Gov. Andy Beshear, left, and Attorney General Daniel Cameron took to the KET debate stage earlier this week. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Matthew Mueller)
For months, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and his challenger, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, have made their cases to voters about why they are better suited to lead Kentucky over the next four years.
Both candidates have held campaign stops across the commonwealth, spoken to organizations and met for five gubernatorial debates this October.
With Election Day just days away — Tuesday, Nov. 7 — here’s what Beshear and Cameron have said about their views on abortion, education, public safety, transgender issues, the economy, Medicaid, and energy and environment.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, a Kentucky law automatically went into effect that has no exceptions to allow abortions except in cases to save mothers’ lives. That fall, Kentucky voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have removed an implied right to abortion in the state constitution.
Beshear’s campaign released multiple ads addressing abortion, including one that features a victim of childhood sexual abuse who became pregnant but later miscarried, though they do not specifically use the word “abortion.”
In September, Cameron said in a radio interview that he would sign legislation adding exceptions for cases of rape and incest to Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban if the General Assembly passed it. Such legislation has been introduced by lawmakers in the past, but has not been passed.
Cameron later during a campaign stop indicated he would only add the exceptions “if the courts made us change that law.”
“My views on this are shaped by my faith and I think we have a responsibility to our unborn to keep them alive,” Cameron said in an KET Connections interview before adding that he knows abortion is a sensitive topic for many.
Beshear has said he supports some restrictions on abortion, such as banning late-term abortions. During a gubernatorial debate at Northern Kentucky University, the governor called Kentucky’s current abortion law “one of the most restrictive laws” in the country and said that it 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.
Both Beshear and Cameron released their education policy plans, which include proposals for increasing teacher pay.
Cameron, who has dubbed his the “Cameron Catch-up Plan,” focuses on improving Kentucky students’ performances that he says have declined because on school closures and virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
The attorney general’s plan includes increasing the starting base rate pay for new teachers to $41,500 and funding a 16-week tutoring program for math and reading during summer breaks and after school. Cameron is also calling to add a reading interventionist to every school district, ensure that all school districts are complying with state laws that require school resource officers who serve as school police, establish a student teaching stipend, give superintendents a discretionary fund to pay experienced teachers and recruit former teachers back to the profession and new mid-career individuals.
Throughout his campaign, Cameron has attempted to win over Kentucky educators, a group that strongly backed Beshear’s election against former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. While introducing his education plan, Cameron said in a press conference that he wants educators to have a new relationship with Republicans.
“I know that you might have some apprehensions about me — or for that matter — any Republican nominee for governor,” Cameron said. “So, let me just simply say: I’m sorry. Sorry for any comments that have made you feel less than value, or have led you to have serious misgivings about the Republican Party on the topic of education.”
Meanwhile, Beshear has looked to educators to support his campaign once again. In his “Education First” plan, a proposal for the state’s 2024-26 budget, Beshear called on the General Assembly to fund an 11% pay raise for all Kentucky school personnel, which would raise starting teacher salaries to an average of $42,191, using National Education Association data.
“When all you do is raise the starting salary it creates compression and you lose teachers that may have three, four, five, six or seven years of experience when they’re paid almost the exact same thing as someone who is brand new,” the governor said during a press conference about his proposal.
Beshear has continued to call for funding universal pre-K for Kentucky students, saying that such a program would improve reading scores by making sure every child is ready for kindergarten and is an opportunity to screen children for learning challenges. The governor also proposed the legislature fully fund student transportation. Bus driver shortages have created problems for school districts, and came to a head earlier this year when Jefferson County Public Schools were forced to temporarily close following the first day of school because of the lack of drivers.
Other parts of Beshear’s education plan include fully funding teachers’ pensions and medical benefits and make no increases to health insurance premiums for school employees, supporting a student loan forgiveness program for teachers that gives a maximum $3,000 annual award for each year of employment as a Kentucky public school teacher, providing funding for professional development, giving dollars to replace textbooks and other instructional materials, and assembling staff at regional Social Emotional Learning institutes.
Throughout multiple debates, Beshear pressed Cameron about his support of school vouchers, which would allow public funding to follow students who attend private schools. Beshear said such vouchers would “defund tens of millions of dollars” from public schools.
Cameron said during the August press conference for his education plan that he supports “expanding opportunities and choices around Kentucky,” and gave a similar answer during the WKYT debate. Additionally, Jeff Yass — a Wall Street billionaire and crusader for charter schools — is a large contributor to conservative super PACs supporting Cameron against Beshear. During a GOP primary debate in Louisville, Cameron said “yes” when asked if he supported vouchers and charter schools.
