GOP candidates for governor continue sparring at Kentucky Sports Radio debate

05/06/2015 08:28 PM

An already tense GOP gubernatorial primary grew testier Wednesday as the four candidates vying for their party’s nomination debated issues – both personal and statewide – on Kentucky Sports Radio.

Allegations of abuse levied by a college girlfriend against Agriculture Commissioner James Comer overshadowed the latter half of the hourlong forum. In a one-on-one segment with KSR host Matt Jones, Comer again denied accusations of mental and physical abuse and that he drove his ex to an abortion clinic in 1991 while a student at Western Kentucky University.

He blamed fellow Republican gubernatorial hopeful Hal Heiner’s campaign for pushing the story first published by The Courier-Journal. Those allegations stem from a Lexington Herald-Leader report that found the husband of Heiner’s running mate had communicated with a blogger who runs an anti-Comer Tumblr website, where the assault allegations first surfaced publicly last year.

“I certainly hope not, but his campaign was, yes,” Comer said when asked if he believed Heiner was involved in getting the story exposure.

He added that he has retained the law firm of Cincinnati-based Frost Brown Todd for possible legal action against The Courier-Journal and others involved in the matter.

In her letter to The Courier-Journal, the woman in question, Marilyn Thomas, said she felt compelled to come forward after her personal information was revealed on the website and Comer spoke about their past in the Herald-Leader article. In another Courier-Journal article, she disputed Comer’s claim that the two met in New York City and she gave him a book in 2001, saying the autographed book was mailed to him.

Heiner again denied knowledge that someone affiliated with his campaign had contacted the blogger, Lexington attorney Michael Adams. He said he addressed the matter once he learned of contact among the blogger, Scott Crosbie and KC Crosbie, who has said she met Adams once after an event and was copied on some emails.

Comer raised the issue in a question to Heiner, whom he called “the Christian Laettner of Kentucky politics.”

“I think there’s some new news out this morning that finds that your campaign’s been right in the middle of it as well,” Heiner retorted.

When asked after the debate what news he referenced in his response to Comer, Heiner pointed to a website that had reportedly obtained the letter Thomas sent to The Courier-Journal. In the document purportedly penned by Thomas, she says she recently contacted a political advisor to Comer to demand that she be left out of the campaign before the Herald-Leader story broke.

That advisor did not return multiple calls seeking comment Wednesday.

“This is an issue between Jamie and the young lady,” Heiner told reporters.

Louisville businessman Matt Bevin joined the fray during Wednesday’s debate. Heiner, he said, “has surrounded himself with the surliest and sorriest group of people.”

“I don’t know if he’s behind the Comer story, but I’m telling you his people have been pushing this for a long time,” Bevin said before turning toward Heiner briefly.

“And Hal himself has personally told me months and months ago before I even got in this race that he knew things – that he knew things, not had heard things – that he knew things based on conversation that his people had had about Jamie Comer.”

Pointing a finger at Heiner, Bevin said, “You told me that yourself Hal. You told me in your office to my face. The reality is Hal Heiner is not who he pretends to be.”

Bevin’s attacks didn’t surprise Heiner, who launched a counterattack on Bevin for robocalls, accepting state grants after criticizing the Troubled Asset Relief Program and pledging to shut down kynect to move Kentuckians onto the federal health exchange.

“He’ll say anything to get elected, and I’ll say it: He’s just like Jack Conway,” Heiner said. “Ran for Senate, now he’s running for governor. I’m focusing on what we have to do in Kentucky. We have very serious issues.”

After the debate, Bevin declined to elaborate on what he and Heiner discussed about Comer.

Bevin said he had “multiple conversations” with other gubernatorial candidates seeking to keep him out of the GOP primary before he entered the race Jan. 27.

“I was specific,” Bevin said when asked about his comments to Heiner. “Go back and watch the tape. Go back and listen to what I said. … I stand by exactly what I said. Listen to it and you will find that it was specific.”

Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, Comer, Bevin and Heiner will face Republican voters on May 19.


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