a bill that would raise the state minimum to $10.10 per hour over three years.

The candidates then tried to clarify for votes the reality of the current state of the Kentucky economy.

Overly cited Kentucky winning Site Selection magazine’s Governor’s Cup for expanded industry activity per capita in 2014 as a sign that Kentucky is improving under a Democratic administration.

 “Governor Beshear has marketed our state very well through difficult times,” Overly said of her fellow Democrat, who will leave office in December.

Hampton likened Kentucky’s financial status to the sinkhole that swallowed eight cars at the National Corvette Museum in her hometown of Bowling Green, saying it was “shiny on top but eroding underneath.”

Next Monday’s edition of “Kentucky Tonight” will features a debate between Conway and Bevin with Bill Goodman moderating. The night before, they will meet in a commercially televised debate at Eastern Kentucky University.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Candidates for attorney general question personal backgrounds and sources of support in KET forum

By Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Monday's "Kentucky Tonight" KET debate between the candidates for attorney general included as much mud-slinging about personal backgrounds and campaign finance as it did debating of the issues. When the candidates did debate issues, they often agreed.

Republican Whitney Westerfield and Democrat Andy Beshear attacked each other for the source of their campaign funds. Beshear accused Westerfield of being "bought and paid for" and of having 95 percent of his campaign funded by “one special-interest group,” the Republican Attorneys General Association and its donors. RAGA has run more than $2.2 million worth of television commercials over the past three months. Three of the four ads have been attack ads against Beshear.

Westerfield defended himself, saying, “I can’t control that PAC.” He also took a jab at Beshear for raising $2.7 million, saying he had heard that in return, contributors were getting roads and other favors from the administration of Beshear’s father, Gov. Steve Beshear.

Some Beshear ads have noted Westerfield’s unfavorable job evaluation when he was an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Christian County. Beshear said he had been evaluated by his peers and has been listed in America’s Best Lawyers for four years, while his opponent got a bad evaluation for “putting personal interests over his job.”

Westerfield replied, “They’re attacking me for things that are petty,” and said prosecutors had recognized him as “an outstanding legislator.”  He noted his role in passing bills to fight heroin and domestic violence.

Beshear accused Westerfield of pushing a bill for the Koch brothers of Wichita, conservative, libertarian, multi-billionaire businessmen who are major financiers of conservative groups and politicians. Westerfield said he didn't know what the bill was. Beshear replied, "It was the bill about changing the attorney general's office and the ability to use outside counsel." Westerfield then said he remembered that it was the “transparency in private attorney contracts” bill. According to the business group Partnership for Commonsense Justice, it would require a bidding process for private law firms to get contracts from the attorney general.

Beshear claimed that Westerfield doesn't support the bill for transparency, but because of outside influence. "He was pushed by one of the lobbyists for one of the main Koch brothers groups here in Kentucky to do that, and he's received even a direct PAC contribution from them," Beshear said.

Westerfield said that if elected, he would "increase the litigation intensity of the office" against not only the federal government, but the state as well. Asked after the debate how the state’s chief lawyer could sue the state, Westerfield noted that in 2007, then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo sued then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher for appointing too many Republicans as trustees of the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.

The candidates agreed on restoring voting rights for felons who have served their sentences. Westerfield noted that some legislators want a waiting period for restoration, but he's "not as married" to that as they are. "Once you've served your sentence, I'm inclined to be prepared to let you have your voting rights back," he said.

Both said they're against legalizing recreational marijuana, but offered different conditions for approval of medicinal marijuana. Beshear said it would need to “go through the same FDA process that all other medicines do.” Westerfield said he would consider supporting medicinal marijuana if “it was narrowly tailored, and it'd have to be some years down the road - after Johns Hopkins, or the Mayo Clinic, or some well-established medical professionals in the field, did studies that show it produces some results.”

The Mayo Clinic grades marijuana's effectiveness in treating certain conditions, such as chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Every condition gets a grade of B or C.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A historic debate for lieutenant governor: all the candidates are women

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Kentucky witnessed history Tuesday night as three female candidates for lieutenant governor squared off in a debate at the William T. Young Library at the University of Kentucky.

From left: Jenean Hampton, Heather Curtis and Sannie Overly
(WUKY-FM photo by Josh James)
While the three male gubernatorial candidates have dominated the state headlines in recent weeks, Tuesday night was all about the women, who discussed a range of issues affecting Kentucky. 

Democratic candidate Sannie Overly said she and running mate Jack Conway “have a record of bringing folks together from both sides of the aisle” to get things accomplished, as well as her experience in engineering and as a member of the state House.

Republican candidate Jenean Hampton talked about her experience living in an impoverished area of Detroit and working her way up to being a plant manager. “I rose from the ashes of the inner city and accomplished a lot,” she said.

