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Fletcher, Beshear Debate Several Issues During Louisville Forum

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher offered an upbeat
assessment Wednesday of Kentucky's performance under his
leadership, while Democratic challenger Steve Beshear said the
Republican incumbent has been "plagued by corruption and scandal"
that has hurt the state.

The rivals in Kentucky's Nov. 6 gubernatorial election wrangled
over two core issues in the campaign - Beshear's support of
allowing casino gambling and an investigation of the Fletcher
administration's hiring practices that led to numerous indictments,
including one against the governor.

On another topic, Beshear said that global warming is a reality
but promised to push for more coal production along with new
technology to burn the abundant Kentucky resource more cleanly.

Fletcher later sidestepped a question asking whether he
acknowledges that global warming is occurring, saying, "I'll leave
what the statistics are on global warming to the scientists."

The two candidates took questions on a range of issues while
appearing before the Louisville Forum, a nonpartisan public issues
group.

Beshear took the offensive first, saying that "almost from the
moment that this administration came to power, it has been plagued
by corruption and scandal."

"Until this poisoned atmosphere that we have experienced for
the past four years in state government is changed, we cannot make
much progress" on such issues as health care, education and job
growth, Beshear said.

Soon after taking office in 2003, a special grand jury began
investigating a complaint that Fletcher's administration had
violated state hiring laws in a scheme to reward political
supporters with state jobs.

Fletcher and at least 14 of his aides and associates were
indicted. Fletcher issued pardons for everyone except himself. His
lawyers worked out a deal with prosecutors to have the charges
against him dropped.

Fletcher said Wednesday that mistakes were made but added that
he didn't think they were criminal. He said his administration's
record is better than its predecessors concerning complaints to the
state Personnel Board.

Meanwhile, Fletcher said he turned around a state suffering from
severe budget problems when he took office. The governor touted his
accomplishments, which he said include more state spending on
education, a revamped Medicaid system, increased tourism and
efforts to help small businesses afford health insurance. He said
Louisville also has prospered, noting the planned downtown arena
and more money for research. He said he moved the state forward in
spite of an atmosphere he described as the "politics of
destruction."

"When you go to the polls, bet on sure results, and vote for
somebody who has given those results," Fletcher said in a
backhanded slap at Beshear for the Democrat's support of limited
casino gambling.

Beshear countered Fletcher's upbeat assessment by citing
statistics showing Kentucky dropping further nationally in such
categories as high-tech jobs and its competitiveness.

"That's not a rosy picture, folks," he said. "It is time to
change that."

Fletcher kept up his criticism of Beshear for supporting a
change to Kentucky's constitution to allow casino gambling. The
governor called it "a promise of fool's gold" that doesn't
reflect Kentucky values and wouldn't deliver promised revenues.

"We want Louisville to be a world-class city, not a casino
town," Fletcher said.

Beshear said it's time for Kentuckians to decide the issue. If
voters legalized casinos, Beshear said the expanded gambling would
be limited and done responsibly.

He said Kentuckians are spending huge amounts at casinos in
other states and said that revenue collected from such gambling in
Kentucky would improve education, health care and job creation.

"I think in the long haul, it will do great things for our
state," Beshear said.

Taking a swipe at his opponent's anti-casino television
campaign, Beshear called Fletcher a "one-issue candidate" and
said Kentuckians are concerned about much more than expanded
gambling.

On environmental issues, Beshear told the crowd that if he's
elected, "you're going to have a governor who understands that
global warming is a reality."

Beshear said he would push for more coal production "because
it's a great natural resource we have." He said he would create a
$60 million fund to promote research so "when we burn our coal, it
will be burned cleaner."

Fletcher said he has a good environmental record as governor and
that he wants to promote clean-coal technology. He cited the energy
bill that passed during a special legislative session this summer.
The bill allows the state to provide hundreds of millions of
dollars in financial incentives to companies that build plants to
convert coal to cleaner-burning alternative fuels.

"We need to do everything we can do to take care of the
environment," Fletcher said.


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