Candidates trade jabs on Pure Politics' gubernatorial debate with GOP primary less than a month away

04/21/2015 11:26 PM

WITH VIDEO: Tempers flared before a televised audience as Kentucky’s GOP gubernatorial candidates traded barbs over bridge tolls, the Affordable Care Act and attacks from an outside group backing Republican Hal Heiner on cn|2 Pure Politics’ gubernatorial debate Tuesday.

More often than not, Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin was in the midst of conflict, frequently needling Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Louisville real estate developer Hal Heiner with four weeks until Republican voters pick their party’s gubernatorial nominee.

Bevin asked if viewers “want a governor who will hide behind the lies of people” who want to “soil the bed of the Republican primary.”

“Hal Heiner’s former campaign manager is the guy who is now the spokesman for that PAC, and yet supposedly no coordination at all,” Bevin said in his closing statement of the 501(c )(4) group Citizens for a Sound Government, which is supporting Heiner. “Is this what you want? Is this what you want as the next governor? I would challenge you, please reach for lightning.”

Bevin’s promised lightning, though, is “likely electrocution,” Heiner retorted in his ending remarks.

“Matt, although he says he’s not a politician, has taken a political approach,” he said. “… He knows very well that those are not our ads, and we want to be judged based on what I say and what comes from our campaign, and in fact it’s illegal to respond to another group’s ads. He wants to bait us into that.”

Comer also took aim at CSG through Heiner. The group had distributed a direct-mail piece claiming Comer supported the politically divisive federal health law, which he vehemently denied.

“Shame on you for your PAC sending out a direct-mail piece saying that I support Obamacare,” Comer said, turning to Heiner.

Heiner, the frontrunner in recent public polling, didn’t respond to Comer, but he couldn’t contain his silence when Bevin accused him and Comer of altering their stance on shuttering the state-based health exchange kynect.

Bevin challenged his opponents to “be consistent,” but Heiner said Bevin’s solution to simply yank the plug on those covered by Medicaid expansion is infeasible.

“The facts are only 18 percent of the people that are in kynect right now are in the exchange,” Heiner said. “Eight-two percent are in Medicaid, so essentially what you’re hearing when you say, ‘I’ll just shut it down,’ is … ‘For 82 percent of Kentuckians in this plan, we’ll just take their health care.’

“The fact that the federal disproportionate share is going away for indigent care ends up meaning that people that are in the middle of cancer treatment, people that are in the middle of all kinds of serious medical situations are kicked out of health care. That’s not a responsible solution.”

Heiner instead suggested the state look elsewhere to conservative governors who’ve incentivized good health, specifically pointing to Tennessee’s Insure Tennessee plan to cover low-income residents.

“Can we get this straight? So now your for kynect again?” Bevin asked.

“I’m saying that kynect needs to end as it exists today because it’s not financially sustainable,” Heiner responded, adding he would change the health exchange in 2016.

Bevin also suggested Comer and Heiner supported tolling the Ohio River bridges under construction in downtown Louisville and Prospect.

His claim originated in Comer’s vote for House Bill 3 in the 2009 special session, which established the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority, and a 2009 Louisville Metro Council resolution, sponsored by Heiner and 14 others, requesting Gov. Steve Beshear and then-Mayor Jerry Abramson appoint members to the bi-state panel that eventually named a joint tolling board and set rates.

“I have been consistent from the very beginning that I’m opposed to tolling that bridge,” Bevin said when asked about tolling the Brent Spence Bridge in Covington. “There has never been any time in my life or in anything that I’ve said that would ever contradict that.”

But while Comer and Heiner said the Brent Spence Bridge needs to be built, tolls should not be considered as part of a funding plan.

While Bevin noted many northern Kentucky representatives voted against HB 3, Comer noted Louisville’s House delegates largely voted for the bill.

“Let’s stick to the facts,” Comer said. “It had nothing to do with northern Kentucky.”

“It does now,” Bevin countered.

“No, and don’t be like Hal now,” Comer said before mentioning CSG’s direct-mail piece.

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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