Williams turns red over Beshear's 'orange' comment as they argue over taxes, education

07/20/2011 03:41 PM

LOUISVILLE — Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and his Republican challenger David Williams on Wednesday argued over approaches to education, tax reform and the state of Tennessee — even as Beshear tried to avoid acknowledging Williams.

The forum, hosted by Kentucky Farm Bureau, is the first one Beshear agreed to attend with Williams.

Beshear began the forum by essentially ignoring Williams. But as Williams continued to take digs at “the governor,” Beshear started gradually acknowledging him indirectly with phrases such as “others in this room” or “that fellow.” By the end of the forum, he was referring to Williams as the “other candidate” or “other candidates in this race.”

Then the two really started going back-and-forth.

At one point, Williams reiterated his call for revamping Kentucky’s tax code, calling it “broken.” Williams, the state Senate president from Cumberland County, said Kentucky residents along the Tennessee border know it’s hard to compete with the neighboring state because Tennessee doesn’t have a personal income tax.

At first, Beshear deflected, saying tax reform means 10 things to 10 different people. And he said if a tax reform proposal raises taxes on some while lowering taxes for others he wouldn’t be for it.

Then he rebutted Williams’ argument by saying the National Tax Foundation rated Kentucky’s tax code more favorably for business than Tennessee. That’s when he implied Williams might be a “big orange” fan — a reference to the University of Tennessee.

Williams, who has degrees from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, bristled at Beshear’s “big orange” comment. And he said the economy was in too bad of shape and Kentucky’s tax code was too broken to make jokes about an athletic rivalry.

Williams later said he did not support and was not advocating for all of Tennessee’s tax code or economic policies.

The two candidates drew lines deeper in the sand on education issues, a favorite point of distinction Williams likes to make with Beshear.

Williams took credit for many of the education reforms the state has since in the past few decades, noting that when people reference educate reforms they always say “S.B.,” an abbreviation for Senate Bill.

He accused Beshear of being “silent” on education

Beshear shot back at Williams, saying education has been his top budgetary priority in his four years as governor. And he said that every time the budget needed to be balanced, Williams was ready to cut education.

Then he accused Williams of single-handedly standing in the way of his plan to raise the dropout from 16 to 18.

Williams and Beshear will be joined by independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith on the fall ballot. Galbraith wasn’t invited to the forum because he isn’t yet officially in the race, but Galbraith is expected to file his petition signatures on Thursday to get on the ballot.

Beshear and Williams stayed relatively tame on agricultural issues, agreeing sometimes, but not harshly pointing out potential difference on those issues.

They both said they support expanding sales tax exemptions to the equine industry and support helping rural areas gain and retain jobs. Both said they would continue to support and protect Kentucky’s agriculture industry.

-Reporting and video production by Kenny Colston


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