Making her first appearance on a debate stage was independent candidate Heather Curtis, wife and running mate of Drew Curtis. She talked about her experience as a therapist and willingness to put scientific practical and well-researched solutions over partisan politics. “I like experts, I like people who know what they’re doing, I like science,” she said.

Many of the questions focused on issues facing Kentucky women and children, such as public education and the minimum wage, since two-thirds of Kentucky minimum wage workers are women and the event was sponsored in part by the UK Women’s Forum.

Hampton said inflating the minimum wage would be “a disaster waiting to happen,” and that she had to work her way up the ladder when she worked a low wage job. “The minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage,” she said.

Overly said she and Conway support raising the minimum wage on the state level to $10.10 an hour over a period of three years, and criticized Hampton’s running mate Matt Bevin for not wanting to give Kentucky workers a living wage.

Curtis posited potentially offering an exemption for small businesses, which she said tend to get hit the hardest by minimum-wage hikes.

Overly said she and Conway released a detailed education plan, and intend to create a “historic expansion of early learning opportunities” for Kentucky children, while criticizing Bevin for not supporting early childhood education.

Hampton said Head Start programs are not doing their jobs and many Kentuckians have substandard literacy. “I believe that is unacceptable, apparently my opponent does not,” said Hampton, who said Kentuckians must be better stewards of the dollar.

Curtis said the biggest problems with education are inequality and poverty. She promoted a concept called “scaffolding,” which she described as teaching children a step at a time, and that it would be “a great place to start.”

Addressing poverty in Kentucky, one of the poorest states, Hampton touted creating more economic opportunity. The single biggest thing we can do … is increase opportunity,” said Hampton, who proposed making Kentucky a right-to-work state and look into restructuring the state’s tax code. 

Overly said the state should “invest in education,” as a way to combat poverty. “Our (Overly and Conway) education plan addresses education from top to bottom,” she said. Curtis said Kentucky politicians should look to experts and scholars such as the ones at UK for solutions on the state’s poverty dilemma.

The latest Bluegrass Poll, released Sept. 30, showed Conway with a slight lead over Bevin, 42 percent to 37 percent. Seven percent said they would vote for Drew Curtis and 15 percent were undecided. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fact-checking the candidates in the latest debate

By Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

As the candidates for governor faced off in their first one-on-one televised debate Tuesday, again more questionable statements were made. Here are some of those statements, and how they stand up to the facts.

Common Core State Standards Initiative
               Republican Matt Bevin said, “We embraced it here in Kentucky before the standards were even written.”
               According to this interactive map on, Kentucky adopted the standards on Feb. 10, 2010. According to an article in Education Week, that made Kentucky the first state to do so. However, the article also states that the standards were “still in draft form, with a final version expected by early spring.” According to a press release from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, a final version was released on June 2.
               If Bevin meant Kentucky adopted the standards before they were written, he’d be wrong – Kentucky adopted them while they were still being drafted. If he was referring to the fact that Kentucky signed on with the CCSSO and NGA to develop the standards in June 2009, i.e. before they were written, then he’d be correct. But so did 46 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. But that was just an agreement to help develop the standards, so of course nothing would be written at that point.

The economy
               Bevin also criticized the performance of the economy during Democrat Jack Conway’s eight years as attorney general. That office has little to do with the economy, but Bevin was implicitly criticizing another Democrat, Gov. Steve Beshear, whom Conway has praised.
               “When Jack came into office seven-and-a-half years ago, there were 71,000 more people working in Kentucky than there are today," Bevin said. "At the beginning of this year, there were 31,000 more people working in Kentucky than there are today. And he’s quick to blame this on the downturn of the economy. Well, Indiana over the same time period, has 50,000 plus more people working today. Tennessee has created more than 20,000 jobs a year more than we have.”
               Conway was sworn into office as attorney general in January 2008. At that time, Kentucky had 2,021,045 people in the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of August 2015, the most recent data available, Kentucky has 1,941,531 in the labor force. This is a decrease of 79,514 people, so Bevin actually understated the shrinkage of the state’s labor force.
               According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kentucky had 1,981,807 people in the labor force in January of this year. As previously stated, data from August shows there are currently 1,941,531 in the labor force. This is a decrease of 40,276 people, so Bevin is correct, and understating again.
               According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Indiana had 3,211,065 people in the labor force in January 2008. In August 2015, the most recent data available, Indiana had 3,265,095 people in the labor force. This is an increase of 54,030 people. Again, Bevin is correct.
               According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, Tennessee has created 290,400 jobs from February 2010 to August 2015. Kentucky has created 142,600 jobs during that same time -- a difference of 147,800 more jobs created in Tennessee. Over the course of 5.5 years, an average of 26,872 more jobs were created in Tennessee each year. Yet again, Bevin is correct.
               But while Kentucky might be in the red on job creation over an eight year span, but a deeper look into current numbers tells a different story.
In 2015, Kentucky has created 34,100 jobs, Indiana 75,600, and Tennessee 52,500; however Indiana and Tennessee are much larger states than Kentucky. When those numbers are compared to the workforce in each state Kentucky has created 17.6 jobs per 1,000 members of the labor force. Indiana is significantly ahead, at 23.2 jobs per 1,000, but Tennessee is actually slightly behind Kentucky, at 17.2 jobs per 1,000 members of the labor force.

