Candidates touch on African-American issues at Operation Turnout forum at Ky. State University

10/03/2015 11:10 PM

FRANKFORT — Squaring off at one of two historically black higher education institutions in Kentucky, the three candidates for governor addressed a number of topics important within the African-American community.

More than 100 scattered throughout the auditorium at Kentucky State University’s Bradford Hall Saturday to hear from the men vying to become the state’s next governor at a debate hosted by Operation Turnout.

Right out of the gate, Patrice Muhammad, publisher of The Key Newsjournal and one of two moderators, asked the candidates for their views on the restoration of voting rights for felons and whether, if legislation fails in the General Assembly, they would restore felons’ civil rights via partial pardons.

Democrat Jack Conway, Republican Matt Bevin and independent Drew Curtis answered in the affirmative on both questions, saying felons convicted of non-violent crimes should be allowed to vote once their sentences are complete.

“We have got hundreds of thousands of people, not only in this state but in this country, who have been ostracized and cut out of the equation with respect to having a voice in government,” Bevin said. “I absolutely believe that if you are a felon with a non-violent felony and you have paid your dues and you have paid your debt to society and you have stayed out of trouble as required by the law for a very small period of time showing that indeed you are indeed trying to get back on track, you should absolutely have not only your voting rights, but your right to keep and bear arms also restored to you.”

He clarified in response to a follow-up question that the waiting period he referenced involved instances of probation, parole or other court-mandated supervision.

Conway said thousands upon thousands of African-Americans, particularly men, are “disenfranchised” with their civil rights forever lost with a felony conviction on their records in Kentucky while Curtis called the number of African-American felons “the new Jim Crow,” a reference to segregation-era laws, that “needs to be wiped out.”

“It is wrong to look at someone who has paid their debt to society, who wants to make good on a second chance and not allow them to vote,” Conway said.

An audience member asked the candidates how they would foster better relationships between police and minority communities given the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, which traces its roots to the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and gained momentum last year in officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Both Bevin and Curtis said improved communication is key in fostering relationships between law enforcement and African-American communities.

“When you have respect for your fellow citizen, when you follow the golden rule and you treat people the way you want to be treated, not the way you are treated, if we demand no less from our law enforcement and if we give no less to our law enforcement, we will have the kind of environment that every single one of us wants,” Bevin said.

Conway said Kentucky police officers are leaders in mandatory in-service training, and he voiced support for boosting proficiency pay through the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund.

“One of the proposals I put forward … is to actually give an increase in the KLEFPF funding,” he said. “It was first created about 15 years ago. It pays about $3,100 dollars a year to our law enforcement to go get trained in the latest techniques, to get trained in when it’s appropriate to use force and when it’s not, and Kentucky leads the nation in that.”

Muhammad also asked about the 11 percent drop in median household income for African-American families in Kentucky in 2014, a much sharper decline from the 2 percent slide for the state on average, and how the candidates would improve the economic standing of minorities in the state.

The candidates shared different views on the matter.

While he conceded he didn’t know the answer for such a question, Curtis said he cares “very deeply” about the subject and asked those in the audience to speak with him about their ideas on how to lift minority communities in the state.

For Conway, the key lies in education and economic development. He also said he would look to appoint more African-Americans to various boards and commissions if elected.

“We need to be taking a look at our inner cities,” Conway said. “We need to be taking a look at African-American neighborhoods. Can we create enterprise zones? Can we create tax exemptions? Can we create tax incentives to incent companies to come in and locate potentially with African-American ownership in our inner cities? We need African-American entrepreneurs who are hiring African-American people in our inner cities.”

Bevin, meanwhile, asked the crowd to consider that Democrats have, for the most part, held the top positions of Frankfort’s political apparatus for decades.

“The bottom line is these ideas are tired,” he said. “People are being given a bill of goods. They’re being told a bunch of things that there’s nothing of substance to back up.”

He also said minorities deserve “a seat at the table.”

But while Bevin’s running mate, Jenean Hampton, could become the first African-American elected to statewide office, he erred in saying she is the first such candidate for statewide office.

Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro, unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination for state auditor in 2003, the same year Bowling Green attorney Osi Onyekwuluje ran for auditor as a Republican and lost in the primary.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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