Kentucky Gubernatorial Candidates Spar in Vitriolic Final Debate

Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin, left, and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear participate in a debate at the Singletary Center for the Arts on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 15, 2019. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP, Pool)

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (CN) – Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin and Democratic challenger Andy Beshear squared off in the pair’s final debate at Northern Kentucky University, where they pulled no punches as a combative campaign nears its conclusion.

Debate moderator Sheree Paolello, from a local NBC news affiliate, brought up the vitriolic campaigns run by both candidates on several occasions and also talked about Governor Bevin’s straightforward and “brash” style.

“It is a time for honesty,” Bevin said. “I believe it is time for Kentucky to make hard decisions and face hard truths.”

Beshear, the state’s attorney general, told the audience he would “lead with my Kentucky values” if elected and said multiple times that he was raised to implement the values he learned on Sundays into his everyday life.

Education has been a hot button issue throughout the campaign, along with the state’s pension system, which is currently underfunded by more than $43 billion, and both were discussed extensively Tuesday.

Beshear told the audience Bevin’s solution to fund the system is to raise taxes and push costs down to local officials, while his own solution would involve generating new revenue through expanded gambling.

“There is not enough money,”Bevin responded. “The reality is financial. It is numerical. It is actuarial.”

Paolello asked why voters would trust either one of the candidates to fix the pension system, given Bevin’s repeated attacks on schoolteachers and Beshear’s lack of financial experience.

The governor said “the time of can-kicking is over,” while Beshear once again cited revenue from sports betting as a solution.

Bevin pushed back repeatedly on the idea that gambling could solve the state’s pension woes and claimed that Nevada brought in just $17 million in tax revenue from sports betting last year.

“Is the juice worth the squeeze?” he asked the audience.

The debate touched upon comments Bevin made during a radio interview, when he claimed one person dies by suicide at a casino every day in America.

The governor denied making such a comment at a debate held in Louisville last week, and was given the chance to set the record straight by Paolello.

Bevin flippantly told the audience to “Google hotel casino suicide … [and] figure it out for yourself.”

He also accused Beshear of saying his comment used the words “casino floor,” and a game of “he said, he said” ensued before Paolello restored order to the debate.

In an attempt to end the debate on a positive note, Paolello’s final question charged the candidates with the task of saying something he admires about the other, which was apparently a difficult task.

Bevin applauded Beshear’s initiative to run for public office, although he snuck in a jibe about the attorney general having a “lot of people” to help him when he ran for his current position, presumably a comment regarding his father, Steve Beshear, a former governor.

Beshear failed at the task as well, complimenting Bevin for his work on the state’s foster care programs but claiming that “real results” from the changes won’t be seen until a new administration takes over the governor’s office.

Courthouse News spoke to several groups of voters before the debate, including a pair of union members from the Iron Workers Local 44 of Hebron.

Erik Meadows supports Andy Beshear and said Governor Bevin’s passage of Right to Work legislation and repeal of prevailing wage requirements have brought in out-of-state laborers and taken work from Kentucky residents.

“Bevin has proven time and again to be anti-working families,” Meadows said.

David Baker, another union member, echoed Meadows’s sentiment and called Bevin’s tenure as governor “an all-out assault on the working class people of Kentucky.”

“They care about the corporations of Kentucky,” Baker added.

A group of retired school teachers turned out to support Beshear as well and blasted the governor’s state employee pension reform.

The teachers say the alleged balancing of the pension system merely took benefits away from already retired educators and slashed the insurance benefits of those still working.

One of the teachers said she was forced to return to work this year because the insurance plan for her family, which includes triplets in college, was too high for her to afford.

Nancy Rogers, also among the group of teachers, chided Bevin for his stance on immigration, particularly his use of language like “swarming” to describe the influx of immigrants in the state.

“When you’re a teacher in the classroom,” Rogers said, “students are impacted by that talk. Bring some data and some facts … not fear-mongering.”

A group of young conservative men, who are currently students at NKU, agreed that Bevin’s stance on abortion and the “sanctity of life” weighed heaviest on their decision to vote for his re-election, with one student pointing out the governor’s foster care initiatives in particular.

Bevin and his wife, Glenna, have raised nine children, four of whom are adopted. They launched their “Uniting the Community” initiative in Aug. 2018, which is an effort to coordinate faith-based organizations and local governments to support foster care and adoption.

The race appears to be a tossup heading into election week, as polling earlier this month showed the governor had overturned an 8-point deficit to pull even with Beshear.

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