Beshear and Cameron released plans to improve public safety in the commonwealth.
In the state’s 2024-26 budget, Beshear wants more money for training, body armor and raises for law enforcement. The General Assembly, which has a Republican supermajority often at odds with Beshear, will decide the next budget during the upcoming legislative session starting in January.
The governor also proposed changes to law enforcement pensions, such as moving all law enforcement pension plans back to defined benefits as well as increasing pension income for retired KSP troopers and local jurisdictions in those plans; a $2,500 raise for all KRS Chapter 16 employees, which includes troopers, vehicle enforcement officers and more; raising the current $4,300 training stipend for local law enforcement officers to $4,800, building on a $300 increase in the current budget and making part-time local law enforcement officers eligible for the stipend; and making grant funds available to upgrade body armor for local law enforcement officers.
“These are real steps, real actions,” Beshear said after introducing his plan in August. “It’s one thing to say you back the blue and it’s another to do something about it, to provide the resources, to take the steps that improve public safety.”
Cameron’s public safety plan largely focused on addressing crime in Louisville. He said, as governor, he would oppose subpoena powers for civilian police review boards and support giving Kentucky law enforcement officers a $5,000 bonus to improve recruitment and retention. Additionally, he was endorsed by the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police, a group that previously endorsed Beshear during the 2019 election.
His other plans include the legislature authorizing Kentucky State Police to conduct wiretaps; establishing a KSP post in Louisville; reforming the Kentucky Parole Board by increasing the vote threshold for release and giving the governor the power to remove members at-will; increasing penalties for drug traffickers, such as allowing murder charges against drug dealers when someone dies from a substance they distributed; using overdose mapping tools to rapidly increase resources to drug hot spots; mandating DNA collection for serious felonies, such as rape, murder or burglary, and ensuring protections to automatically purge DNA if a case is acquitted or dismissed with prejudice; and supporting Group Violence Intervention efforts.
“Public safety is the first responsibility of the government,” Cameron said when unveiling his plan in July. “We don’t have streets that are safe. Our economy and our schools suffer. Every Kentuckian has the right to live and move freely around their community without fear.”
After the General Assembly passed the controversial anti-transgender law, Senate Bill 150, Beshear vetoed the measure, setting the stage for gender to become a topic in the governor’s race. At the time, Beshear wrote the legislation “allows too much government interference in personal healthcare issues and rips away the freedom of parents to make medical decisions for their children.”
However, the General Assembly easily overrode the veto, enacting the measure into the law. The legislation bans gender-affirming medical care for anyone under 18, allows teachers to misgender trans kids, regulates which school bathrooms kids can use and limits the sex education students can receive. Portions of the law have been challenged in court and school districts have debated how to adopt the law into their policies.
Beshear’s veto quickly drew ire from Republicans, including Cameron. The attorney general, whose office has defended the law, claimed Beshear supports “sex change surgery and drugs” for minors.
In a campaign ad, Beshear refuted Cameron’s claims, saying he “never supported gender reassignment surgery for kids.” Later, Beshear also told reporters that if the bill had only been about banning gender-affirming surgeries for minors, he would have signed it.
Cameron has also criticized Beshear for his veto of a law banning transgender women and girls from playing on female sports teams at their colleges or schools. The General Assembly overrode that veto too. Cameron’s running mate, Republican state Sen. Robby Mills of Henderson, was the primary sponsor of that legislation.
“This (Beshear) is a governor that told you he would not protect women’s sports from biological males,” Cameron said at the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce debate. “If you are a parent or a grandparent of a child who is playing in women’s sports, imagine having a governor that will not stand up for that child.”
When campaigning, Beshear often touts his administration’s economic record, saying Kentucky has seen record job creation and investment during his tenure. He points to the state funding critical infrastructure projects, like four-laning the Mountain Parkway and building the Brent Spence Bridge without tolls.
“We have been through a lot together — a global pandemic tornadoes, flooding, wind storms, ice storms — yet here we stand on the biggest, best economic win streak this state has ever seen,” Beshear said during the WLKY debate.
Cameron, however, paints a different picture. The attorney general faults Beshear, along with Democratic President Joe Biden, for inflation in Kentucky. Cameron criticizes Beshear for low workforce participation.
“Tonight, you’re going to hear Andy Beshear tell you that the economy couldn’t be better,” Cameron said during the same WLKY debate. “But chances are you don’t feel that way because inflation is destroying your wallet.”
According to a press release from the Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet, Kentucky’s seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate in September was 4.1%, and the preliminary September 2023 jobless rate was up 0.1 percentage point from August 2023 and up 0.1 percentage point from a year ago.
