Tuesday, October 9, 2012

State House candidates disagree on education, feelings about expanded gambling

By Drew Teague
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Candidates for the 56th District state House seat in the Nov. 6 election disagreed on expanded gambling and education reform at a forum held Thursday evening in Midway.

The Democratic incumbent, Rep. Carl Rollins II of Midway, is for expanding gaming in the state, while his Republican opponent, Doug Jones of Lexington, says he is against it, but if elected would vote to put the issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.

The candidates appeared at the Midway Political Forum 2012, presented at Northside Elementary School by the Midway Woman’s Club. Candidates made opening statements then answered written questions from the audience, screened by members of the club.

The clearest difference between the candidates was in their answers to a question about the state’s failure to qualify for $175 million from the federal “Race to the Top” program.

Rollins, chairman of the House Education Committee, disputed the premise of the question, that the state lost out because it does not have a law authorizing charter schools – independently operated schools that set more of their own rules.

“We did not lose $175 million just because of charter schools. We don’t have a decent teacher evaluation system,” Rollins said. “Charter schools don’t work. Research shows they don’t work.” He said charter schools, after a few years, send children with behavioral problems and special needs back to public schools.

Rollins opposes a law authorizing charter schools, but said he allowed such a bill to be heard in the last legislative session, and did not call a committee vote on it “because the sponsor asked me not to vote on it . . . because out of 29 committee members he had two votes.”

Jones, who answered the question first, said, “I agree . . . We need to be able to give parents a choice. . . . In the West End of Louisville we’ve got 50 percent dropout rates. . . . I think they deserve more opportunity.”

Jones, a semi-retired marketing consultant, said in his opening statement that the state needs to focus more on education. He also discussed how bad he felt the Kentucky tax system is because he says neighboring states are taking jobs from Kentucky.

Rollins, who has been mayor, a city council member and a magistrate on the Woodford County Fiscal Court, said in his opening statement that he wants to expand gambling in the state to help the horse industry. “If we focus on the horse business, I think we have to talk about expanding gaming,” he said. “I am in favor of expanding gaming if that provides revenue to the horse business.”

Jones did not mention the issue when the candidates were asked what they would do to help agriculture. He said, “We have got to save our horse industry,” but people in the industry have told him that getting people in the industry to agree on what to do “is like herding cats.”

In a telephone interview, Jones said that he is against expanded gambling, such as casinos, even if all the money were to go to the horse industry. He said racetracks should not have a monopoly on casinos because “That’s the government picking winners and losers.” (The last casino bill would have allowed seven at tracks and two at other locations some distance from tracks.)

However, Jones said that he would vote to put the question on the ballot as a constitutional amendment if voters wanted the opportunity. Polls have shown that about 80 percent say they want to vote on it. He said it should not be passed solely by the General Assembly.

“If the people of Kentucky wanted to vote for a change, and they put it as a referendum, and the people voted to say ‘Yes we want to do it,’ then I would have no problem with that,” Jones said. “It’s not something I would go after and be a champion for.”

Jones said a study showed that in the initial four to five years of operation, casinos may do well, but slack off when competition increases.

Rollins said at the forum that with the losses he sees in the industry, he feels the state needs to step in and help keep the industry alive. He said the average race does not have “the million dollar horses that sell at Keeneland,” but those raised by “horsemen with small operations.”

The candidates were asked their most important reason for running. Jones, running for the first time, was the first to answer, saying the county and the state are falling apart. “I was contacted by the Andy Barr campaign, in fact,” he said of the challenger for the 6th District U.S. House seat. “Andy decided to come back again this time and at the same time I said ‘Andy, if you’re coming back I’ll come back for phase two and we’ll be better.’”

Rollins said he feels people should be more involved in politics, and he is being involved to serve the community.

Top-of-ballot races

The candidates who did not attend, state Sen. Julian Carroll and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, both Democrats, sent a representative and a letter, respectively.

Barr, challenging Chandler for the second time, said the nation is in an emergency, an economic disaster, and jabbed at his opponent for not attending the forum. “Career politicians no longer listen to the American people,” he said, adding that they “are no longer accessible to the American people [and] don’t even show up to listen to the people and to debate.”

Joy Arnold, a member of the Midway City Council and friend of Chandler, read a letter from the Versailles congressman saying that he had a full schedule when invited to the forum, but that Woodford County has a special place in his heart and its people are important to him.

Barr, answering questions from the audience, said that if people were not fighting the coal industry so much in Kentucky, Kentuckians would have more jobs in the state. “For every one coal mining job, three additional jobs are dependent on coal jobs,” he said.

Asked if he views corporations as people and money as being speech, Barr said they are vastly different, but the freedom of speech needs to be protected. “Well, obviously, individuals are different from corporations; people are different from corporations. Corporations are legal entities and free speech is enshrined in our constitution,” he said. “As an instructor of constitutional law I never think that we should restrain political speech; we should never constrain freedom of speech.”

Frank Haynes, the challenger to Carroll in the 7th Senate District, said he got into politics because he was a doorkeeper for state Senate committees, which he recommended everyone go watch for half a day.

David Cobb, a Carroll aide, said the senator and former governor is a supporter of education and health insurance for teachers and has helped balance the state budget.

Haynes said he wants to repeal a bill that raised pensions for former legislators after they work for the executive branch for just three years. Cobb said a new state senator will not be able to get much done, since few bills even get voted on each session.

The last day to register to vote in Kentucky is Oct. 9, with Election Day less than a month away, on Nov. 6. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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