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Al Cross: Bevin resorting to scare tactics on immigration in ad designed to appeal to Trump’s base


On Sept. 9, Gov. Matt Bevin accused his opponent for re-election, Attorney General Andy Beshear, of using a “scare tactic” by running a TV ad alleging that Bevin’s “education cuts” could leave some communities without schools.

Bevin had a point. But a week later, he started an ad of his own that is nothing but a scare tactic – a base, simplistic appeal to fear of immigrants. This, from a man who has adopted four children from Ethiopia.

Oh, sure, the ad says it is about “illegal immigration” and “illegal immigrants,” and it uses each phrase twice. But consider the audience.

Screen shot from television ad

Only 3.2 percent of Kentuckians are foreign-born, the seventh smallest share among the states, and people of color are only about 10 percent of our population. Hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians don’t really know a person of color, much less an immigrant.

And the ad prominently features President Trump, for whom immigration was the nucleus of his 2016 victory. In Republican primaries and caucuses, he did best in places with recent influxes of immigration.

In the general election, Trump got 63 percent of Kentucky’s vote, fifth-best in the nation. Three of the states with higher percentages (West Virginia, North Dakota and Wyoming) are among the states with more foreign-born population than Kentucky.

Bevin’s ad says, “President Trump and Governor Bevin cracked down on illegal immigration. Liberal Andy Beshear sides with illegal immigrants.” On the screen, these words appear: “Andy Beshear / pro-illegals.”

The flimsy factual basis for those assertions is their views of a proposed bill for the 2020 General Assembly that would supposedly outlaw “sanctuary cities.” Bevin supports it; Beshear says isn’t necessary.

The sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, has said that no Kentucky city meets the bill’s definition of a sanctuary city, but that it would negate a Louisville ordinance prohibiting police from assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement except under a warrant, court order or concern of public health or safety.

Louisville appears to be the only major television market in which the ad is running, though it is on social media and could be on cable in selected markets.

The really outrageous part of the ad characterizes Beshear’s opinion of the legislation with one of the more scurrilous lines ever run on paid TV by a candidate for Kentucky governor: “Andy Beshear would allow illegal immigrants to swarm our state.”

“Swarm” is a verb usually used to describe insects, not human beings. Those who use it the latter way are often racists. Bevin is no racist, but his ad appeals to voters driven by racism and fear, not logic.

The ad’s argument against Beshear is a non sequitur, a statement that doesn’t logically follow from the previous statement. Opposing the bill doesn’t mean Beshear supports illegal immigration. Bevin may have a legitimate point about their comparative stances, but he’s making it illegitimately.

Finally, illegal immigration is a federal issue and isn’t a big problem in this state. Says who? Matt Bevin. He told reporters Monday that it isn’t “a huge issue for us as a state, but it’s a concern for this country,” and he is running the ad because the issue “matters to people who live here.”

In other words, Bevin has polling and walking-around knowledge that tells him many voters do consider it a big issue; and he knows it is one that can motivate people to get out and vote, which is a problem for him since he is unpopular – even among many of his fellow Republicans.

For Democrats, the good news is that Bevin wouldn’t be running such an ad if he were ahead. But he also wouldn’t be running it if he didn’t think it would help him.

Will it work?

It’s up to you, the voters.

* * * * * *

I wasn’t planning to write about Bevin’s refusal to give reasons for his 67 trips to 29 states in a state airplane, since it’s been well covered and I had my say on Twitter: “A governor who’s a public servant 24 hours a day and uses state planes for travel should be willing to tell his paymasters, the taxpayers, the purpose of his travels. Paying for them is not enough. He can use the planes because he’s governor. That’s a privilege with an obligation.”

But I was glad to hear talk-show host Leland Conway of WHAS Radio agree Thursday, saying Bevin should fess up – not just because he has an obligation, but because it’s hurting his campaign.

“Reminder, Governor Bevin: You work for us. it’s a state-owned plane,” Conway said. He added later, “Answer the damn question. I don’t think the governor’s up to anything nefarious here. Don’t lecture the taxpayers. Stop being the state dad. . . . Talk with us, don’t lecture us.” 

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.

NKyTribune and KyForward are the anchor home for Al Cross’ column. We offer it to other publications throughout the Commonwealth, with appropriate attribution.


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