Kentucky’s attorney general is the state’s chief law enforcement officer. The position is in charge of defending the state in court, filing lawsuits on behalf of the state, and investigating and prosecuting potential criminal activity.
Kentucky is currently one of nine states where the governor and attorney general are not from the same party. The divergence has created conflict between the two offices — current Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has repeatedly sued Gov. Matt Bevin and the Republican-led legislature over executive actions and legislation.
Beshear is not running for reelection and is running against Bevin in this year’s race for governor.
Democrats have seen Beshear’s role as an important check on Bevin, who has tested the limits of executive authority in state government.
But Republicans argue that Beshear has used the office’s powers for political purposes and are eager to gain control of the office for the first time since 1947.
In this year’s race, Democrats have fielded Greg Stumbo, a former speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives who also served as attorney general from 2004 until 2008, another quarrelsome era when Kentucky had a Republican governor and Democratic attorney general.
During his time as attorney general, Stumbo was instrumental in the political downfall of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
Stumbo conducted an investigation into Fletcher’s hiring practices, resulting in indictments for Fletcher and many of his aides. Fletcher ended up pardoning members of his administration and charges against him were dropped as part of an agreement with prosecutors.
Republicans have nominated Daniel Cameron, a corporate lawyer for Kentucky law firm Frost Brown Todd and former general counsel to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Cameron touts his relationship with McConnell and President Donald Trump, and says he played a role in getting Justice Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2016. Cameron also worked as a spokesman for the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform measures in the state.
Stumbo is 67 years old and throughout the campaign has attacked 33 year-old Cameron for his relative youth, saying he isn’t experienced enough to run the office.
“He’s never tried a citation, never tried a jaywalking case,” Stumbo said during a debate on KET.
“How can you lead a team of prosecutors when you have no idea what they’re talking about, what they’re up against? It’s pretty clear. This race is about experience. I’ve led that office once before, I can do it again.”
In response, Cameron said that connections he has made in Washington D.C. and Kentucky will help him fight Kentucky’s opioid addiction epidemic and pointed to his endorsement by the state Fraternal Order of Police.
Cameron said that Kentucky needs to give a “Republican attorney general an opportunity,” and accused Stumbo of being out of touch with an increasingly Republican state.
“He lost because his values had become inconsistent with the folks that he was serving, and they recognized that,” Cameron said during the KET debate. “He’s had a slew of losses. He was endorsing Hillary Clinton, who lost to President Trump in 2016. He said that the Democratic Party is the party of Barack Obama.”
The issue on which the candidates differ most starkly is whether the attorney general should defend possibly unconstitutional abortion laws that have passed out of the legislature in recent years.
Cameron says that he believes in the “sanctity of life” and that it’s the attorney general’s duties to defend laws passed by the legislature.
“When you send your elected representatives to Frankfort to make the policy judgements and the policy prescriptions, you don’t send your attorney general there to then substitute his preferences for those of his very liberal base,” Cameron said.
But Stumbo said that the attorney general shouldn’t waste state resources defending laws that will be struck down by federal courts.
“If they have constitutional questions, then why would you waste taxpayers’ money defending unconstitutional acts?” Stumbo said. “I was in the legislature a long time. Pandering to any group in an unconstitutional manner is not something the attorney general should approve of.”
Here is where the candidates stand on some of the most important issues facing Kentucky’s attorney general. Responses are taken from their appearance on KET’s Kentucky Tonight on Oct. 14. The full debate can be streamed here.
“We’re going to litigate and pursue whoever is bringing this poison into the commonwealth of Kentucky. We are going to do that on day 1, we’ll reopen the settlement [with OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma], the $24 million paltry sum that we talked about. We talked about Oklahoma. That is a Republican attorney general out in Oklahoma that got over $500 million as a rendered trial jury verdict. I think ultimately that you’d be better off with a Republican attorney general who could prosecute those cases, who can lead the fight and charge as opposed to a Democratic administration that’s only gotten $24 million.”
