Candidates for governor, attorney general react to South Carolina killings

06/19/2015 04:32 PM

This week a young man ambushed and killed nine African-Americans in an historic church in Charleston, S.C., and as the country comes to grips with the latest tragedy, Pure Politics asked Kentucky gubernatorial and attorney general hopefuls how leaders in those offices can help stop the violence.

The accused, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is in police custody for his actions as President Barack Obama again tries to console a nation in the face of another mass shooting, which some are describing as domestic terrorism.

On Thursday, Obama renewed his calls for stricter gun laws after Roof opened fire with a .45-caliber pistol during a Bible study class in Charleston, S.C., killing three men and six women.

“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” Obama said. “Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

In Kentucky, candidates for governor chose their words carefully on the act of violence when asked how the state should protect citizens.

Jack Conway, the current attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor, said he thinks the killings should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

“I’ve always been a strong supporter of sportsman’s rights and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I’m just learning about this. … My heart breaks,” Conway said after a joint forum hosted by the Kentucky County Judge-Executives Association and the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association.

“When we see people motivated out of hate, we have to try to put a stop to that kind of hatred. Hopefully the prosecution of this particular crime will reflect that in this country we don’t tolerate this kind of hatred.”

Republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin said “evil is everywhere,” adding that the event in South Carolina and events like it cannot be prevented.

“What you have to do is create an environment in which people recognize that frankly treating each other with dignity and respect goes a long way,” Bevin said. “I don’t know enough about this fellow who did this to know what may have triggered this, but I can’t even comprehend anything that would justify such horror.”

Kentucky will also elect a new chief law enforcement official in 2015 with Conway term-limited and seeking the governorship.

Republican attorney general candidate Sen. Whitney Westerfield and Democratic candidate Andy Beshear spoke with Pure Politics at the KCJEA/KMCA forum in Louisville on Friday.

Westerfield said he hopes all people will keep all of the shooting victims remembered in prayer, but he’s not sure how much review is necessary on gun current gun laws.

“I don’t know enough about the circumstances involving this young man,” said Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. “Obviously there seems to be some issue, at least to my layman’s eyes, related to his mental health. I’ll say this: if anything, that’s what needs to be looked at before we look at gun rights — he’s the one that pulled the trigger.

“We need to look at the mental health gaps that we have not just in Kentucky, but across the country.”

Calling the killings “a tragedy,” Beshear agreed that the issue was not about guns, but about mental health.

“This isn’t a gun issue. This is a mental health issue — where we need to be putting our resources and where we really need to start thinking is how do we deal with mental health in a different way,” Beshear said.

The killings in South Carolina at a historically African-American church also have serious racial overtones. Roof has reportedly admitted to the killings under police questioning, claiming anti-African-American views as a motivator.

The issue of race has also reached a boiling point in several cities in the last year with mass protests against police violence.

Pure Politics asked the candidates how much the issue of race relations should be addressed for Kentucky’s top constitutional offices.

Bevin not only has Jenean Hampton, an African-American woman, as his running mate, but he also has adopted four Ethiopian children.

“I think we’ve become way too race centric in some respects — let’s treat each other as fellow human beings,” Bevin said.

Conway pointed to “a strong history of inclusiveness” in public service, adding that he hopes his daughters grow up in “colorblind society.”

Beshear said that “we always need to talk and learn from one another.”

Westerfield agreed that the “discussion is always worthwhile to make sure we’re eliminating that bias wherever it rears its ugly head.”

Video and interviews conducted by Political Reporter Kevin Wheatley.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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