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Beshear defends jobs record in first debate

RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear defended his job creation efforts Tuesday against criticism from opponents in his first political debate of the general election season.

Republican challenger David Williams and independent Gatewood
Galbraith accused Beshear of failing to get Kentucky's economy on
track in his nearly four years in office. Both claim Kentucky has
lost tens of thousands of jobs under Beshear's leadership.

Beshear said he has fostered a business-friendly climate in the
state since he took office in December 2007, and that 350 companies
are applying for tax incentives that would create 19,000 new jobs
and retain more than 70,000 others.

"The good news is that this state is finally turning around and
this economy is beginning to climb and grow back up, and I am
looking forward to the next four years of building on that
foundation," Beshear said. "We've got things on the move, and
we're going to keep them going."

Both challengers scoffed at Beshear's statement.

"Folks, Kentucky is in terrible shape," said Galbraith, who
charged Kentucky has lost 94,000 jobs under the leadership of
Beshear and Williams and their respective political parties.
"They've had their horns locked up like two bull elk fighting for
their territory while the business of the people lies dead in the
dust. Partisanship is killing us."

Williams said the governor has been handing out tax incentives
to company executives who come to his office "with their hats in
their hand," and that he picks and chooses who gets them.

"He does not have an agenda," Williams said. "He does not
have a plan. He's a cheap shot artist."

Williams particularly took exception to a statement by Beshear
that Williams' father-in-law's company, Stephens Pipe and Steel of
Russell Springs, had been approved for more than $1 million in tax
incentives last year. Williams said the state approached his
father-in-law, Terry Stephens, but that he didn't take any money
from the state.

With a huge lead in the polls, Beshear has largely avoided
face-to-face meetings with his challengers. He has agreed to one
other debate at the Kentucky Educational Television studio in
Lexington on Oct. 31.

All three candidates hadn't shared a stage since early August
when they delivered back-to-back speeches at a church picnic in the
tiny western Kentucky community of Fancy Farm.

On two of Kentucky's most-talked about issues, Beshear and
Williams said they support mountaintop removal coal mining while
Galbraith opposes it. And Williams and Galbraith said they favor
making pseudoephedrine available by prescription only, while
Beshear took no position.

Williams, president of the state Senate and Kentucky's
best-known anti-gambling advocate, has spent much of the campaign being attacked for his personal record of gambling. He was dealt a particularly troubling setback earlier this year when a judge unsealed financial documents in a decade-old divorce case that showed he had frequented casinos in the past. In a Bible-belt state like Kentucky, the juxtaposition can turn off the key voting bloc
of conservative Christians.

Beshear capitalized on that juxtaposition in the debate,
accusing Williams of going across state lines to gamble while
insisting that Kentucky's faltering horse industry needs slots to
generate cash to increase racing purses. Williams said he opposes
expanding gambling in Kentucky, but denied that he has derailed
legislative efforts to allow slots at horse tracks.

Galbraith, a Lexington attorney making his fifth run for
governor, sided with Beshear by voicing support for expanding
gambling to help the horse racing industry.

Galbraith has been unable to raise substantial campaign cash or
mount a serious challenge. An advocate of legalizing marijuana for
medical purposes, Galbraith has been unwilling to relent on that
issue, which has cost him political clout in Kentucky.

Beshear, who has staked out a pro-abortion rights stand that
sharply differs from his two challengers, holds a huge lead in
recent polls, some of which show him ahead by more than 30
percentage points. Political foes have also bashed Beshear on
issues important to Kentucky's Christian bloc, including his
pro-abortion rights stand.

Beshear has skipped multiple debates with his challengers,
including one that was televised statewide earlier this month. The
strategy allowed both Williams and Galbraith to voice unanswered
criticism of Beshear. The duo particularly bashed Beshear for doing
little to improve education, despite calling himself the
"education governor."

By avoiding face-offs with his challengers, Beshear is following
a tactic not uncommon among political front-runners. But pundits
argue that Beshear has an obligation to publicly defend his record
as governor, and they have hammered him on talk radio and on
newspaper editorial pages.

Galbraith ended his comments by alleging that Beshear, if
re-elected, intends to resign two years into his second term and
make his running mate, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson,
governor.

Galbraith said he received that information from "a trusted
source," whom he refused to identify. Beshear didn't respond to
the accusation, but campaign spokesman Matt Erwin called the charge "complete nonsense and unworthy of a comment."

Asked about the accusation, Williams said: "You didn't hear a
denial, did you?"

The candidates were also asked if they support a ban on the controversial mining method known as mountaintop removal.

“Dea and I believe in alternative forms of energy. We want hemp in there, we want coal in there, but we just don't want to do it through mountaintop removal,” Gatewood Galbraith said.

“The thing that I don't understand is how anyone from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, unless you have the position that Mr. Galbraith has, is how you can support Barack Obama for president of the United States. He said he was going to destroy the coal business in this state, our coal power plants and he's tried to do that and yet Steve Beshear continues to support him,” David Williams said.

“We have fought this administration and the EPA when we thought they were arbitrary and unreasonable. We filed suit along with the Kentucky Coal Association because they have been arbitrary and unreasonable and we're going to fight for the right to mine coal sensibly and reasonably in an environmentally friendly way,” Governor Steve Beshear said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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