GOP candidates outline strategies to fix pressing state issues in Versailles forum

04/16/2015 01:21 PM

VERSAILLES — While the four Republican gubernatorial candidates agreed on what needs to change in the commonwealth from education to pension reform — they sometimes disagreed on how to go about getting that accomplished.

Businessman Matt Bevin, Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, former Louisville councilman and businessman Hal Heiner and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott were in Woodford County on Wednesday night trying to convince voters why they have the best chance of defeating Democrat Jack Conway in the November election.

One topic Heiner and Comer disagreed on was how to pass legislation with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate.

Heiner says that his plan would be to go the people of Kentucky in a campaign-style effort to win support for an agenda.

“What I will do here, is go direct to the people of Kentucky, explaining where we are and how we get there,” Heiner said. “When the people start calling their senators and representatives, you start getting movement.”

Comer, who served in the state House prior to becoming Commissioner of Agriculture, said his way would be to work with friends on both sides of the aisle.

“We’re going to pass a bold agenda through the General Assembly and that’s one thing that separates me from the rest of the candidates,” said Comer. “You can’t run TV ads blasting all of the people in Frankfort all the time and expect to be able to pass right-to-work though a Democrat House. I have the relationships in Frankfort.”

Although all agreed on supporting issues like “right-to-work”, not increasing the minimum wage, and support for the coal industry, they sometimes had different ideas on how to tackle some other key issues such as saving the Kentucky Teacher’s Retirement System (KTRS).

Bevin, Comer and Heiner want to see future teacher hires switched from a defined-benefit to a 401-K defined contribution plan.

In addition, Comer called for independently auditing and privatizing the management of KTRS.

On the other hand, Scott says legalized casino gambling at racetracks is the answer and would bring $350 million-a-year revenue stream which could be used strictly to pay down the pension debts.

All candidates opposed the Affordable Care Act and said that the Kynect system, which is used to sign people up for healthcare coverage in the commonwealth, is unnecessary, too costly, and not sustainable.

There were limited jabs at one another throughout the debate until the very end.

In his closing remarks Comer pointed to his vote tally in 2011 finishing with 93,000 more votes for Commissioner of Agriculture than Jack Conway did for Attorney General — a vote he promised to recreate as the GOP nominee in the 2015 General Election.

Bevin — in his closing statement — called out Comer for beating “a bad comedian” in his 2011 statewide election for Commissioner of Agriculture.

“Jack Conway has his faults, but he wasn’t a bad comedian. Jamie, with all due respect, never ran against Jack Conway — so beating a guy that wasn’t even good at being a comedian is not the same thing,” Bevin said.

Comer fired back pointing to Bevin and his running mate, Jenean Hampton’s losses during the 2014 election cycle.

“Matt, you and your running mate both lost your last elections by 2-to-1 margins,” Comer said.

“And we ran against people who had been in office for a collective 75 years,” Bevin responded. “If you want more than that, then I’m not your candidate.”

The four candidates in the 2015 GOP gubernatorial primary will take part in a one-hour televised debate on cn|2.

The debate will take place in cn|2 Pure Politics’ Louisville studio at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Tuesday, April 21 and will be broadcast to the more than 600,000 Time Warner Cable subscribers across Kentucky.

The primary is on May 19.

About Don Weber

Don Weber joined cn|2 when it launched back in May 2010 and soon became a reporter for Pure Politics. He is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University and has spent many years covering everything from politics to sports. Don says he loves meeting new people everyday as part of his job and also enjoys the fact that no two days are the same when he comes to work. Don Weber can be reached at


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