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Bevin and Beshear take on a wide range of topics in televised debate at NKU, find little common ground

By Mark Hansel
KyForward managing editor

Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear squared off in a Kentucky Gubernatorial Debate at Northern Kentucky University’s Student Union Tuesday evening.

The fifth televised debate in the series between Bevin, the Republican incumbent, and Democratic challenger Beshear, is the last before voters go to the polls in less than a week.

WLWT photos

NKU partnered with WLWT-TV, the NKY Chamber, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Duke Energy to host the debate, which was moderated by WLWT’s Sheree Paolello.

To say the debates, and the campaign for that matter, have been contentious, would be an understatement.

Bevin and Beshear are at odds on most of the key issues facing the state and have pulled few punches in letting the voters know how they feel about those issues, and each other.

Each candidate was allowed time for brief opening remarks before responding to a question of great interest to the Northern Kentucky audience – the Brent Spence Bridge replacement.

Bevin said the bridge is structurally sound, but functionally obsolete and needs to be replaced.

“We will not kick this can down the road, I will work with Ohio to get this done,” Bevin said. “But let’s be honest, we the users of this bridge, and of these roads have to pay for it. There is no other way around it.”

Beshear said in the four years Bevin has been governor, not one shovel has been put in the ground on the Brent Spence Bridge project.

“He kicked that can down the road and he kicked it hard,” Beshear said. “It’s time that we actually have leadership that takes the steps necessary for our critical infrastructure.”

Paolello said no bridge in America has been built in the last decade without tolls and asked the candidates their position on tolling.

Bevin said the existing sources of funding are not enough to pay for a new bridge.

“There is no way around it, it is going to have to require some combination,” Bevin said. “You have, with technology, the ability to use variable tolling…but there is no way around having some type  of tolling on a bridge of this size.”

Beshear criticized Bevin for having discussions about a new bridge, but not including the people of Northern Kentucky in the conversation.

“(You should be) talking to them about their needs and working to build a consensus,” Beshear said. “I believe that the people of Northern Kentucky ultimately ought to decide the fate of this bridge and I’m going to work with them to get it done.”

Bevin asked Beshear directly to state his position on tolling, but the Attorney General said he would defer to the wishes of the people of Northern Kentucky.

“Don’t you want to hear that from a future governor?” Bevin asked. “Somebody whose not capable of making a decision or telling you want he thinks.”

Paolello kept the discussion on track by moving on to a question about the pension fund.

She referenced a Pew Charitable Trust study that ranked the Bluegrass as the most underfunded pension fund in the nation, with a shortfall of almost $43 billion, and asked the candidates about their plan to fix it.

Beshear said a pension is a promise.

“It’s promise we’ve made to every teacher, police officer, firefighter and social worker,” Beshear said. That although we don’t pay them enough – and we don’t pay them enough – that we will make it up with a solid retirement. But this governor broke that promise…while he was hurling insults, he tried to illegally cut your pensions.”

An overflow crowd showed up at northernKentucky University Tuesday to witness the last televised Gubernatorial Debate before the Nov. 5 General Election. Candidates Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear spoke in a wide range of topics, but found little common ground (photo courtesy of Chuck Eilerman).

While Beshear said Bevin’s solution is to raise taxes, he would focus on new, dedicated revenue, that will come through expanded gaming, dedicated solely to the pension system.

Bevin responded that the pension system is in crisis in the state and nationwide. He agreed that people have been promised a pension.

“Here’s the reality, if we keep promising the same thing to future employees, there is zero percent chance that the future employees, the current, or even those already retired who plan to live more than 10 or 12 years are going to get what was promised to them,” Bevin said. “There is not enough money, there are more retired workers now in Kentucky than there are active workers. The defined benefit plan has collapsed.”

The pension crisis has been a hot-button issue for some time, so Paolello asked each candidate to respond to a follow up question. She pointed to Bevin’s criticism of protesters and Beshear’s lack of experience in business or finance when asking why pensioners should trust either of them to resolve the crisis.

“There’s only one person who’s ever funded your pension, you’re lookin’ at him,” Bevin said. I’m the only governor who has ever fully funded even the bare minimum, which is the actuarily required contribution. I’m the only one on the stage who understands this because I’m the only one who has ever worked in this industry.”

Beshear said people can trust him to fund pensions because he fought for it and actually believes it is a promise.

“Only one of us on this stage tried to illegally cut people’s pensions and put it in a sewer bill and that’s Matt Bevin,” Beshear said. “Let’s be really clear, Matt Bevin hasn’t denied that he is raising your taxes to pay for this pension system. I’m for new, dedicated revenue, beginning with expanded gaming.”

Casino gambling and the approval, or pending approval, of expanded gaming in surrounding states, Beshear said, is allowing millions of dollars that could go into Kentucky’s coffers to leave the state.

On the issue of the contentious, and sometimes downright nasty campaign messages coming from both camps, neither candidate took the opportunity to apologize for them.

They spent much of the allotted time explaining why each was so critical of the other.

Bevin said he was proud of the camping he has run, while Beshear said he was not.

On the issue of vaping, each acknowledged that advertisements that target youths with flavored devices are harmful and they would support legislation to raise the age for smoking.

Regarding abortion and the so-called “heartbeat law” recently adopted in Ohio, which would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected, both candidates restated their previous positions.

Beshear said he supports Roe v. Wade, with reasonable restrictions on late-term procedures. Bevin said every child deserves the option to be born.

On the issue of gun control and the banning of assault weapons, Beshear expressed support for “red flag” laws that would allow law enforcement or family members to petition the court for removal of weapons from those who may be a danger to themselves or others.

Bevin said he supports the Second Amendment as written and would not sign a law banning assault weapons.

Both candidates agreed on the need to continue the battle against opioid addiction.

Beshear said he had been among those leading the effort to restrict the number of opioid painkillers coming into the state.

Bevin said Beshear was a partner in the firm that defended Purdue Pharma, the maker of oxycontin, in litigation between that company and the Commonwealth.

When the issue turned to casino gambling Bevin attempted to clarify his comment regarding suicides.

In a previous debate, Beshear said there was audio evidence that Bevin had said someone commits suicide on a casino floor every night, a statement Bevin denied.

Monday, Bevin said he never used the term “casino floor,” but appeared to stand by the statement, as it relates to casino properties, including hotel rooms and other areas.

Each had very different views on the impact casinos would have on the state’s coffers. Beshear said casinos would be a significant source of additional revenue, while Bevin said such assessments were inaccurate.

The General Assembly is expected consider a bill in the upcoming session that would allow sports wagering in Kentucky.

Some prominent Kentucky Lawmakers have stated recently that there is no support in the General Assembly for casino gambling in the state, which Bevin said makes that a moot issue.

The debate concluded with each responding to a request to say something positive about his opponent.

Bevin applauded Beshear for his willingness to run for public office, which he said takes an incredible commitment from both a candidate and his family.

Beshear credited Bevin with bringing increased attention to the state’s foster care issue.

The Kentucky General Election takes place Tuesday, Nov. 5, with several contested statewide races. For a complete listing of statewide candidates, click here.

For information on where to vote, contact your county clerk or click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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