Jack Conway tosses jabs while Matt Bevin criticizes partisan tone of Fancy Farm picnic

08/01/2015 07:35 PM

FANCY FARM — Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway heaped criticism on his GOP opponent at the 135th annual Fancy Farm picnic Saturday, repeating numerous attacks against Matt Bevin that have sprouted in his two runs for office.

In response, Bevin completely reversed the Fancy Farm norm, eschewed the partisan tenor of Kentucky’s signature political event before leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and painting in broad strokes in his remarks.

“The one thing that discourages me, however, about this process is that we literally are celebrating the very worst elements of the political process,” Bevin said. “We are celebrating our visions, and we’re doing it in the childish way that frankly does not resolve any of the issues we face.”

Bevin, down 3 points in a head-to-head contest with Conway in the latest Bluegrass Poll, followed a five-minute speech in which Conway blasted Bevin for declining to release his tax returns, failing to pay property taxes on time, listing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under education on his LinkedIn profile and accepting a state grant after his family’s Connecticut bell-making business burned down in 2012, among other criticisms.

Many of those oft-repeated lines of attack first arose during Bevin’s primary challenge against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year, a fact Conway seized on in his five-minute stump speech.

“They (Republicans) called him an east-coast con man,” Conway said. “They called him a pathological liar. They said if Matt Bevin became governor, his only agenda would be the commissioning of his own portrait. They weren’t wrong.”

Conway, referencing comments from Bevin on early childhood education programs like Head Start and the Republican’s support for a school voucher program and eliminating Medicaid expansion, painted Bevin as out-of-touch with Kentucky and untrustworthy in the Governor’s Office.

“When someone like Matt Bevin lies to us about the big things and the small things, we can’t trust Matt Bevin to look out for us,” said Conway, who also touted his record as a two-term attorney general and his gubernatorial platform during his remarks.

Bevin, in his appeal to the audience as a whole rather than the partisan sides, ignored hecklers in his five-minute speech, saying, “I challenge you to recognize that you can boo all you want, but it doesn’t solve the things that face us in this country.”

The Louisville investment manager largely stuck with larger themes like prosperity in his speech, offering hints at more detailed points like education and pension reforms.

“The idea that our state workers who have been promised a pension should be given that pension while people fiddle and waste that money, we need to fight to ensure those promises are kept,” Bevin said. “That’s not a Democrat thing or a Republican thing.”

The tones of both campaigns filtered down to the running mates, with House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly continuing the lines of attack against the GOP ticket while Jenean Hampton, the first African-American woman to ever speak at the event, mostly gave the crowd a biographical sketch.

Her only criticism was aimed at Gov. Steve Beshear’s boast that state government ended the latest fiscal year with a budget surplus. The Democratic governor announced last month an $82.5 million deposit in the state’s Budget Reserve Trust Fund.

“Let me tell you, it is disingenuous to say we have a budget surplus when we on the other hand, the rest of the balance sheet doesn’t look good,” Hampton said. “That’s like having $1,000 in the bank and you owe $1 million on your credit card.”

Overly, D-Paris, chided the Bevin-Hampton ticket’s “We Are Kentucky” slogan, noting Bevin grew up in New Hampshire and Hampton in Michigan.

“In all of my time in Kentucky, I’ve never seen anything quite like that last Republican primary for governor,” she said. “Three qualified, Kentucky candidates with long histories in their community — and they went with Matt Bevin, a guy who isn’t from Kentucky. He’s wrong for Kentucky, and he’s lied to Kentucky.”

When asked about his stump strategy after the event, Bevin said he didn’t think tossing barbs at Conway was necessary at an event known for just that.

“I think Jack Conway’s stances on everything from life to President Obama to job creation, his lack of experience on fronts that are frankly critical to Kentucky, I think they speak for themselves. I really do,” he told reporters.

“I don’t think it needed further saying. I think what ails us as a state is, unfortunately, glorified in this situation. I love Fancy Farm, don’t get me wrong. It’s an extraordinary tradition. I look forward to being part of it for years to come, but unfortunately we could make it productive without being so nasty and divisive. This is not good for America. It’s just not. It’s not good for Kentucky.”

Mark Wilson, chairman of the Fancy Farm political speaking event, could not be reached for comment on Bevin’s remarks.

Conway’s campaign did not make the Democratic nominee available for questions after the political speaking concluded.

While Bevin relied on his fellow Republicans to lob quips and one-liners at Conway’s campaign, Democrats, in most cases, followed the top of the ticket’s lead.

Beshear was the only Democrat who spoke before the gubernatorial candidates, and he continued to foster the narrative that Bevin cannot be trusted as governor. He hammered Bevin particularly for his refusal to release his tax returns as a candidate.

“Speaking of taxes, ever since I ran in 2007 I’ve released my tax returns every single year because the public has a right to know whether you’ve got a conflict of interest,” Beshear said.

“Jack Conway has done the same thing. Matt Bevin has refused to release his tax return and says it’s none of your business. Well I’ve got something to tell you Matt. If you won’t trust the public with your tax returns, the public’s not going to trust you with the governorship.”

McConnell poked fun at Beshear’s move at last year’s Fancy Farm to take a “selfie” with McConnell, suggesting it would be the last time the senator would appear. McConnell signed a print-out of the photo, saying he hoped Beshear enjoyed his retirement while McConnell went to work as Senate majority leader.

He also linked Conway with Obama, noting that the attorney general has twice voted for the unpopular president, and said Conway reminded him of another Democrat who sought higher office.

“I’ll give Jack this, he’s a talented actor, been running around Kentucky all summer pretending to be John Wayne,” McConnell said. “Nobody’s really buying it. Let’s face it Jack, the only John you remind people of is John Edwards minus the authenticity.”

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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