Jack Conway prefers open forum at Ky. Coal Assn. meeting, but "they set the rules"

08/19/2015 11:36 PM

LEXINGTON — When Attorney General Jack Conway faces some of the same coal industrialists he and Republican Matt Bevin spoke with at a private forum in Virginia shortly after the May 19 primary, he hopes the event will be open to the press, he told reporters Wednesday.

Still, both he and Bevin campaign manager Ben Hartman said the parameters of the Kentucky Coal Association’s annual meeting in October will be decided by the organization, not the candidates.

“They set the rules. We don’t,” Conway said before addressing the Kentucky Prosecutors Conference at the Lexington Convention Center.

“My assumption is whenever I’m talking anywhere that I’m being recorded and it’s all public. I’m perfectly fine with the Kentucky Coal Association meeting being public. In fact, I’d prefer that it be public.”

Hartman said Bevin is eager to share his vision for the state with any organizations during the campaign, both publicly and privately.

“Matt is happy to talk to anybody anywhere about any topic, and he’s happy to do so publicly when he can, and I think we do more in public than Jack Conway does,” Hartman said in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “And he’s also happy to respect the terms of groups if they would like to have a private conversation with him.”

The interest in the second possibly closed-door, energy-centric meeting stems from the fact that both Bevin and Conway attended a June invitation-only retreat in Bristol, Va., where they spoke at a forum hosted by KCA President Bill Bissett, according to a report by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Bissett told Pure Politics last week that his group will have to decide whether to open its annual meeting to the press, but private settings can foster “unfiltered” discussions with candidates.

Both candidates have expressed their concerns with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon emissions standards, and both have said the state should not submit a plan to comply with the new policy, which Conway has pledged to challenge in court.

Conway, again noting his thinking that his remarks on the campaign trail are taped, said his stance on coal has remained consistent in public and private.

Before the KCA meeting, though, Kentuckians will get a look at Conway’s formal education policy.

Conway said the plan, which will be his second formal proposal, will be released sometime before Labor Day to coincide with the start of school and will detail the campaign’s vision for early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary education as well as workforce development.

“We will be releasing that here sometime in the very near future,” he said.

Conway’s first plan, which focused on economic development, includes some educational goals, such as improving Kentucky’s college graduation rate to the national average and establishing a statewide apprenticeship program.

Hartman, who criticized the timing of Conway’s initial jobs plan, questioned releasing policy proposals at this stage of the campaign with 75 days until Election Day, noting that Bevin published his gubernatorial platform shortly after launching his bid.

“Jack Conway’s not on the right side of the issues of Kentucky,” Hartman said. “He doesn’t have policy proposals that they’re proud to talk about, so they’re running this scorched-earth, negative-attack campaign against Matt because if this race is about the issues, Jack Conway’s not going to win. That, we believe, is the main reason why he has delayed putting policy proposals out on a variety of issues.”

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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