Heiner blasts Conway without uttering opponents' names in Louisville Tea Party's GOP debate

04/17/2015 12:00 AM

Louisville investment professional Matt Bevin chided Louisville real estate developer Hal Heiner and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer for following his lead in releasing a detailed gubernatorial plan.

Comer called Heiner out for failing to get charter schools across the finish line as chairman of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association.

Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice steered clear of the Republican infighting, instead lamenting about crying cockroaches on crutches and telling the crowd of more than 150 that the bats need to be swept out of Frankfort.

But during the Louisville Tea Party’s and 970 AM’s GOP gubernatorial debate Thursday, Heiner had his sights primarily set on one man: Attorney General Jack Conway, the assumed Democratic nominee for governor.

While Comer and Bevin sniped at Heiner and the attack ads aired by a 501(c )(4) group supporting his gubernatorial bid, Heiner mentioned Conway repeatedly in his remarks at the St. Matthews Community Center, seemingly looking past his opponents in the May 19 primary, whose names he never uttered in the hour-and-a-half debate.

“We have an attorney general today that wants to be governor,” Heiner said to more than 150 attendees. “An attorney general that is fighting our own county, Hardin County, on right to work when I know from my private-sector business experience we have to have right-to-work, we have to join the other 25 states in this country.

“… We have a battle ahead of us. We have a battle, and what this election is about is who among us here is best able to take on Jack Conway.”

He did, however, find time to fire a veiled shot at Comer, mentioning in his opening remarks the General Assembly’s 2005 vote to give lawmakers “the richest pensions of any state workers.” Citizens for a Sound Government, an outside spending group backing Heiner, has attacked Comer for his vote on the reciprocity bill that allows legislators to count salaries earned in other branches of state government toward their legislative pensions.

Heiner may be trying to position himself as the perceived frontrunner with public polling showing him leading the GOP pack, but none of the three other candidates ceded ground to the former Louisville Metro Council member.

Comer pointed to his work as a state representative, telling the audience he feels conservative wish-list items like right-to-work legislation and charter schools can be attained with the current makeup in the Democrat-led House of Representatives.

“The next governor’s going to have to be someone that can bring people together to pass a bold agenda,” Comer said. “Charter schools is a no-brainer. It’s something that we should have. I can pass charter schools in Kentucky. In Kentucky you have to realize in the General Assembly we have like-minded Democrats in there, and this is an issue that’s not just a Republican-Democrat issue or a conservative-liberal issue.”

Heiner has lead a charter-school group for the past four years, Comer said, “and we’re not a bit closer today than we were four years ago.”

Comer and Bevin boasted their conservative credentials to the tea-party crowd.

The agriculture commissioner talked about fighting President Barack Obama’s administration after they seized hemp seed en route to Kentucky and standing up to “party bosses” in calling for an audit at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which ultimately led to the downfall of former commissioner and University of Kentucky basketball player Richie Farmer.

Bevin, who said any of the four GOP gubernatorial candidates would fare well against Conway, said he doesn’t fear challenging the Republican establishment. Before running for governor, Bevin was best known for his failed U.S. Senate primary campaign against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I’m the only one on this stage who’s never been an elected official,” Bevin said. “Some of you understand that there was one effort that I made because a lot of people wanted to see that happen. I’m unafraid to challenge those in my own party and those outside my own party.”

Other candidates on stage may have taken swipes at each other, but Scott never entered the scuffle. His comments, more so than any other Republican gubernatorial hopeful, drew scores of laughter from the crowd.

The candidates themselves couldn’t help but crack smiles and chuckle at Scott’s off-kilter analogies.

“My budget advisors tell me we’re looking at a $500 million deficit on Medicaid next year,” Scott said. “I can guarantee you when I get in there the first day and I open the money cabinet there to look for money for next year, the only thing that’s going to come out is a cockroach on crutches with tears in its eyes.

“That’s what we’re going to face, and that’s why we need, that’s why we (Republicans) need to have government for the next 24 years, and we’ll give ‘em the same cockroach back.”

Heiner paused briefly, smiling, before starting his response.

“That’s hard to follow,” he said.

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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