By Elise Parrill and Leah Wilkinson
Tempers flared early as Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear attacked each other, their families and their policies Saturday at the gubernatorial debate at Bellarmine University.
Vickie Dortch moderated the debate, asking 13 questions about various topics.
The debate began with a heated discussion of the pension plan, a recurring topic throughout the night.
“The only way to save it, to keep the promise that has been made to people — the only way — is to change the structure for future employees,” Bevin said.
Beshear had a wide range of ideas about funding for a new pension plan.
“It’s got to be in the form of expanded gaming, where we lose $550 million a year. It’s got to be in the form of medicinal marijuana. It’s got to be in the form of ending these tax incentives of companies who are paying cut-rate salaries to our families,” Beshear said.
Healthcare was another topic over which the two sparred. Throughout the night, Bevin emphasized the lack of healthcare he’s had in his life, making a point that Beshear’s father — former Gov. Steve Beshear — was to blame.
“I believe that healthcare is a basic human right,” Beshear said.
Bevin mocked Beshear’s stances on healthcare reform.
“It may be a universal desire, but to call it a right is a bit difficult when it costs money and requires a person to do something to provide that right,” Bevin said.
The candidates also addressed the opioid epidemic.
Bevin, stumbling over his words, urged people to go to www.findhelpnowky.org, a website created during his time in office that allows addicts to seek help.
Beshear shared the same concern, saying “the opioid epidemic is a challenge of our times” and “we need to do better.”
While discussing the opioid epidemic, the candidates veered off topic.
Beshear referenced Bevin’s comments concerning casino floors, suicide and opioids made during a radio interview earlier this year.
“This is just more of the same from a governor who says that someone commits suicide on a casino floor every night,” Beshear said.
Bevin quickly disagreed with the statement, starting a heated exchange.
“I don’t know where this comment about the casinos is. I’ve never said anything like that in my life. That’s absolute malarkey, but I will say this…” Bevin said.
Beshear, cutting off Bevin, asked, “You deny saying it?”
Bevin said, “I do deny saying it.”
Beshear asked, “Really?”
Bevin said, “Yes.”
Beshear said, “It’s on tape.”
Bevin said: “No, it isn’t on tape. You’re not telling the truth. Again, the truth matters.”
After the back-and-forth over Bevin’s truth telling, the discussion then shifted to abortion.
“I am strongly, unapologetically pro-life,” Bevin said.
Beshear noted that he, unlike Bevin, supports exemptions in abortion laws.
“I support Roe v. Wade, but I also support restrictions especially for late-term procedures. But this governor is an extremist. He believes in a complete and total ban even for victims of rape and incest,” Beshear said.
Bevin criticized what he characterized as Beshear’s lack of consistency when answering media questions concerning abortion.
“It is critical that you be honest about the fact that you are pro-abortion and stop trying to couch it on all the safe little comments,” Bevin said.
Some audience members said they felt the tension and intensity of the debate.
“I’m not really the most familiar with Kentucky politics because I’m not from here. It was kind of a sh*t show,” Bellarmine sophomore Luis Heard said.
Bellarmine sophomore Correna Tate said: “It was a lot of personal attacks and it was a lot of throwing out numbers and and I felt like maybe [that] could be a little bit distracting.”
Both candidates tried to establish a connection with the audience.
“It was just a lot of ‘I lived below the poverty line and my kid’s this and my kid’s that,’ and just people talking about things that were not directly relevant to the questions,” Heard said. “There were some things that sounded good, and there were some things I needed context on.”
Despite the candidates’ animosity over the issues, some audience members said they were able to leave with a better understanding of each candidate’s values.
“As a criminal justice major, I believe in creating a fair and just system advocating for both human rights and the Constitution,” Bellarmine freshman Addie Rogers said.
Both candidates were invited to answer questions from the media following the debate, but Bevin did not meet with reporters.
During the post-debate press conference, Beshear said he supports raising the minimum wage.
“We absolutely need to increase the minimum wage, but I want to be careful about putting an exact dollar figure towards it,” Beshear said.
“So if you just create an artificial number on the wage, but you’re not getting health insurance, you may be worse off. But I want to make sure that we make a Kentucky where everybody can meet their needs,” he said
The full video of the debate can be found using this link: