Craft absent as Republicans field questions about economy, nuclear energy in Paducah

Cameron will miss Kentucky Sports Radio Debate on Wednesday

By: - April 18, 2023 3:42 pm

Republican gubernatorial candidates Daniel Cameron, Mike Harmon, Alan Keck and Ryan Quarles spoke at a policy forum hosted by the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

PADUCAH — Four Republican candidates for governor fielded questions about the economy and pledged their support for exploring Kentucky’s nuclear energy options during a forum sponsored by the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.

Not present for the event was former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, who polls show running second behind Attorney General Daniel Cameron in the crowded Republican primary field.

Craft was one of the five candidates invited to participate based, according to the Chamber’s website, on polling and funds raised. 

Craft will be part of Wednesday’s Kentucky Sports Radio Debate, but there’s no chance for an in-person comparison of the  frontrunners because Cameron will not participate in it. 

In Paducah, a crowd that included members of the local business community heard Cameron, state Auditor Mike Harmon, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles field questions focused on how to support and grow West Kentucky’s population, create economic development in the region and whether candidates would be open to reviving a nuclear industry. Dubbed the Atomic City, Paducah was once home to a uranium enrichment facility that is being decommissioned. 

All four candidates said they would support exploring adding nuclear energy to Kentucky’s energy portfolio if the region wanted it. 

In his opening statement, Cameron touted his lawsuits against incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear for seeking to close churches during the coronavirus pandemic and against the Biden administration for vaccine mandates. During the debate, he noted his campaign’s endorsement from former President Donald Trump. 

“I hope that you will join me in this effort to make sure that we return conservative leadership to our governor’s office,” Cameron told attendees. “We can have a better and brighter future, one in which we prioritize the involvement of parents in our educational opportunities for our kids, one in which we make sure that our streets are safe from crime and drugs, one in which we make sure that our police are respected and our small businesses are empowered.” 

Harmon told the crowd about his endorsements, including Kentucky Right to Life. He said that in the crowded Republican primary election field, he has the most experience in state government as he has served two terms as auditor and in the state legislature. 

Harmon stressed small businesses must be part of the state’s focus and the need for Republican unity once a nominee is chosen in the May 16 primary.

“At the end of this, we’ve all got to come together,” Harmon said. “We have all got to come together because our one goal is to make Andy Beshear a one-term governor.” 

Keck, who has said he is qualified for the office because of his experience in local government and as a businessman, opened with comments about Kentucky’s economy and how to move forward. 

“This race can’t and shouldn’t become a mouthpiece for national issues. This just needs to be about how we move our commonwealth forward. We’re talking about the things that truly matter. We’re going to continue to do that,” Keck said, referring to his campaign. 

In his responses, Keck said tax reform to give Kentucky a competitive advantage will be critical in a region like Paducah, which is near the borders of Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. 

Quarles was the first to reference the December 2021 tornadoes that ravaged Western Kentucky. At least 80 Kentuckians died. He promised West Kentucky would have a voice in the governor’s office with him there. 

“As your chief agriculture executive for the past eight years, you all know this: West Kentucky is a special place for economic development, especially when it comes to agriculture.” 

Quarles, who highlighted his rural background, said there is “an absence of focus on rural parts of the state for economic development.” He also referenced December rolling blackouts in the region, calling them a “stark reminder about why we need a more robust energy grid here in America.” 

The candidates were also asked if they supported a postsecondary study greenlit by the Kentucky General Assembly and Beshear. The candidates all said that they do not think there is harm in doing a study but emphasized the need to know the cost of potentially adding another public college to Kentucky’s university system.

Twelve Republicans will be on the ballot in the May 16 primary election. Tuesday’s lineup mirrored the first Republican gubernatorial debate, the Louisville GOP Debate held in early March. Through appearances such as local Republican parties’ Lincoln Day Dinners and on the campaign trail, the candidates have solidified their positions. In Paducah, their messages to potential voters have not changed. 

Craft did visit Paducah last week, joined by U.S. Rep. James Comer who also campaigned with her in Elizabethtown, Danville, Lexington and Corbin. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.