Tensions boil over in final debate between Conway, Bevin ahead of Nov. 3 election

10/26/2015 11:44 PM

LEXINGTON — Sitting mere feet from one another in their final gubernatorial debate televised on KET Monday evening, tensions between Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin spilled into public view as they tussled on issues like public pensions, health care and the state’s economy.

Conway often laughed aloud during Bevin’s responses and interjections, drawing animated reactions from the GOP candidate as the Democrat sat, at times, with a forced grin on his face.

Both argued simultaneously, drawing moderator Bill Goodman to intervene to get the candidates on track and speak one at a time.

Bevin, who released a television ad attacking Conway and linking him to President Barack Obama earlier Monday, was more often the aggressor in those exchanges. He accused Conway of “shaking down a lot of companies” as attorney general, saying that has proven detrimental to business recruitment.

“This is not a business-friendly state, and in some measure it’s driven by the fact that the actions you’ve taken have been so much more aggressive against corporate America than they have against the EPA, for example,” Bevin said, later pointing to a 2010 lawsuit by the Kentucky Coal Association against the agency for allegedly blocking state-issued mining permits illegally.

He did not mention that Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear joined the lawsuit for the state, but he managed to weave in the fact that Conway benefitted from Sierra Club spending in his U.S. Senate campaign that year against Sen. Rand Paul.

“I’ve been strong against the EPA,” Conway interjected.

“You’ve never led on this, ever,” Bevin continued.

“That’s not true,” Conway said.

Bevin also questioned the amount of effort Conway put into passing Senate Bill 192, this year’s heroin bill. Conway, who supported the bill and highlighted his work the year prior on heroin legislation that did not pass the General Assembly, said he did not want to have his gubernatorial candidacy affect SB 192’s prospects in the legislature.

While Bevin initiated much of the back-and-forth exchanges, Conway offered some shots of his own. He said the Republican’s plan to offer 401(k)-style, defined-contribution plans to future state workers would cost the state an additional $8 billion over 15 years, according to the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

When Bevin held the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between states and tobacco companies as an example of a business shake-down, Conway said, “I hope everybody in the agricultural community just heard that.” Conway again called Bevin’s plan to reverse Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid and apply instead for 1115 demonstration waivers “callous.”

“There will be a bill due, and the challenge for the Conway administration’s going to be to show the people of Kentucky that the expansion of health care in this state is actually generating more money into the General Fund,” he said. “… We can’t adopt a program like the one in Indiana that actually keeps a lot of people from getting health insurance.”

Bevin said Indiana’s Medicaid waiver program “is a solution” with an increased number of participants in the program.

“They’re more participatory not only in terms of their involvement, but they’re getting better health outcomes,” he said.

When given the opportunity to say something nice about their opponent, Conway commended Bevin for adopting four disadvantaged children from Ethiopia and providing them “with a wonderful home.”

Bevin, after saying he appreciated the remark, said Conway had done “such a good job in the public sector” and he looked “forward to you having the opportunity to join the private sector and have the opportunity for the first time in your life to appreciate all that you have done as a public servant for the people here.”

As Conway spoke to the gathered press after the debate, Bevin walked past and exited the building as some reporters asked if he would take post-debate questions. His campaign later emailed a statement from his campaign manager, Ben Hartman.

Bevin’s refusal to address the media came a day after a testy press gaggle following Sunday’s debate at Eastern Kentucky University.

Conway, who watched Bevin leave KET studios while taking questions, said that showed a lack of temperament by his opponent.

“When you’re governor, things aren’t always going to go your way,” Conway said. “You’re going to have to look at people on the other side of the aisle and say, ‘OK, let’s go down to the basement of the mansion or somewhere and let’s talk about this,’ and it takes give and take. It takes temperament. It takes thick skin.”

“I’m here taking your questions,” he continued. “He walked right by and didn’t want to take your questions. I’ll always take your questions. I’m not always going to be happy with everything you write, but you know, I’ve got thick enough skin to take it.”

Hartman, in his statement, said issues facing the state “are not a laughing matter.”

“While Jack Conway insists on ‘monitoring’ the issues that impact the day-to-day lives of Kentuckians, Matt Bevin offers specific solutions to eradicate these problems and provide a fresh start for Kentucky,” 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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