Beshear won't attend first gubernatorial forum, says he'll debate after the primary

01/11/2011 02:44 PM

The first gubernatorial forum of 2011 will feature the two announced Republican contenders and the independent candidate but not sitting Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, according to the forum’s organizers and Beshear’s campaign staff.

Gov. Steve Beshear

Beshear, who is seeking a second term this year, won’t attend the forum Friday Jan. 21 in Louisville because of his busy schedule as governor, according to the media trade organization that is sponsoring the forum.

David Thompson, the executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, said in a phone interview that Beshear’s campaign told him Monday they were dropping out of the debate because Beshear “will be busy being governor, and we think we will be plenty of time post-primary for these kinds of things.”

But Bill Hyers, a spokesman for Beshear’s campaign, said the governor never committed to attending the forum and only received the invitation last week.

“We never dropped out, never said he was going to do it,” Hyers said. “Never committed to (the forum).”

Thompson, who has served as executive director of the KPA for 27 years, said that Beshear’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, made time to attend the group’s gubernatorial forum in 2007, despite being a sitting governor at the time.

“We’re disappointed,” Thompson said. “For any speaking engagement, any time we have invited the governor, whether it be a forum, speaking engagement … the governor has always (attended).”

Hyers dismissed the comparison to Fletcher, saying that Fletcher and Beshear are making to different decisions under different circumstances. He pointed to the contested Republican primary and how, so far, no other Democrat has filed to challenge Beshear in the primary.  There will be plenty of time to discuss the issues once the Republican nominee is set, Hyers said.

“(Beshear) needs to be governor,” Hyers said in a phone interview. “It’s January for a November election. There will be plenty of times after the primary.”

But the forum will still feature both Republican candidates, Senate President David Williams and Louisville businessman Phil Moffett, as well as Independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith.

Initially, it was unclear whether Williams would participate, Thompson said. But Williams’ campaign manager Scott Jennings confirmed to cn|2 Politics that Williams would be there.

In an e-mailed statement, Jennings took a jab at Beshear for skipping it.

“Gov. Beshear must have heard the candidates would be asked to sit in chairs and not on fences, so it makes sense that he’d have no interest in participating,” Jennings said in the statement. “I wouldn’t want to defend my record of inaction and incompetence against a bold leader with actual ideas like David Williams, either.”

In criticizing Beshear’s absence, Moffett campaign manager David Adams found something to agree on with Jennings.

“With the billions in dollars in debt Kentucky has amassed under Beshear, I’m not surprised he wants to mail in his re-election effort,” Adams said. “The fun part is Williams voted for every dime of that debt and he will be there crying about Kentucky being adrift. Phil Moffett is the only candidate with a real plan for getting Kentucky on the right track.”

With 10 days until the  forum — scheduled in conjunction with the KPA’s annual winter convention at the Hyatt Regency Louisville — Thompson said the group isn’t giving up on getting Beshear to change his mind.

“Will I speak directly to the governor? Probably not,” Thompson said. “But I’m working non-stop to get the message to him.”

-Reporting by Kenny Colston


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