Debate In Treasurer's Race Gets Testy

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

This week on Kentucky Newsmakers Saturday April 27th.
Democratic Candidate for Governor Steve Beshear
Republican Candidate for Governor Billy Harper

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Democratic candidates for state treasurer exchanged verbal swings over Kentucky's prepaid tuition program and the state's pension plan for public employees during a testy debate Thursday night.

Four candidates participated in the live exchange on Kentucky Educational Television. But it was the discourse between former state Rep. Mike Weaver and Jack Wood, a one-time Republican and former district judge, that grew relatively heated.

Wood, of Valley Station, challenged Weaver's record as a member of the state House and said his past votes contributed to jeopardizing funding for the tuition program and left the pension system in financial trouble.

"The legislature is the one who took the money, Mr. Weaver. You were in agreement with them," Wood said. "You spent it on golf courses, boat docks, marinas and things of that nature."

Weaver said that as a state lawmaker, like many other legislators, he voted for the entire budget rather than risk a government shutdown. Weaver, of Elizabethtown, later questioned Wood's motives for switching parties.

"Why aren't you running as a Republican this time? Did you think you had a better chance of running as a Democrat?" Weaver said. "Jack, you just haven't made up your mind who you actually are."

The state pension system is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, and state lawmakers have said it's facing a possible financial collapse within 15 years if it's not overhauled. Gov. Ernie Fletcher has appointed a commission to study the situation.

State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, precluded by term limits from seeking a third stint, is now a candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The other candidates are Patrick Dunmire of Frankfort and L.J. "Todd" Hollenbach of Louisville.

Weaver, a former state lawmaker, relinquished his seat in the state House for a try at Congress in November. Weaver lost to U.S. Rep. Ron Lewis.

Wood, meanwhile, lost as a Republican to Attorney General Greg Stumbo in 2003 race for the state's top law enforcement official. Dunmire said he didn't agree that it was necessary to have an "adversarial relationship" with the legislature over such matters.

"I would not want to be one of the retirees watching confusion, mayhem and other kinds of distractions and be wondering, 'Am I going to get what I'm entitled to?"' Dunmire said.

Hollenbach said that as the state's top financial official, it was important for the treasurer to "fight for what's right."

"Sometimes that means making a public mess out of things, other times it means working within the system," Hollenbach said.

Four candidates are participating in the GOP primary: Melinda Wheeler, former head of the state court system's administrative arm, and state Reps. Lonnie Napier, of Lancaster; Brandon Smith, of Hazard; and Ken Upchurch, of Monticello.

Winners of the May 22 primary would then meet in the November general election.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-04-26-07 2251EDT

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