First joint appearance lacks debate feel, but gubernatorial hopefuls continue public sparring on taxes, plans

06/19/2015 09:22 PM

The first “debate” between Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin Friday wasn’t an exchange of ideas, but rather a pair of broad speeches limited to 15 minutes with only Bevin, by virtue of speaking last, given an opportunity at rebuttal.

The two shared the stage for the first time as their parties’ nominees at the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association/Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association Joint Summer Conference at the Galt House in Louisville.

Their pre-lunch remarks drew about 300 and was the first of six scheduled debates or forums, including the traditional Aug. 1 Fancy Farm picnic better known for the candidates’ wit on the stump than the substance of their speeches, between Conway and Bevin.

Both Conway and Bevin did their best to present their visions for the state in the allotted time, with the term-limited attorney general touting his record as Kentucky’s chief law enforcement officer while stressing the need for employment opportunities, accessible broadband Internet and early childhood education, among other topics.

Bevin, meanwhile, discussed post-secondary education, public-employee pensions and his record as a job creator.

The forum caused a handful of sparks between the two. Bevin took umbrage at Conway’s suggestion that the Louisville investment manager doesn’t care about early childhood education.

“As has been recorded in debates this spring, this is a big departure between me and my opponent,” Conway said. “Folks, I know from science that a child’s brain is wiring itself for lifelong learning at the tenderest of ages. The science shows us that 90 percent of brain function is wired by the age of 5.”

Bevin, in his remarks, countered that Conway’s claims were “absolute bunk” and “bologna.”

“I have nine children,” he said. “You think I’m not caring about early childhood education and childhood education at every turn? You bet I am, but it’s a function and the comment that I’ve always made: how are we allocating the dollars? Not only at the front end, but also at the post-secondary end as well.”

The two also continued their recent back-and-forth over Bevin’s refusal to release his tax records as the GOP gubernatorial nominee and Conway’s lack of formal policy proposals.

Conway, who released three years in tax returns on Thursday, reiterated his call on Bevin to follow suit. Both have said they would release their tax filings if elected governor.

“I do believe in transparency and I’ve stood up for it as attorney general,” Conway said. “And that’s the reason this week I released three years worth of my tax returns, that’s the reason I’ll release my tax returns every year that I’m governor, and I call on my opponent to do the same thing.”

Bevin ticked off a litany of issues facing the state when asked his reaction to Conway’s repeated urging.

“Let’s talk about what matters and not about things that don’t,” he said. “I’ve released everything that I’ve ever been asked to release publicly, and I have done that and will continue to do so.”

When asked about Conway calling such a disclosure a transparency issue, Bevin repeated his call for Conway to release “a plan for how he’d actually govern. That would be fantastic.” He alluded to Conway’s lack of a formal policy early in his remarks Friday.

Conway shrugged and expressed concerns with Bevin’s financial disclosure statement and past tax issues when asked about his opponent’s response. He said publicizing Bevin’s tax records would give the public a clearer picture of the Republican candidate.

“If he wants to show good faith that the people of Kentucky can understand who he is, I think a basic thing to do would be to release his tax returns,” Conway said.

He also reiterated his campaign’s plan to release a job’s plan next week, scheduled for Tuesday, and said he would release an education plan later this summer.

While the two disagreed on many subjects, they expressed similar desires to improve the state’s workforce through training and trade programs.

The two also appealed to the crowd’s background in government, with Conway saying he understands the importance of county governments in his time at the Capitol.

“I oftentimes say out on the campaign trail that what you want out of your governor is for the governor to be a big county judge,” he said.

Bevin, meanwhile, noted that many in the room were Democrats, but he promised to work with everyone regardless of political stripe.

“I want to work with you one way or other,” he said. “I don’t really give a rip whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

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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