Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, left, and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear debate at WKYT in Lexington. (Screenshot)
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican challenger Attorney General Daniel Cameron pressured each other to clarify their views in their fifth and final debate ahead of the November election.
Tuesday’s debate, hosted by WKYT of Lexington and moderated by Bill Byrant, covered a range of issues between the candidates, including school vouchers, abortion, the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and public safety.
Throughout much of Tuesday’s debate, both candidates referred to the core messages of their campaigns.
Beshear touted his administration’s economic accomplishments and his leadership as Kentuckians faced hard times, including the pandemic, flooding and tornadoes.
Cameron offered a bleaker view of Kentucky’s current state, noting the difficulties Kentuckians face because of inflation and the need to recover from the pandemic, especially in terms of small businesses that closed and learning loss experienced by students.
The candidates frequently talked over each other, especially in moments when Beshear pressed Cameron for answers on his support for school vouchers and Cameron repeatedly asked Beshear to clarify what abortion restrictions he would support.
“Folks, we’ve got to keep this going, and in me, you have a governor that doesn’t see team red or team blue, just team Kentucky,” Beshear said in his closing statement. “But if we want to talk about ‘normal versus crazy,’ it’s crazy we have a candidate that doesn’t have the empathy to look in a camera and say he supports victims of rape and incest, some as young as nine, to have options. I will always be the type of governor that you might not agree with, but you’ll know he’s doing what he thinks is right.”
“Normal versus crazy” was a reference to remarks Cameron made Tuesday as well as in previous debates about Beshear’s stance on social issues, like vetoing legislation to prevent transgender women and girls from playing on their schools’ sports teams and endorsing President Joe Biden’s reelection bid. Beshear was also referring to Kentucky’s near-total ban on abortion, which Cameron supports and has defended in court.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t have to accept this crazy agenda any longer,” Cameron said in his closing statement. “We can make sure that we have leadership that makes sure that we have quality schools, that we support our teachers, that we keep our streets safe from crime and drugs. And yes, we can eliminate Kentucky’s income tax. That’s where you and I can go together if you vote for me on Nov. 7.”
Beshear and Cameron have repeatedly addressed economic issues during their debates. On Tuesday, the two further clarified their positions, particularly on eliminating the state’s income tax.
Beshear said he vetoed a 2022 bill from the General Assembly to gradually eliminateKentucky’s income tax because the bill also contained increases in the sales tax. He signed a similar bill in 2023 because it did not change the sales tax and his review of year-over-year state revenue numbers showed the state could afford the tax cut..
“I do want to continue to make those cuts but we’ve got to do it wisely and carefully, not rashly,” Beshear said.
Cameron, who has long vowed to eliminate the income tax as governor, said economic policies from Democrats like Biden and Beshear are the reason the country is experiencing inflation now.
“I’m going to eliminate Kentucky’s income tax, and I’m going to do it in a thoughtful and responsible manner,” Cameron said.
School voucher programs
Beshear and Cameron have previously published their education policies, and both candidates have fielded questions on education in their previous debates. During Tuesday’s debate, things got particularly heated when discussing school vouchers, or programs that would allow public funding to follow students to private schools. Kentucky currently does not allow such programs, but the Republican-led General Assembly may review legislation regarding voucher programs during its next session.
In response to a question about funding gaps between school districts and if the state should address it, Beshear pressed Cameron on his support of school voucher programs and referred to a primary debate where the attorney general said he supported vouchers and charter schools.
Beshear, who opposes school vouchers, said the idea would take funding away from public education.
Cameron pushed back, saying Beshear’s coronavirus response lowered student performance and pointed to his plan for a 16-week long tutoring program as a solution. After some back and forth, Cameron said Kentucky “needs to expand opportunity and choice” but that his plan, as well as Beshear’s, is focused on public education.
“You need a governor that not only talks about these things, but is willing to do the hard work of communicating with our legislature to get them done for your request,” Cameron said.
Eventually, both candidates said the state should address funding inequities between poor and richer school districts.
The candidates were again pressed about their stances on abortion. Cameron said last month that he would sign legislation adding exceptions in cases of rape and incest to Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban if the General Assembly passed it. However, he has not directly said if he personally supports those exceptions and continues to call himself the “pro-life candidate.” During recent debates, Beshear asked Cameron to answer the question directly.
On Tuesday, Beshear called Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban “draconian” and referred to one of his campaign ads featuring a woman who was raped as a child and became pregnant.
“I will press every day to get exceptions for rape and incest because those that have been harmed and violated absolutely deserve those options,” Beshear said.
Cameron called himself “Planned Parenthood’s worst nightmare,” like he did during Monday’s debate, and claimed the organization “wants to destroy the Black community” because of the views of its founder, which the organization has denounced.
“At the end of the day, we need to keep in mind that every baby is an image bearer of God,” Cameron said. “And I think that we need to establish here in Kentucky a culture of life.”
Beshear said he supported “reasonable restrictions” on abortion, including late-term abortions, and Cameron asked him repeatedly what exactly that meant. The governor said restrictions under Roe v. Wade “got it right,” but didn’t specify a number of weeks during the debate.
The candidates again discussed Beshear’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which killed more than 19,000 Kentuckians.
Cameron, like he has throughout his campaign, criticized Beshear for “infringing upon your constitutional rights,” which included sending Kentucky state troopers to record license plates at churches during Easter Sunday 2020.
“He has never shared any regrets because he’s too proud,” Cameron said. “And to say that he is sorry is to hold him accountable for those disastrous decisions that he made.”
Beshear said his decisions were a matter of “life and death.” He added that if he could have predicted the pandemic when he was elected in 2019, he would have worked to reverse cuts in the state’s unemployment insurance program backed by the Bevin administration and reopen rural offices.
“I will always put what I believe is best for the people of Kentucky over my own self interest or over any number of votes,” Beshear said.
Restoring voting rights
Bryant asked both candidates if they support restoring voting rights to people with previous felony convictions after they have completed their sentences.
Beshear said he was “proud” to have signed an executive order shortly after becoming governor that automatically restored voting rights to nonviolent and non-sex offender felons. However, Bolts recently reported that some Kentucky advocates say Beshear’s administration has not done enough to notify those with restored voting rights how they were affected.
“I do believe that we ought to have a constitutional amendment that puts that into the Constitution that ensures that it lasts longer than me,” Beshear said.
“I don’t have any problem with restoring a person’s voting rights under the same rubric,” Cameron said.
Election Day is two weeks away — Tuesday, Nov. 7.
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