GOP candidates for governor face off in The Kentucky Debate

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 5:07 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Candidates in the hotly contested Republican race for governor discussed the issues in the Kentucky Debate.


Along with our co-sponsor, Transylvania University, we set criteria for inclusion in Monday night’s debate. It includes a candidate polling at least 5% in an independent statewide poll.

Northern Kentucky conservative activist Eric Deters, State Auditor Mike Harmon and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles attended the debate.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft were the only invited candidates who did not accept our invitation.

They are among a dozen candidates competing for the state’s GOP nomination for governor in the May 16 primary.

First off, the three participants were asked about low voter turnout.

Early estimates indicate only about 15% of Kentuckians will head to the polls this primary, meaning many will be letting others decide races for them.

All three candidates agreed people need to head to the ballot boxes to let their voices be heard.

HARMON: From that standpoint, it is a bit sad, but at the same time, we all need to come together. We all need to make sure that people honor that right because people have fought and died for that right to have a vote, and I encourage people to get out to the polls, even if it hurts me.

QUARLES: I agree with Mike, we need to have more people going to the polls, and I think it’s about time for Kentucky to look at perhaps changing our statewide elections onto presidential years. I think you would have higher turnout. I think you’d have more engaged citizenry, and I think it would be good for us to have a break every once in a while.

DETERS: So I think it’s incumbent on those people running for office to show the people of Kentucky that there is a different way and there’s a different candidate. I’m the outsider, and my voter is actually the anti-establishment voter, the voter who is probably least likely to vote in a Republican primary.

In the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Louisville last month that left five bank employees dead and a police officer severely wounded, many Republican candidates have stood firm on their position that the Second Amendment is a protected constitutional right.

However, how to handle the effects and growing concern over mental health issues varies.

Kentucky does not have a red flag law, a violence prevention effort that allows for the court removal of firearms from a person who they believe is a danger to themselves or others.

The gun used in the Louisville bank shooting was purchased legally less than a week before the rampage.

DETERS: In respect to the gun issue, I am 1000% for Kentuckians’ right to bear arms. I believe everyone should arm themselves. I’m the one who said it’s sad what happened in Louisville, but I’m the only person who said those people that worked in that bank. Were they allowed to have a gun? I still haven’t gotten a response from state media.

HARMON: Deals a lot more with mental illness, but it also deals with evil. Sadly, we’ve had a crisis in families and a crisis in faith, and when people fill their hearts with something other than God, they fill them with hate, anger, with whatever they we see these problems.

QUARLES: I’m a strong supporter of the second amendment. It’s in the Constitution for a reason, I’m a gun owner myself, and I think we need to help reset the dialogue on mental health in Kentucky. At the Department of Agriculture two years ago, we actually started a mental health awareness program called Raising Hope. You can google it, Raising Hope KY.

According to CNN, Kentucky has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the U.S. These three candidates say they don’t plan on changing that.

The CDC has said that Kentucky is home to some of the highest firearm death rates in the country.

The candidates say they have no intention of making any changes to the Kentucky code or statutes and believe in the sanctity of the right to life.

HARMON: It’s a sad situation because I know what you’re referencing; it is a sad situation when that occurs, but it’s still a life. I got involved with politics because of pro-life issues, and I value life. My wife served twice on our local pregnancy resource center.

QUARLES: Proud to be endorsed by Kentucky Right to Life but I value all life. I think that’s where the conversation shouldn’t end. It needs to start there. We need to have a complete reform of Kentucky’s broken adoption and foster care system. We have over 8,000 kids looking for a forever home.

DETERS: I hold the same position as our 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, who is the president who nominated Supreme Court judges that reversed Roe v Wade to the chagrin of many and to the absolute God relief of many more.

Next week’s primary winner is widely expected to face Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who has received consistently high voter approval ratings.

Early voting begins later this week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Primary Election Day is next Tuesday, May 16.