Politics

The two major-party candidates for governor spent the majority of their hourlong final debate on KET Monday night scrapping over differing facts and figures on issues such as the state’s Medicaid program, the ailing pension system and the job climate.

But their discourteous manner seemed to overshadow what have become go-to answers for each candidate.

Republican Matt Bevin interrupted Democrat Jack Conway frequently, while Conway often chuckled to deflect criticisms from Bevin. Each used tones that seemed disrespectful to the other.

They broke no new policy ground. Still, each hinted that the state will likely have to make budget cuts to meet future obligations.

“There is going to have to be what is often referred to in the global economy as austerity measures in the state of Kentucky,” Bevin said. “There is going to have to be belt-tightening across the board.”

“We may have to cut in some areas. We may have to have a tight budget in some areas to free up some resources for pensions,” Conway said.

Neither said specifically which programs or offices he would scale back.

Bevin also reiterated his accusation that as attorney general, Conway has “shaken down” private companies via lawsuits.

“This is not a business-friendly state, and in some measure it’s driven by the fact that the actions you have taken have been so much more aggressive against corporate America than they have against the EPA,” Bevin said.

When asked to provide an example, Bevin pointed to a lawsuit from the late 1990s — well before Conway’s tenure in office — in which Kentucky and 45 other states sued major tobacco companies for tobacco-related health care costs.

Conway said he has put more than $300 million into state coffers as a result of lawsuits during his eight-year tenure as attorney general.

Bevin said the state needs to enact tort reform and right-to-work legislation to improve the job climate in the state.

Conway called right-to-work a “solution looking for a problem.”

Bevin also renewed his call for the state to scrap its expanded Medicaid program and instead file for a waiver with the federal government so it can create a new plan that requires Medicaid recipients to put “skin in the game.”

“I don’t care if it’s a dollar or two dollars, if I’m governor in this state, people should have skin in the game,” Bevin said. “You rob people of dignity if you rob them of any expectation of doing for themselves.”

On pensions, Conway said the state might not be able to guarantee future retirees a 4 percent rate of return for their retirement accounts. Bevin said future retirees need to be moved to 401(k)-style plans, which have no guaranteed rate of return.

At the end of the debate, Bevin accused Conway of lying and personally degrading him via attack ads over the course of the campaign. Conway accused Bevin of distorting his record, but then he complimented Bevin on providing his four adopted children with a “wonderful home.”

“And that’s something to be respected,” Conway said.

Given the opportunity to say something nice to Conway, Bevin gave him a backhanded compliment. “I look forward to you having the opportunity to join the private sector,” Bevin said.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis was not invited to the debate.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.