William Woods is a school bus driver and realtor from Corinth in northern Kentucky. He is one of three candidates challenging incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin during this year’s Republican primary.
Woods is a lifelong Republican and says he voted for Bevin during the 2015 election, but his support soured after the governor made inflammatory comments about teachers.
He says he doesn’t like the direction his party has been going in in recent years and has some positions that don’t sound like other Republicans in the state — he’s in favor of keeping Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion and says his party has pushed too hard on the anti-abortion issue.
Woods previously ran to be a state lawmaker in 2012, but lost in the Republican primary.
Woods sat for an hour-long interview with WFPL reporters in April. You can listen to his full interview below, or read and listen to highlights on some of the big issues facing Kentucky today. Transcripts have been condensed for clarity.
Question: The state’s had trouble making as much money as it plans to make. It’s had revenue shortfalls in 10 of the last 15 years and has also been cutting things over many of those years as well. What’s your assessment of the revenue situation? Do you think that that’s an accurate assessment? Do you think the state is having trouble meeting its demands? If so, what do you propose doing about it?
Answer: “Well, you have to first look at it is revenue declining, in some ways can be a good thing, because revenue is just another way of saying taxes. And Kentuckians are tired of paying high taxes. If we want to talk about claiming that we need to switch the budget around, you’re right. But we cannot stand on some moral high ground and not include new revenue streams like casinos. Indiana took in over $200 million in tax revenue last year, That could do a lot of good in the state of Kentucky.
“So, it just comes down to leadership. I feel that Kentuckians want expanded gaming, I’m fairly sure within the next year or so you’re going to see the legalization of marijuana. It just comes down to leadership. We can cut the budget. We can cut $94 million a year in IT services. We don’t need to spend that kind of money. We’ve got to get rid of the waste.”
Question: Part of the driver of those of those budgetary issues is the pension unfunded liability. The governor’s proposal for dealing with this has been tweaking state worker benefits going forward, putting massive amounts of money into the pension systems. Do you agree with that method?
Answer: “No, I don’t. And the first thing you got to do is you got to take the word politics out of the situation. And you got to re-insert the word ‘governing.’ We have a governor who went on live television and lied about the pension crisis. When you start taking numbers out of a mathematical equation, you’ve got fuzzy math.
“We can get back to being overfunded. It’s going to take a little time, but we can get there. We can bring in that casino revenue. But even if everybody retired today, [Bevin’s] math is still wrong, because he leaves out numbers. Everybody’s not going to retire in the next 10 years. It’s not going to happen. So we need to take the politics out of the equation, bringing some people who actually know what they’re talking about, because I really don’t believe he does. Then we can come back to the table.”
Question: One of the things that he’s done is kind of adopted more pessimistic assumptions for the pension funds. That’s kind of you know why all these local governments have to put so much more money into the pension systems. Do you think that those are too pessimistic?
Answer: “I think right now he’s just fishing for any way to stay in office. Until we have a leader in office, who does not hide from the public, who was willing to contribute to having an audit of the system…release it to the public, bring in people who actually benefit from the pension fund. I really don’t think we have a chance of moving forward.”
Question: Governor Bevin’s proposal to alter how Medicaid works in the state — do you support that? What do you think of the Medicaid expansion?
Answer: “Doesn’t the work requirement just sound idiotic? I mean, if we’re being honest, it just sounds idiotic. Our plan for the low-income communities and protecting public education also has a sub-section that focuses on this very issue. You know, tax incentives are great to attract new business. But as a former employer, what’s also great is having a healthy workforce that can actually do the job. Because there are a lot of jobs that are very physical jobs, and if you’re not healthy, you can’t do it.
“You know, we talk all the time about the ‘right to life group’ on my side of the aisle. And don’t get me wrong, you know, I’m pro-life; I hate the idea of somebody having an abortion. But that’s mainly because of my religion. The United States government, the government of Kentucky, any state does not have the right to tell you what you should or should not do with your body. So we talk about ‘right to life’ all the time, we raise hundreds of millions of dollars on it, but we ignore people who are already living. If that’s not the dumbest idea you’ve ever heard of, I’ll give you every dime I have in my pocket.
“Our plan will guarantee that any individual in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that cannot afford to go to their doctor for that annual check-up, will be able to do so. And you know, for somebody to say the money isn’t there, they’re lying to you. The money is there. We have to find a way to stop inserting politics, inserting the fear of ‘we don’t have the money’ to take care of our people. It’s our money. I don’t want to walk into the state Capitol and see, you know, $80,000 worth of new furnishings when we’ve got homeless kids in every single city in this state.”
Question: I think one of the governor’s arguments on the Medicaid issue is because of the federal match has gone down from 100 percent to 95 percent to 90 percent with the Medicaid expansion, and that now that it’s down at 90, the state’s on the hook for hundreds of millions more dollars. And as he claims, there’s a Medicaid shortfall now. It sounds like you’re saying, ‘well, it’s worth it, to spend to find the money to spend on it.’
Answer: “How is it not worth it to keep people healthy? How is it not worth it to keep people alive? You know, I won’t call anybody out for their religion, if they don’t follow a religion. But you cannot stand as a leader of the Commonwealth and say that you’re a Christian individual, and not give a damn about the people who live there. We’ve got to take care of people. And I will tell you, I have not met one person—and I’m sure there are a few—but I’ve not met one person who doesn’t want to go to work. I’ve not met one person who doesn’t want to collect their paycheck at the end of two weeks.”
