Republican Governor Matt Bevin and his opponent, Democrat Attorney General Andy Beshear continued to battle over contentious campaign issues at this fall’s first gubernatorial debate Thursday in Paducah.
The two candidates for governor discussed issues ranging from how to control the invasive Asian Carp in west Kentucky reservoirs, infrastructure investment including the state’s middle-mile broadband system KentuckyWired, economic development with recent layoffs in west Kentucky, and how to continue to fund the state’s pension systems.
Beshear said he wants to fund the pension by expanding legal gambling and taxing medical marijuana, initiatives he has been touting for months. When asked about ways the state could enhance revenue, in reference to Illinois legalizing recreational marijuana and allowing for expanded legal gambling, Bevin said both initiatives were “fool’s gold”.
“How are those things working out for Illinois? They’re hemorrhaging people. People are flying out there,” Bevin said. “Would they generate some revenue? Arguably, but this assumes there’s no societal costs for these things. The heart of the question is where does revenue come from. Revenue comes from the fundamental thing of getting more people here and paying taxes.”
Bevin signed a bill in July that allowed regional universities and “quasi” state agencies to avoid a significant pension cost spike by allowing them to exit the system under certain conditions. Democrats have criticized the bill saying it illegally freezes retirement benefits for public employees.
Beshear repeatedly cited his lawsuits against opioid companies as evidence of his office fighting the opioid epidemic. Bevin then attacked Beshear, claiming the Attorney General profited off of a $24 million lawsuit settlement with Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma. Beshear responded by saying the governor is peddling a “conspiracy theory.”
“I talked about what I’m doing in creating a safer world. I talked about the efforts we need to make as a state, and this governor used his time to attack for political points,” Beshear said. “I was not a part of settlement negotiations in any way. I haven’t made any decision related to the case other than to recommend to use the proceeds to help fund treatment.”
The two candidates also gave different perspectives on the state of Kentucky’s economy. Bevin pointed to low unemployment levels across the state as to why his tenure has been a success.
“I’ll tell you, I’m personally weary hearing about how we’re a poor state. We have too often lived down to people’s stereotypical impression of us,” Bevin said. “The upside potential for this state is extraordinary. Not only for the state as a whole, but specifically for this western region.”
Beshear responded by claiming Kentucky is “not thriving”, with current wages not paying enough to support families. Beshear repeatedly advocated for more agri-technology investments in west Kentucky, with regional university research to support those investments.
Bevin and Beshear have agreed to four more televised debates before Kentucky’s general election November 5.