LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Candidates seeking the Democratic
nomination in May's primary election were split Monday night on
whether the state should impose steeper taxes on cigarettes.
The cigarette tax issue was on a short list of areas in which
the candidates - appearing on a statewide stage - had widely
different positions. Candidates, however, found more agreement on
whether Kentucky should allow casino-style gambling to raise state
Only Otis Hensley Jr., a demolition contractor from Wallins
Creek in Harlan County, said he opposed both raising the cigarette
tax and allowing casino gambling in Kentucky.
"We pay enough taxes and we ought to back off and leave the
smokers alone," Hensley said.
The two-hour debate on Kentucky Educational Television marked
the first opportunity for all seven candidates involved in the May
22 Democratic primary election to appear together on live
Other candidates are former Lt. Govs. Steve Beshear and Steve
Henry, Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith, Louisville
businessman Bruce Lunsford, state Treasurer Jonathan Miller and
House Speaker Jody Richards.
The nominee would head to the November general election, one of
three governor's races in the country this year.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who is seeking a second term, is facing
former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper
in the Republican primary.
Beyond Hensley, Henry, Richards and Galbraith said they did not
support raising the cigarette tax. Miller and Lunsford said they
would consider an increase. Beshear said he would consider a
cigarette tax hike but said it would not be necessary if casino
gambling were legal.
Miller said his first priority would be for the state to allow
expanded gambling, but his second priority would be to "put
everything on the table" for discussion.
"Certainly the cigarette tax would be on the table," Miller
Similarly, Beshear said he supports legalized casino gambling -
a prospect he thought could bring in about $500 million per year.
With that in place, the state would not need to raise other taxes,
"We're not going to need any more revenue from the cigarette
tax or anything else," he said.
But raising the tax should be a consideration, considering
Kentucky's health record, and its high number of smokers and
smoking-related deaths, Lunsford said.
"I will consider it," he said.
During Monday's debate, candidates took some mild verbal jabs at
their fellow Democratic opponents but did not seem to get personal.
Instead, they saved their most pointed criticism for Fletcher.
The governor's administration was embroiled in a lengthy
investigation into his administration's hiring practices. Fletcher,
who campaigned in 2003 on a promise to "clean up the mess" in
state government, pardoned his entire administration before being
indicted on three misdemeanors stemming from the probe. Charges
against Fletcher, who maintained it was a "political witch hunt,"
were eventually dropped in a deal with prosecutors.
Miller compared his opponents' positions to the governor,
calling some of them "another version of Fletcher light."
"You've a choice here," Miller said. "You can have the
six-pack of Fletcher light, or you can have Miller genuine."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)