“I want to make those that are responsible pay. I want to litigate those lawsuits, I want to lead the charge, I want to make them held accountable in Kentucky’s courts.
“We’re also going to open a criminal investigation into the Sackler family [which founded Purdue Pharma], to see what charges might be brought against them. They’re responsible for killing over 30 Kentuckians a week.”
“I’m here to tell you that Daniel Cameron as attorney general is going to protect the sanctity of life. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Stumbo is pandering to Planned Parenthood, which has backed his largest contributor, the Democratic Attorney General’s Association. He is not going to enforce and defend the laws that are passed by the General Assembly. That is the responsibility that you take when you take the oath to be the attorney general.
“When you send your elected representatives to Frankfort to make the policy judgements and the policy prescriptions, you don’t send your attorney general there to then substitute his preferences for those of his very liberal base.”
“My faith, like many people’s faith, requires us to look at the sanctity of life in a religious manner. But people have to understand, when we put our hand on our Bible and swear to our God that we’ll uphold the constitution, that’s what we have to do. We have to uphold the laws of the constitution.
“I voted for bills in the general assembly that were constitutional, that were considered pro-life bills. Informed consent and parental consent. But they weren’t challenged, they were constitutional. But to say I’m going to support an unconstitutional law as a constitutional officer is simply not what people need to hear.”
“We are going to protect the inviolable contract here in the commonwealth of Kentucky. That was a question of process as opposed to the actual substance of that decision that was rendered by the state Supreme Court. We’ll look at anything that comes up in that regard and make an assessment at the time as to how we would respond to that, but ultimately our responsibility is to enforce and defend the laws that are passed by the General Assembly.”
“I think General Beshear was exactly right in taking that case to court. The process that they used was clearly unconstitutional. We had done those things in the General Assembly before in the final days, but not in an unconstitutional manner. And for 32 years while I was over there — 19 as floor leader and eight as speaker — we never got challenged one time on those types of last-minute legislative matters.”
On Bail Reform
“I agree that we need to reform our bail system. Since I’ve come back full-time to the commonwealth, I’ve had a lot of time to work on criminal justice reform issues, on sentencing and reentry components. So I’m fully in favor of working through criminal justice issues if I’m to be the attorney general, bring all the stakeholders to the table, whether it’s our commonwealth’s attorneys and county attorneys, but also other folks who are advocates of criminal justice reform. I think we need someone who’s worked on both sides of that issue to be a unifying presence to help build some consensus on that line.”
“The taxpayers of Kentucky ultimately are footing that bill for someone who can’t make $100 bail for a very low-level crime, nonviolent crime. He’s not a risk of flight. We’ve got to get back to the premise that make people understand that bail is not a punishment. Bail is simply a tool of the courts to make sure the defendant shows up for trial. If you can’t make $100 bail in Bell County, you’re not a risk of flight. You’re not going anywhere. So yes, we do have to start with talking to our judges. They have a lot of latitude when it comes to bail. I’m not so sure we don’t need some standardized form at least as a guideline in the statute — and that would require action by the General Assembly.”
“I think as the individual who’s running to be the chief law enforcement officer here in the commonwealth of Kentucky, we can’t be arguing for or in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. I think we need a discussion about medical marijuana. I think the law enforcement community wants a cautious approach to those conversations, I think they’re a little bit leery.”
“Just last Friday I met with a mother and a daughter in my office and her daughter has a very rare and terminal illness. She relayed the same story to me that medical marijuana tablets help her daughter. Now, I believe that if it helps those kids it ought to be legalized. Nobody’s shown me any proof of any harm that it does. The only things that I’ve heard come forth is the fact that medical marijuana does help some people and I think it ought to be legalized.
“I think that issue [decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana] needs to be resolved by the General Assembly. I don’t believe that prosecutors can just disregard the law, although I support what he [Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell] did. But I do think and I’ll push for and advocate that the general assembly make those changes if I’m elected attorney general. But there’s no question, we’ve got too many low-level nonviolent drug offenders in jail that can’t make bail.”