The candidates for Kentucky's governor faced off in a debate, which aired on CWKYT-TV Tuesday night.
The debate at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Frankfort was the second in 24 hours for Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and his Democratic opponent, Lexington attorney Steve Beshear, as the campaigns ramp up with only three weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election.
The event was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Kentucky Broadcasters Association.
As expected, one of the hot topics was casino gaming.
Fletcher, who has built his campaign around his opposition to gambling, also criticized Beshear for supporting a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize casinos in Kentucky. Fletcher has raised the issue in more than 10 previous face-to-face meetings with Beshear.
Fletcher, an ordained Baptist minister, has made his anti-gambling stand the central theme of his campaign, claiming that opening the state to casinos would lead to crime, broken families and other social ills. However, Beshear has said opening casinos at race tracks and in a handful of communities along the state's borders would generate $500 million in additional tax revenues that could be used to improve the lives of Kentuckians.
"It won't deliver the $500 million. Oh, it will on the front end, but it's going to take it out of your economy on the back end," Fletcher said. "It's a false promise, it's fool's gold."
Beshear said gambling should be considered as a form of entertainment, similar to bingo, the lottery and pari-mutual horse raging - which are already legal in Kentucky.
"The only difference is that if we do allow limited gaming, and if the people vote it in, then we can create about $500 million in additional tax revenue that we can then use to really move our state farther faster than we can otherwise," Beshear said.
The decision to legalize casinos would require a constitutional amendment that must be approved by voters in a ballot referendum.
However, before such a a vote could be taken, state lawmakers would
have to agree to put it on the ballot.
Beshear, a former lieutenant governor, chided Fletcher for his indictment last year on charges of violating state hiring laws in a scheme to reward political supporters with protected state jobs.
The indictment was later dropped in a negotiated settlement with prosecutors, and the governor has since maintained that the investigation was politically motivated to lessen his chances of being re-elected.
Fletcher also claimed that Beshear profited from the bankruptcy of Kentucky Central Life Insurance Co. while hundreds of employees lost jobs and investors lost money.
Beshear's law firm, Stites & Harbison, was hired by the state insurance commissioner in 1993 to assist in the liquidation of Kentucky Central after it went into bankruptcy.
A report, prepared by independent attorneys 12 years ago, said Beshear's law firm had a conflict of interest and should have withdrawn from the case. The attorneys found that Beshear was not
directly involved, but that he had "general knowledge" of the conflict of interest that he should have turned over to former Insurance Commissioner Donald Stephens.
Lexington radio personality Sue Wylie served as moderator.
WKYT and Center College will present a live debate on October 28th.