Attorney general candidates trade barbs in KET debate
10/12/2015 10:44 PM
LEXINGTON — Candidates for attorney general Andy Beshear and Whitney Westerfield clashed over recent advertising, Kim Davis and campaign finance in their first and only statewide televised debate on Monday.
Beshear and Westerfield are running neck-and-neck in public polling in their race to replace Attorney General Jack Conway, who is term-limited and seeking the governorship in another open-seat race.
While all eyes have been focused on the gubernatorial election, the race for attorney general is easily the most expensive down-ballot contest with active super PACs on both sides and healthy fundraising from Beshear, the Democratic candidate.
Beshear, who is an attorney with Louisville law firm Stites and Harbison, has raised $2.7 million in large part by tapping donors of his father Gov. Steve Beshear. Recently, Beshear also got support in the form of a Democratic super PAC representing the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
However, Westerfield, who has raised a mere $151,000, has major support from the Republican Attorneys General Association, which has already dropped $2.2 million in ads with millions more likely on the way.
Calling the fundraising “a huge contrast” between the two, Beshear said his donations are transparent with a record of all donors posted on the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance website.
“Ninety-five percent (of Westerfield’s fundraising) will come from that D.C. special interest group. That’s an example of a campaign being bought and paid for by one group, and who are they Bill?” Beshear said to KET host Bill Goodman, the debate’s moderator.
Westerfield said he “can’t control” RAGA, saying “almost none of what (Beshear) said was a fair or astute analysis.”
“I freely admit I’ve had a hard time fundraising when I can’t give board appointments, I can’t promise road projects,” Westerfield said.
That wasn’t the last time the two butted heads.
Beshear went on the attack over Westerfield’s credentials, calling him “primarily a debt collector” and adding that he didn’t do his job as a part-time Christian County assistant commonwealth’s attorney, referencing Westerfield’s personnel record from 2007 — something the pro-Beshear super PAC is focusing on in their television advertising.
“My opponent’s evaluation by his boss, that evaluation didn’t go well,” Beshear said. “It talked about putting personal interests over your job duties, of having trouble with confidentiality, even of victims — that goes to the core of what a lawyer is.”
Westerfield said the ads, and Beshear’s assessment, was again “not true.”
“Distorted version of something that not even my boss at the time that he’s referring to remembers,” Westerfield said, pointing to Pure Politics’ interview with Christian County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lynn Pryor earlier this year.
Westerfield also addressed the charge from Beshear that he was a debt collector.
“I represented a small collection agency and a cash advance place that are owned and operated by hometown people that gave a starving lawyer an opportunity to do private practice work,” he said.
Westerfield, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, also took aim at Beshear for his part in a suit which he said led to the bankruptcy of the city of Hillview in Bullitt County.
The small city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in federal court this year seeking relief from $50 million to $100 million in debt.
Truck America Training in Shepherdsville, which had been awarded $11.4 million by a Bullitt County jury in August 2012, was represented by Beshear and has been referenced in his ads.
Beshear chided Westerfield, saying someone running for attorney general should do “basic research” before making such claims.
Speaking on the way Hillview has been managed by officials, Beshear said the city’s police chief was found guilty of lying to the FBI about his knowledge and involvement in moving a mobile meth lab from the property of former Hillview Mayor James Eadens.
The two also faced off over Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her refusal to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans across the country.
As he has throughout the campaign, Westerfield said he thought Gov. Steve Beshear hasn’t done enough to allow religious freedoms for Davis and advocated a special session called by the governor.
Andy Beshear said that there was no executive order remedy the governor could offer to change statute and said the issue should be addressed in the January regular session to avoid the high costs of a special legislative session, which can cost $300,000 for five days.
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