Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lieutenant-governor candidates, in Midway for their first debate, find a lot to disagree about

By Megan Ingros
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
An initial version of this story first appeared in the Kentucky Kernel, the independent student newspaper.

Candidates for Kentucky lieutenant governor were divided on a sexual harassment scandal, education, health care and other major issues in their first debate Wednesday night.

Candidates Sannie Overly and Jenean Hampton met at Midway University in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, which prepared the questions.

Overly is running with Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, and Hampton with Republican businessman Matt Bevin. Independent candidate Heather Curtis, running mate of husband Drew Curtis, did not meet the league's polling criteria (10 percent or higher voter recognition in established nonpartisan polls) to participate.

The debate was more civil than the first televised gubernatorial debate held last week, but included its share of sharp moments, the sharpest being Overly denouncing Bevin for his “false attacks” in that debate, in which he said she turned her back on the female state workers who said they were sexually harassed by a former Democratic state lawmaker.

“That’s why even Kentucky Republicans call Matt Bevin a pathological liar,” said Overly, who said she and Conway condemned the behavior and would change the culture in Frankfort.

Hampton replied that Overly “fought very hard during the harassment case to have her deposition sealed,” and would not testify in the case until she knew it would be sealed.

On education issues, the candidates disagreed about the Common Core State Standards and state vouchers for private education.

Hampton said she understands the need for education because it “was the key to escaping the inner city” of Detroit, but “I do not support Common Core because from what I’ve seen from it, it dumbs down the curriculum and our students are better than that.”

Overly said, “I think the results speak for themselves. We’ve doubled the number of kids in Kentucky who are college ready at graduation. . . . Since the Kentucky core standards have been implemented our college readiness at high school has doubled. It's gone from 31 percent to 62 percent.”

Overly noted her slate's support of expanded early-childhood education, and noted that Bevin has said it serves no purpose: "It is another big contrast in this race."

Hampton said Common Core is "too top down" and pledged to return control of schools to the local level as much as possible.

Asked how they would make post-secondary education more affordable, Overly said she wants to hold colleges and universities accountable and offer a statewide apprentice program so students can "earn while they learn" and afford the cost of college.

Hampton said she would work with students to help them understand they can minimize their debt, and work with schools to make students are aware of their choices as a career path.

Health care was another major topic, with Overly supporting the expansion of Medicaid to 400,000 Kentuckians and the state's Kynect health-insurance exchange.

“In our Kynect system there is a 1 percent charge. If we do away with that and go to federal exchange it’s going to go to a 3 1/2 percent charge, which in essence would be a tax increase for Kentuckians,” Overly said. Actually, the 1 percent is a fee on all health-insurance policies, while the federal fee is only on policies sold through the federal exchange.

Overly said it would cost $23 million to dismantle Kynect and asked Hampton, "Where are you going to come up with that money?"

Hampton replied, "My question is where we come up with the dollars to go to Medicaid at the end of 2017, when the federal subsidies are gone?" Actually, the subsidies for the Medicaid expansion do not disappear, and begin to shrink at the beginning of 2017, to 95 percent. They decline in steps to 90 percent, the federal health-reform law's minimum, in 2020.

“Jack and I will monitor Medicaid and see if we can afford going forward,” Overly said. She cited a state-funded study predicting that the expansion will pay for itself by creating health-care jobs and tax revenue, putting $30 billion into Kentucky’s economy through 2021.

Hampton said the underlying premise of "Obamacare" is the belief people are incapable of making their own health-care decisions, but she didn't elaborate.

Asked if they agreed with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis's refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses, Overly said Davis should have followed a federal judge's order, but Hampton said “Matt and I side with Kim David because this is an issue of religious freedom. However, to say that it is the law of the land is questionable . . . because if that were true I would still be a slave.”

The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, which was amended in 1865 to ban slavery. Hampton also questioned whether the court can overrule the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but Overly, a lawyer, noted that the U.S. Constitution has a supremacy clause overriding state laws.

The debate's first question was "What is the most significant issue the new governor will face?"

Hampton said, “The $34 billion pension shortfall has potential to derail everything we do in Kentucky,” Hampton said. She repeated Bevin's emphasis on growing the economy to fund programs.

Overly replied, “Growing more and better good paying jobs for the people here in Kentucky,” making the first of several mentions of heir campaign's jobs plan that will "change the environment here in Kentucky."

The debate was co-sponsored by Midway University and CBS affiliates WKYT-TV of Lexington and WLKY-TV of Louisville. WKYT anchor and political editor Bill Bryant and WLKY anchor Vicki Dortch asked the questions.

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