On the campaign trail, Cameron has voiced support for eliminating the state income tax and vowed to sign legislation doing so as governor. The attorney general has often criticized Beshear for vetoing a 2022 bill that would have shaved a half-percent from the income tax rate, which the legislature easily overrode.
This year, Beshear signed legislation that makes another half-percent cut to the state income tax from 4.5% to 4%, beginning in 2024. The law was a Republican priority during the last legislative session.
At the time, Beshear said in a video that he decided to sign the legislation, which most Democratic lawmakers had opposed, because of Kentuckians’ need for relief from inflation, but thought reducing sales tax would have been a better solution.
“So what I’m faced with is a bill that would lower the income tax that has some long-term repercussions for potentially funding state services, but it would put at least a couple $100 in the pockets of most Kentuckians at a time when they need it,” the governor said.
In their final debate hosted by WKYT, Beshear said he does “want to continue to make those cuts but we’ve got to do it wisely and carefully, not rashly.” As part of its legislation, the General Assembly required state finances meet certain thresholds in order to continue lowering the income tax, but they were not met this year.
Cameron also frequently critiqued Beshear for commuting the sentences of 1,870 inmates who were medically vulnerable or near the end of their sentences and who had not been convicted of violent or sexual offenses early on in the coronavirus pandemic because of overcrowding in facilities. Cameron’s campaign released in October data showing “nearly 70 percent of the prisoners released by Beshear have recommitted offenses.”
But most of the crimes were committed after the end of the inmates’ original release dates. A spokesperson from the Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet told the Kentucky Lantern that, according to data from the Department of Corrections, as of August 2023, “fewer than 10% have been convicted of a felony prior to their original projected release, which is lower than the current statewide recidivism rate.” Additionally, as of early October, two people who received a commutation had been convicted of a “violent crime” as defined by state law before their original release date, or 0.1% of those commuted.
Part of Cameron’s plan to increase workforce participation in Kentucky is to support workforce requirements for abled-bodied people who receive Medicaid, as he has said repeatedly.
Both Beshear and Cameron were asked about their views on expanding work requirements for those who receive Medicaid during their debate at Northern Kentucky University. Beshear expressed opposition to the idea.
“Health care is a basic human right, and the best way to get people back to work, is to get them healthy enough,” the governor said. “Tearing away their health care coverage while they’re trying to get there won’t help our workforce participation at all.”
After he was elected, Beshear signed an executive order rescinding planned Medicaid work requirements from the Bevin administration.
In his answer, Cameron said the state does not have the workforce to support the businesses and new hospitals that Beshear touted. Cameron pointed to a nursing shortage in the state.
“The decision that he has made is to expand our welfare rolls, and tell folks to stay at home,” Cameron said. “And then, to add insult to injury, he had an unemployment office that was not providing unemployment funding to those people who were staying at home,” a reference to difficulties signing up for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Energy and environment
During the Paducah debate, Beshear and Cameron were asked what the state can and should do to promote advanced nuclear energy and new technologies. Operations at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant ceased in 2013 and the site is under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Energy.
In his response Beshear said the federal government “did not treat this region right,” after pulling out of the plan and noted the importance of the plant and nuclear industry to the region.
“I believe in an all-of-the-above energy strategy where we nurture our traditional energy industries while welcoming other and new jobs in,” the governor said.
Cameron said in his answer that he too believes in an “all-the-above energy strategy” and understands the importance of nuclear energy to the Paducah region.
“But even beyond that, the governor just mentioned that he is about the all-of-the above energy strategy, but he supports a president (Joe Biden) that wants to destroy the fossil fuels industry by 2035,” Cameron said. “That would devastate this economy and this region.”
However, Beshear’s 2021 energy plan for Kentucky does not mention the phrase “climate change” and does not include plans to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. Beshear has said “climate change is real” before, including during the Paducah debate.
When the candidates were asked in Paducah how they would preserve Kentucky’s natural energy advantages while the country moves toward clean energy and carbon-free mandates, Beshear said climate change must be addressed in a “reasonable” way.
“Coal built this country, it built the strongest middle class the world has ever seen, powering us through the Industrial Revolution and then two world wars,” Beshear said. “And despite what our people have done in mining that coal, in breaking their backs and in building this country, so much of the rest of our nation is turned away from communities that have been hurt and decimated by the downturn of the coal industry.”
Cameron, who has decried environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment practices as attorney general, vowed to continue his fight against the Biden administration if elected governor.
“It is important that we be thoughtful about our energy portfolio here, but we need to maintain that energy independence by opening nuclear facilities, by doubling down on coal,” Cameron said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information.
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