Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, left, and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, right, answer questions during a debate in Northern Kentucky. (Screenshot from LINK NKY Facebook Live)
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — In their second debate, Republican challenger Daniel Cameron characterized the race for Kentucky governor as “crazy versus normal” while Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said the choice is “vision versus division.”
Beshear and Cameron faced each other before a studio audience of about 100 people at Northern Kentucky University’s campus Monday night after debating each other for the first time last week in Paducah. The NKU debate was broadcast and live-streamed across the state.
In his opening statement, Beshear called out Cameron for his national focus in the previous debate and said the answers to come would show “a contrast of vision versus division.”
“The last debate, you mentioned the word ‘jobs’ zero times (and) Joe Biden’s name, 16,” Beshear said to Cameron, before adding that with sports betting now legal in Kentucky, the governor would take a bet that Cameron would say Biden’s name more times Monday.
In his opening statement after Beshear, Cameron mentioned Biden four times in 90 seconds. The attorney general reiterated a comment he made during the Paducah debate that this election is about “crazy versus normal.”
When asked after the debate about how to convince Kentucky voters that Beshear, who has maintained a high approval rating and consistently led the race in polling, is crazy, Cameron pointed to the governor’s actions on social issues, the coronavirus pandemic and crime — such as supporting Biden’s reelection, vetoing legislation to prevent transgender women and girls from competing on their schools’ sports teams, vetoing a 2022 bill to reduce the state’s income tax and the early release of some inmates during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think the majority of Kentuckians think that person should not be leading our state and that’s why I’m running so hard to replace him,” Cameron said.
After the debate, Beshear told reporters that Cameron is tying him to Biden, who according to polling is unpopular with Kentuckians, because Cameron “knows that if this race is about me versus him that he can’t win.”
“Now this race is about us, right here in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “But if we can send one national message, it ought to be that anger politics ought to end right here, right now. Run on what you’re for, and not who you’re against.”
The candidates were questioned about education, abortion, economics and public safety. With about three weeks left until Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 7, Beshear and Cameron highlighted their differences throughout the night.
Both candidates have previously released education plans and reiterated their ideas during the debate. Beshear touted himself as a long-time supporter of teachers while painting a Cameron administration as a risk to public schools. The governor criticized Cameron’s running mate, state Sen. Robby Mills, for his past support of a bill that would have prevented future teachers from receiving defined benefit pensions.
Meanwhile, Cameron touted his ties to public education through his family, including his wife, Makenze, who previously worked in the Oldham County Public Schools. Cameron criticized Beshear for school closures during the coronavirus pandemic and said that Kentucky schools should be “about reading, writing and math, and they aren’t incubators for liberal and progressive ideas.”
Beshear and Cameron also were asked about some Republican lawmakers’ calls to split up Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, after bus delays created chaos on opening day. Cameron cautioned against making “a rash judgment decision” and vowed to work with lawmakers, students, parents and teachers to find a solution. Beshear said Kentucky’s school districts are led by elected community members and called for higher pay for school employees to avert bus driver shortages.
During the debate, Beshear and Cameron were asked about their stances on abortion, which Beshear campaign ads have elevated as an issue.
Beshear said Kentucky’s current law, which is a near-total abortion ban, is “one of the most restrictive laws” in the country and should be changed.
“The right way to make that decision is the way it used to be made under Roe v. Wade, taking it out of the hands of politicians, and ultimately, allowing courts to balance access because that little girl might not know what she’s going through for a period of time, along with the most recent scientific evidence,” Beshear said.
Cameron, who recently said that he would sign legislation as governor to add exceptions to Kentucky’s abortion ban for cases of rape and incest if the General Assembly passed it, said on the stage that he is “the pro-life candidate” in this election and characterized Beshear’s position as “extreme,” claiming that Beshear wants no restrictions on abortions and for taxpayers to fund the procedures.
“The fact of the matter is that (Beshear) doesn’t want to talk about this and his extreme position on abortion because he knows that it offends the majority of Kentuckians,” Cameron said. “But I’m here to set the record straight tonight. He wants no limits on abortion and he wants taxpayers to fund it.”
In rebuttal, Beshear said Cameron is a “candidate that will say anything to get elected” and added that he has always believed in reasonable restrictions, especially on late-term abortions.
Workforce and jobs were mentioned by both candidates throughout the evening. As he often has, Beshear highlighted his administration’s record on economic development. Cameron countered that Kentucky’s workforce participation is low because of the governor.
Both candidates were asked about the ongoing United Auto Workers’ strike, which has now reached Kentucky. Last week, 8,700 union workers at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville joined picket lines.
Beshear, who has been endorsed by the UAW, said the outcome of the strike must be a “win-win” for both workers and the companies. Cameron said he supports the workers and their wages should be increased. Cameron said Kentucky should eliminate the state income tax to help workers overcome challenges like inflation.
Beshear and Cameron have previously released public safety plans. They were asked about the topic during Monday’s debate.
Cameron claimed that about 50% of almost 2,000 state prisoners released early by Beshear in 2020 to stem spread of COVID-19 among inmates and prison staff were charged with felonies after their releases — a statistic that Cameron highlighted during a Friday news conference. Cameron also vowed to support law enforcement officers, adding that he has been endorsed by the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police.
Beshear pushed back by saying Cameron’s data includes many who would have been released by the time they committed a new crime and that Cameron is the “top cop” as attorney general, meaning he should have some responsibility for Kentucky’s crime statistics.
The candidates were also asked about an 18-point public safety plan released by Louisville GOP lawmakers ahead of the 2024 legislative session. Part of the plan includes destroying firearms used in crimes but first holding an auction for the weapons to raise money for law enforcement agencies. Currently, such weapons can be purchased at auction and returned to civilian hands. The proceeds of the auctions are used for local government funding.
Beshear recalled the Old National Bank shooting in Louisville this year, in which one of the victims was a close friend of his. The governor said that murder weapons should be destroyed and that the state can replace the money that law enforcement agencies now receive from selling weapons used in crimes.
“I believe in the Second Amendment and that any family or individuals should be able to protect themselves,” Beshear said. “But I have enough empathy to say that a weapon used to murder somebody should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder, whether it’s the one that killed my friend or anyone else.”
Cameron gave condolences to Beshear for his loss and called the shooting a tragedy, while reaffirming his support for the Second Amendment.
“If we are serious about addressing the issue of violent crime, especially in Louisville, let’s put a Kentucky State Police post there,” Cameron said before adding that he would also be willing to have KSP under the Office of Attorney General.
The debate was sponsored by WCPO 9, LINK NKY, the League of Women Voters of Kentucky and the Northern Kentucky Forum. Additional media partners included LEX18 in Lexington, WDRB in Louisville, WPSD Local 6 in Paducah and WNKY News 40 in Bowling Green, according to a news release from the League of Women Voters. Due to limited seating, the studio audience was by invitation only with no general admission.
Correction: This story was updated to correct the year of an income tax bill. Also a small audience attended the debate; an earlier version of the story said there was no audience.
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