Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear clashed over education, health care and pensions at a forum hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau on Wednesday.
The rivals in Kentucky’s race for governor touted their rural roots and played up stark differences in their personalities and policy proposals.
Beshear attacked Bevin for supporting charter schools, saying that the institutions would run traditional public schools “out of town.”
“What happens in your communities when the lights go off in your public schools and they never come back on,” Beshear said.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but are directly managed by independent organizations instead of local school districts.
Lawmakers passed a law in 2017 allowing charter schools in Kentucky, but the legislature has declined to pass a funding scheme for the institutions. No charter schools have opened in the state.
Bevin called Beshear’s critique “nonsense,” arguing that charter schools would provide competition for low-performing schools.
“We’re standing right now in a county where 70 percent of black children cannot read at grade level. Don’t tell me we’re serving these kids well. We’re failing them, it’s an abject failure,” Bevin said.
During a news conference with reporters after the debate, Bevin said that most teachers appreciate his administration’s advocacy for pension funding and criticized those who don’t.
“These things are the things that, I’ll tell you what, most teachers understand. Are there some that are angry for reasons that they don’t even fully understand, seemingly so,” Bevin said.
Beshear attacked Bevin for his proposal to require able-bodied people on Medicaid to prove they are working, volunteering or in school in order to keep their benefits.
Bevin said that “people who want the free lunch” don’t appreciate the state’s current trajectory.
“I can’t believe he would stand here quite seriously and say it’s inappropriate to ask able-bodied men and women, who have no children, to do something in exchange for free health care,” Bevin said.
Both men refused to characterize President Donald Trump’s controversial tweets attacking four minority congresswomen as “racist,” though Beshear did call the comments “ugly.”
“I don’t think anybody should ever be told to go back to another country. Those are U.S. citizens, they ought to be treated with respect,” Beshear said.
Bevin defended Trump and chided a reporter for asking about the tweets.
“Do I think the president is racist? Absolutely not. I know him personally, he knows me and my family personally,” Bevin said. “Anybody, like yourself, who is trying to imply that is literally just trying to be divisive. Shame on you.”
At several points during the forum, Bevin brought up former Gov. Steve Beshear, the attorney general’s father, accusing the former governor of leaving the state in disarray.
“The previous Beshear that you mentioned left this state and me as governor saddled with $6 billion in deferred maintenance on bridges alone,” Bevin said. “This is not acceptable. We can’t keep kicking cans down on the road. We have to make hard decisions. It’s easy to sit up here and make promises but they have to be paid for. At the end of the day, everything has to be paid for.”