Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear faced off at a forum Thursday in Paducah. Here are exchanges that stood out in the first of five scheduled televised debates between the two.
Help for higher education, and how to pay for it
Asked if and how they would restore cuts to higher education, Beshear said he would, as well as “make sure that we stop this rising tuition,” and increase enrollment at community and technical colleges.
Bevin shot back: “You did a good job of memorizing all these things, but what you didn’t say is how are you actually going to pay for this?” He said his administration has “put hundreds of millions” into the colleges, and Kentucky can’t spend money that it doesn’t have.
“We’ve turned college education into an arms race,” Bevin declared. “Four and five times the cost but not four and five times the output.”
After Bevin said he is the first governor to fully fund pensions, Beshear used a question about county budget problems to attack Bevin for requiring larger contributions from local governments.
“The reason that our counties and cities are struggling with their budgets is because this governor’s way of addressing the pension crisis,” Beshear said. “The governor is raising your taxes. He’s just not doing it directly.”
A question about returning and keeping jobs to Western Kentucky led to an exchange about Uber driving.
Bevin said he has brought investment and jobs to the region: “My commitment to this is significant -- because as a business owner, I know what it takes to incentives to people to make jobs in a community.”
Beshear said many in the region haven’t seen pay raises in a long time and are falling behind because of inflation. He said Kentucky needs to invest in industries, like agricultural technology, that will generate high-paying jobs.
Beshear said a teacher he knows started driving for Uber to make ends meet. “We ought to be creating the type of jobs where if you work just one job and you work a hard week you ought to be able to raise your family, ” he said.
Bevin said later, “I know a lot of people who drive for Uber actually and they make a lot of money doing it, in addition to the other jobs that they have. That’s called America; freedom and opportunity.”
In the debate’s hottest exchange, Bevin questioned Beshear’s involvement with Purdue Pharma, the company that manufactures OxyContin. It came after the candidates were asked how the state should address a surging prison population.
Beshear said, “The state is locking up too many people, and it is absolutely draining money we need to send other places, and the driving force behind it is this drug epidemic. . . . People who are suffering from addiction don’t need to go to jail; they need to go to treatment.”
He said he is “the most aggressive attorney general in the country at going after opioid distributors and manufacturers,” but that gave Bevin an opening to note that the law firm in which Beshear was a partner represented Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. He said Beshear “has been involved in one settlement ever in his entire life with an opioid producer.”
Beshear interjected, “I wasn’t involved in any of the negotiations.”
Bevin concluded, “Shame on you for pretending to represent this. For speaking so eloquently about your heartbreak about this, when you have done nothing, you have brought zero dollars for all your efforts.”
In replying to the next question, Beshear said, “We both just had an opportunity to talk about this drug epidemic. . . . I talked about the efforts we need to make as a state, and the governor used his time to attack for political points. That ought to tell you everything you need to know.”
Veteran political consultant Danny Briscoe of Louisville, a Democrat, said “Bevin’s best answer and (Beshear’s) weakest were on Purdue Pharma.” However, Briscoe said Beshear did the best he has seen from the Democrat during this campaign. He said Bevin scored with comments about creating jobs and funding pensions.
Republican political consultant Tres Watson said that debates are where Bevin performs the best and where Beshear is the weakest. He said Beshear came across as rehearsed, with a forced folkiness, while Bevin came across as terse but genuine.
“I don’t think we heard anything different,” Watson said. “I don’t believe these debates change many minds.”
The forum, which focused on business and regional issues, was hosted by the Paducah Chamber of Commerce.
The next debate between the candidates will be Oct. 15 in Lexington. The election is Nov. 5, and the deadline to register to vote is Monday.
Noah Oldham, a University of Kentucky journalism student, is covering the 2019 gubernatorial race for The State Journal.