Minimum Wage
               Conway said he believes it should be raised to $10.10 on the federal level because “you cannot raise a family on $7.25 an hour.”
               According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Map, that is correct. There’s not a single county in America that can support either a family of four, a single parent with one child, or a single adult on $7.25 an hour. And there are only a handful of counties in Washington state, which has a minimum wage of $9.32, that can support a single adult on just the state minimum wage.

Information for this story was also gathered by UK journalism student Matt Young.

Bevin, Conway have first televised, one-on-one debate

By Cheyene Miller and Matt Young
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Neither of the two major party candidates made a large impact with the first televised head-to-head debate in the governor’s race, four weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway both threw plenty of punches, but neither landed with the force they had probably hoped. They broke little new ground on the issues during Tuesday night’s debate at Centre College in Danville.

In a race that has struggled to gain attention or interest from voters, both candidates took to the stage to press repeat on their record players of political statements.

One of the few times the debate elicited a response from the audience came when Bevin said he wants to make it easier and more attractive for businesses in Kentucky to open. “We will, indeed, un-constipate Frankfort,” Bevin said. “You can take that to the bank.”

That line won applause, but so did Conway’s reply.

“I prefer to say I’m going to streamline it, rather than un-constipate it,” said Conway, who also said Kentucky is number two in the nation in small business creation per capita.

Bevin said changes need to be made to make Kentucky more competitive and he would push “right to work” legislation, which would outlaw labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues. Both Tennessee and Indiana have these laws, and Bevin argued that they put Kentucky at a competitive disadvantage for attracting business.

“For those of you that are struggling to find gainful employment, how is that per capita ratio thing working for you?” asked Bevin, who also said Kentucky currently has 71,000 fewer jobs than at the beginning of Conway’s term as attorney general.

Bevin opened by touting his business career, saying he was the only one on stage who had “been the executive of anything.” He added that of the two candidates, he was the only one who ever ran a business, created a job or made payroll.

Conway cast himself as a fiscal conservative, saying he cut his office’s budget by 40 percent and was the only Democratic attorney general in the country who sued the Environmental Protection Agency over regulations on coal.

The candidates reiterated their positions on under-funding of state pensions, perhaps the most critical long-term issue facing Kentucky lawmakers.

“We have to make changes or nobody will get what’s been promised to them,” said Bevin, who advocated moving pension recipients to a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k) style savings plan. This creates a problem with the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System because teachers are not eligible to receive social security, and risk outliving their 401(k).

Conway said the state legislature has made the proper fixes in previous years and the systems can be solvent if the minimum payment, known as ARC, was made by the legislature — something that has not consistently happened for over a decade.

The soundbites got serious when the candidates were asked about the recent shooting at an Oregon community college that left nine people dead. The question introduced the topic of gun control, which often follows in the wake of mass shootings.

“We have to take a good, hard look at mental illness,” said Conway, who said that he does not favor stricter gun regulations or allowing teachers to be armed in schools.

Bevin said he is also against stricter gun regulations, and said he favored allowing armed teachers in school. He noted that he, his wife, his running mate Jenean Hampton and her husband are proud gun owners.

When Bevin and Conway were directly questioned each other, Conway continued to focus on Bevin’s refusal to release his tax returns, an unofficial tradition for Kentucky candidates for governor. Bevin said he will not release his tax returns, and noted once again that he is not legally required to do so.

Bevin took the opportunity to question Conway for taking money from political groups with anti-coal agendas, to which Conway replied he has accepted money from people he later put in jail.

In their closing statements, the candidates told voters to ask themselves who they trust to run their state.

“I don’t feel the need to lie about Jack Conway,” said Bevin, referring to the millions of dollars in attack advertising against him. He emphasized his business career as a qualification for the governor’s office.

Conway said his experience as attorney general qualified him for the job. “I understand Kentucky,” said Conway, of Louisville. “I have a plan for Kentucky, and I’ve delivered for Kentucky.”

The most recent Bluegrass Poll, released on Sept. 30, showed Conway with a small edge at 42 percent of potential votes compared to Bevin’s 37 percent. Seven percent said they would vote for independent candidate Drew Curtis and 15 percent are undecided.

Curtis did not meet the organizers' criteria for inclusion in the debate, but was in the debate hall and answered reporters' questions after the hour-long debate. Today the founder of social-networking news site published an essay questioning the need for political parties.

The debate was sponsored by Centre, AARP and WAVE-TV, Louisville, and was also broadcast on stations in Lexington and Northern Kentucky, and by out-of state stations serving northeastern Kentucky and the Paducah and Owensboro regions.