FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear skipped a televised
debate with his two challengers on Monday, a move sharply
criticized by pundits who think the Democratic incumbent should
show up to defend his record.
With a huge lead in the polls, Beshear has largely avoided
appearing with his rivals, Republican David Williams, longtime
president of the state Senate, and independent Gatewood Galbraith,
a Lexington attorney.
The strategy allowed both Williams and Galbraith to voice
unanswered criticism of the incumbent in the debate that was
broadcast statewide on Kentucky Educational Television. Both said
Beshear has failed to improve education, which was the exclusive
focus of the Monday debate.
Beshear spokesman Matt Erwin gave no reason for the governor's
absence, saying only that he was unable to attend.
Beshear has two debates with Williams and Galbraith scheduled
for next month. One will be hosted by Kentucky Educational
Television and the other by the Kentucky Broadcasters Association
and the Kentucky League of Women Voters.
"He looks forward to discussing education, as well as all
issues that are of importance to Kentucky families and businesses,
at these debates," Erwin said.
Beshear had no official events on Monday, according to a public
schedule released by staffers in the governor's office. His
campaign team listed no events on the governor's calendar, either.
By avoiding such face-offs, Beshear is following a tactic not
uncommon among political front-runners. Recent polls show Beshear more than 20 percentage points ahead.
Radio talk show host Leland Conway said Beshear should be facing
his challengers in public forums.
"I think the people of Kentucky have a right to hear from the
governor on this issue," said Conway, who has a daily show on
WLAP-AM in Lexington. "And I think he's ducking actually being in
a debate with the other two candidates because he sees his poll
numbers and he feels comfortable and he doesn't want to screw that
Williams and Galbraith took questions from public television
personality Bill Goodman for nearly an hour, agreeing with one
another in lots of areas, including a shared disdain for federal
intervention in the state's education system.
"I'm in favor of No Child Left Behind going away immediately,"
Williams said. "No Child Left Behind is, in my opinion, an evasion
upon the obligation and right of states to provide for quality
education for their children."
Galbraith said he would be inclined to reject federal education
funding that comes with strings attached.
"Right now, I don't see the federal dictates helping education
advance in the state of Kentucky whatsoever," he said.
The race turned ugly Monday afternoon when Republican Party
Chairman Steve Robertson and Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon took complaints to the state auditor alleging spending
improprieties by two of the primary players in the Nov. 8 general
Robertson asked Auditor Crit Luallen to investigate whether
Beshear reported about $85,000 in free air travel aboard state
aircraft as a taxable fringe benefit to the IRS.
In a letter, Robertson urged Luallen to check whether Beshear
reported his personal use of official planes. If not, Robertson
asked that Luallen notify the IRS.
The Democratic Party reimbursed the state for Beshear's use of
official aircraft, including for a family outing to the NCAA Final
Four basketball tournament last year in Texas.
Robertson suggested the request is reasonable considering
Luallen's office had previously notified the IRS about Agriculture
Commissioner Richie Farmer's personal use of a state-assigned
Logsdon was the first to fire off a letter to Luallen Monday,
asking her to look into additional allegations of improper spending
against Farmer, who is the running mate of Republican gubernatorial
candidate David Williams.
In his letter, Logsdon told Luallen that he had learned from the
news media that Farmer had recently purchased and installed two
big-screen TVs, including one in his office, at a cost of more than
Logsdon had previously asked Luallen to look into an assortment
of expenditures in the Department of Agriculture under Farmer's
watch, ranging from a Caribbean trip to the purchase of a
refrigerator for Farmer's home office. The TVs, plus 10 chairs that
cost taxpayers more than $4,000, were new additions to the list.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)