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.

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