RICHMOND, Ky. (WKYT) - Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin shook hands at the start of the debate at Eastern Kentucky University, but began throwing verbal jabs after the first question was asked.
Sunday night's debate at EKU, moderated by WKYT’s Bill Bryant and WLKY’s Vicki Dortch, was one of their final debates before the Nov. 3 election. The debate was sponsored by WKYT, WLKY and the Kentucky League of Women Voters.
Independent candidate Drew Curtis did not participate in the debate because he did not meet the criteria set by the Kentucky League of Women Voters. The league's policy is to invite candidates whose name will be on the ballot and garner 10 percent or more support in a non-partisan poll. Curtis had 7 percent in the last WKYT-Herald-Leader Bluegrass Poll.
The first question the candidates tackled was what to do with the expansion of Medicaid. The candidates were asked what adjustments they would make, and asked specifically how many people would be enrolled next year when they take office.
Conway said he would continue Kentucky's expanded Medicaid program. He said the more than 400,000 people who "are enrolled now, will be enrolled in the future."
He said we can actually make it work, adding that Kynect, which has received praise on the national level, is a "a shinning example" for others. Conway also said that people will get off medicaid when they have better jobs and he won’t "kick people off" like Bevin.
“To kick them off now would be callus,” Conway said.
Bevin immediately defended his campaign's position and said "these things are lies."
"I’ve never said I’d kick people off," he said.
Bevin said there is a need for healthcare, but it was "faulty" to make a promise to somebody when "we we don’t have the ability to pay for it."
Bevin said he would scale back the expansion of the state's Medicaid program because the state cannot afford to continue paying for the health insurance of a quarter of the state's population.
Conway said Bevin was caught on camera saying he would reverse Governor Steve Beshear's actions to expand Medicaid.
"That videocamera caught you at the start of your campaign," he said. "When asked about Steve Beshear's executive order to expand Medicaid. You said 'absolutely, no question about it, I would reverse that immediately.' Now you owe the people an explanation how's that not going to kick nearly half a million people off their healthcare?"
The candidates also clashed about Kentucky's pension system, education, medical marijuana and public safety.
Bevin said he has resolved pension issues as a businessman. Conway said that did not make him an expert on solving the problem.
Bevin also said he would transform Kentucky's public pension system into a 401(k) style plan for new hires. And he would legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
Conway said he would monitor Kentucky's public pension crisis without making major changes. And he would not legalize medical marijuana because he said it is a gateway to drug addiction.
"I would sign such legislation," Bevin said. "I think it should be prescribed like any other prescription drug."
With respect to recreational marijuana, Bevin said this is a "very different story." Conway rebutted that and said that if we passed a law on medical marijuana, it would make it easier to find on the streets.
"We are on the campus of a university," Bevin said. "I am not going to ask for the young people in the audience to raise their hands ... is it not already easy for you to find this on the streets? Come on."
Bevin noted several times that he was the only businessman in the race. As a businessman, he said, he was in the best position to fix the state's financial issues rather than spend the state's money.
Conway touted his background as attorney general and noted that he was the only candidate that had the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police. Conway said he knew how to cut a budget, and that upset Bevin.
When asked what they would do to provide families with high-quality child care, the candidates clashed again. That question evolved into a debate about Conway's track record as attorney general. Conway said he had saved the state money by cutting his budget. Bevin took issue with that.
"You did not cut your budget Jack, the governor cut your budget ... you keep taking credit for it and it's a lie. Stop lying to these people. Stop lying," Bevin said.
The debate ended with a question about coal.
Bevin said he would fight for coal. He said Kentucky needs to be more involved in efforts everywhere to mine coal. As governor, he said, that he would be a champion for coal.
Conway noted that he worked under Kentucky Governor Paul E. Patton, who operated coal mines for decades, and also noted that he was among those who sued the EPA, vowing to "continue fighting against EPA rulemaking that harms Kentucky coal production and electricity rates."
"Of the two candidates standing on stage tonight, I am the only one who has ever done anything for coal," Conway said.