Question: Specifically, with the new abortion laws that passed this session, so the heartbeat abortion bill, the bill to totally ban abortion if Roe v. Wade was overturned, requiring doctors to tell the women seeking abortion they can reverse the procedure. What’s your stance on those bills?
Answer: “Well, I think we’ve got to get politicians out of health care. And I’ll get attacked for saying that the abortion debate isn’t really a health care issue. Well, it is.
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve not met anybody who’s had a second or third trimester abortion because they just felt like it. If I were to look at my mother or my sister or a female I went to school with and say, ‘You cannot have an abortion,’ what gives me the right to say that? And isn’t it funny how these bills get passed during election season to rile up the base? How about riling up the base with a little honesty and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t have the right to tell you what to do with your body, but if you’re going to have this done, are you sure? Do you need any advice? Do you need any help? Can you make a different decision?’
“But I’m not going to look at somebody and say you can’t have it done. That’s just stupidity.”
Question: The governor has over the last three years been the one to defend the laws in court. Would you continue the defense and the appeals of those cases?
Answer: “No. Why are we even involved in this as a state? We’re the government. Are we trying to become China? Are we trying to become some oddball country that says, ‘Hey, you can’t have a kid or you can have a kid?’
“What are we doing in the health care business? What are we doing telling somebody that they have to have a child no matter what? That is not the United States of America? It’s certainly not Kentucky. No, I’m not going to go to court over it. That’s ridiculous.”
School Choice And Charter Schools
Question: School choice has been a really hot button issue in Kentucky, with charter schools being established but not yet funded. There was a lot of discussion about scholarship tax credits that would assist students to attend private schools during this past legislative session. So what’s your position on school choice?
Answer: “Well, I can tell you this, I am not in favor of charter schools. I am a product of public schools. I look at some of the things that the governor said, and he was standing right beside me in Oldham County when he tried to pass this tax incentive off as a scholarship fund. And I don’t know if it’s because he didn’t think there was much media there or not. But when you look at somebody and say that a tax incentive is a scholarship fund, and ‘why would anyone not want to send a student to a better school?’ I think we’ve got a problem. Because your low-income families are not going to make enough money to afford to pay for the school to receive the tax incentive. So again, we’ve just got to use common sense. You know, if you want to be a leader in the Commonwealth, you’re going to have to be honest with the people of the Commonwealth. It’s just not working for the governor.”
Question: The best science we have indicates that in order to keep global temperatures from around rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, there needs to be global reductions of greenhouse gases between 40 and 60 percent by 2030, with a goal of reaching net zero global emissions by 2050. What priority will your administration place on mitigating the impacts of man-made climate change? And what will you do about it?
Answer: “Well, first of all, our administration will publicly state that we’re not the experts on the problem. You know, it’s very easy for a governor or an elected official to stand in front of a camera, or behind a microphone and say they have a plan. The problem is, you have to have the education and the knowledge to know what you’re talking about. And currently, I don’t think we have that in any elected office in the Commonwealth right now.
“I’m kind of a simple guy in the fact that I look around and I asked questions that some probably don’t. You look at the current traffic patterns in the Commonwealth all across the nation for that, you go to your local supermarket, and how many items do you see on a shelf that are probably never going to be used? But we’re putting these emissions out there to create all these products, and they’re never going to be used. And I’m not saying that progress is a bad thing. We’ve got to move forward. But how many diesel engine vehicles do we need on the road?
“If you’re a politician, or if you’re an elected leader, and you can’t stand up and at least have the common sense to recognize that we’ve got a problem, you probably shouldn’t be in elected office.”
Question: So do you believe in man-made climate change?
Answer: “Oh, yeah. How can you not? And I know, that’s a scary answer to hear from a conservative from a Republican. But I mean, I’m sure that the average fifth grader could tell you that it’s a man-made problem.”
Question: For such a long time, Kentucky has been reliant on coal, not only for energy production, but for as a source of revenue and for jobs. So how would you manage that or help guide that energy transition away from fossil fuels, as we face declining revenues and aging infrastructure in coal?
Answer: “I don’t think we’re ever going to get completely away from coal, I just I don’t see that possibility. It would be great for the environment, if we could. And the bad thing about it is the politicians use it as you know, you’re going to lose jobs, you’re going to lose jobs. And yes, that’s true. But as elected leaders, there’s something you can do to take that, take that fear away, you can bring in new jobs, different types of jobs.
“Bringing some common sense back into the discussion and ending the scare tactics and putting fear into the citizens would be a good way to have an actual conversation.”
Question: What do you see as the role of renewables in Kentucky? And do you see that playing into revitalizing some of these communities that have suffered from declining coal revenues?
Answer: “Well, as governor, as the elected leader, taking that fear away from people, bringing in people who actually know what they’re talking about, who are experts in the field, who had nothing to do with politics, and letting them advise us on what we should do.”
About this series: WFPL invited all eight Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates to sit down for an hour-long interview with a panel of our reporters on a variety of policy issues. Five responded in some way. We’ll be rolling out profiles of those five candidates in the coming days, along with a profile of Gov. Matt Bevin; while he wouldn’t sit for an interview, in his first term as governor he’s established a policy record from which voters can draw. You can read other profiles as they’re published here.