Conway, Bevin bare knuckles in second public gubernatorial forum at Kentucky Farm Bureau

07/23/2015 07:12 PM

Gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin and Jack Conway traded barbs and accused one another of spreading mistruths during Thursday’s “Measure the Candidates” forum hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau.

In their second public appearance as their parties’ nominees, the pair touched on topics such as tax exemptions, tort reform, health care and rural infrastructure, with Conway continually seeking to present contradictory stances from his opponent while Bevin repeatedly urged the audience in the KFB boardroom and watching online to visit his website and learn about his views.

And when their own words weren’t enough, they reached for quotations from others to illustrate their points.

“Groucho Marx once asked, ‘Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?’” Bevin said after Conway said the latter’s Blueprint for a Better Kentucky suggested eliminating all tax exemptions. (Marx’s brother, Chico Marx, actually delivered the quoted line in the 1933 film “Duck Soup.”)

“And I feel in some measures that’s what I’m dealing with as I listen to my alter ego over here telling you what I say when it’s not actually the case.”

Bevin’s plan suggests a significant reduction in such exemptions.

Bevin went on to say that while a number of tax credits, such as mortgage exemptions, “make sense,” a number of others don’t because of fiscal constraints on the state.

“We’re broke,” Bevin said. “We are the sixth-least solvent state in America. We have the second-worst credit rating of any state in America. You talk about fiscal management sir, these are exactly the reasons why I’m running for governor.”

After Bevin said Conway and Kentucky Democrats misrepresented his views on the federal farm bill, Conway quoted former President Ronald Reagan in his 1980 debate with then-president Jimmy Carter for a second time in the nearly two-hour KFB forum.

“There you go again,” Conway said. “Matt, in 2014 you were very clear that farm subsidies, in your opinion, only enriched a top handful of individuals. You called subsidies bad precedent. You’re not talking about the food stamp benefits, we’re talking about farm subsidies.”

Bevin has been critical the $956 billion, 10-year farm bill passed last year because much of the legislation covers about $756 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, but the Kentucky Democratic Party released videos from Bevin’s Senate run last year, in which he also criticized the bill because the top 2 percent of farmers reap 75 percent of subsidies at stops in Sligo and Georgetown.

“I’m not a believer in subsidies,” Bevin says in an April 2014 video recording of a campaign stop in Sligo. “I just think it’s a bad precedent. The picking of winners and losers is not the role of government in my opinion.”

KDP video of Bevin’s Sligo stop in 2014 can be viewed here:

The pair also locked horns on the state’s health benefit exchange, kynect, and Gov. Steve Beshear’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Conway praised Beshear’s moves to create kynect and expand Medicaid, pointing to more than 500,000 Kentuckians that have attained health coverage as proof that both decisions worked well. Still, Conway said too many Kentuckians depend on Medicaid and could drop from the rolls with better economic opportunity.

“Is it perfect? No,” Conway said. “Do changes need to made? Yes, and we’ll monitor them. What’s it going to look like in 2021? We’re still assessing that.”

Bevin has made unplugging kynect and rolling back the expansion of Medicaid eligibility key planks of his campaign platform, saying the state cannot afford the new beneficiaries once the federal government begins cutting its share of costs in 2017, eventually capped at 90 percent of new enrollees by 2020.

After the debate, he dismissed a report commissioned by Beshear that predicted $30.1 billion economic impact through fiscal year 2021 due to Medicaid expansion as “nonsense” and “a faulty study.”

“If you truly want a report, go talk to the people in the health care community,” he said. “Ask them what the Affordable Care Act has done to their industry and to the rural hospitals, two of which in the last six, nine months have shut down, others of which are under great stress.”

In speaking with reporters afterward, Conway brushed aside Bevin’s criticisms of his decision not to appeal a U.S. District Court ruling striking down same-sex marriage, saying state law gives the attorney general discretion on which cases to pursue on appeal.

He also addressed his recent absence on the campaign trail, more noticeable than ever in today’s social media age.

Between July 11 and Sunday, photos of Conway on the trail never emerged on the campaign’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. During that time, his running mate, House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, appeared in photos at stops in Hazard and Louisville as well as the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association’s annual meeting in Lexington.

Conway, when asked whether he spent the week on vacation, said he took “a couple days off” campaigning to spend time with his two daughters.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as the last week,” he said. “I took some time off with my daughters just because my daughters had birthdays. I’ve been working my tail off. … We don’t have a day off between now and Election Day, and I gave my daughters some attention last week. I think that’s fair.”

Daniel Kemp, Conway’s spokesman, did not return an email seeking how long and where the attorney general spent his time away from the campaign.

Ben Hartman, Bevin’s campaign manager, also did not return a request for comment.

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 kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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