Democratic debate 4-30-19

Rocky Adkins, Andy Beshear and Adam Edelen debated on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at WDRB News in Louisville. Lindsay Allen and Lawrence Smith moderated.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Democrats seeking the party’s nomination in the May 21 primary discussed Kentucky’s public pension funding shortfall, expanded Medicaid program and abortion, among other issues, during their second televised debate Tuesday at WDRB News.

The winner will take on Gov. Matt Bevin or his challenger in the Republican primary, State Rep. Robert Goforth, in the November general election.

The candidates are state House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, Attorney General Andy Beshear of Louisville and former state Auditor Adam Edelen of Lexington.

Here is an edited transcript of their responses to questions posed by WDRB’s political reporter Lawrence Smith and anchor Lindsay Allen.   

QUESTION: How would you solve Kentucky's pension crisis?

Adkins

First of all, we need to make sure we have compromise and something worked out in a bill before a special session is called ... I believe that in 2008, 2010 and 2013, we worked in a bipartisan way as we came out of two crisis's of the stock market, and as we went out of the greatest recession of our lifetime ... We solve the problem basically by staying with 2013 reforms, making sure we are keeping a defined benefit for teachers across Kentucky. We're on the right track ... we need to find the funding moving forward, and I have the place to find that to make sure it happens.

Beshear

A pension is a promise, and I was raised to believe that when you make a promise, you keep it, and your word is your bond. Every year I serve as governor, we're going to fully fund, because who's in it? It's our teachers. It's our police officers ... We have got to finally step up and provide the extra revenue sources. We've got to start with expanding gaming because ... we are going to dedicate 100 percent of the revenue toward our pension system. That''s $550 million a year that we can use to fund it. The second thing we are going to do legalize medicinal marijuana, which is going to which is going to raise $50 million. 

Edelen

Certainly, we need to make sure that we have revenue, but folks, we need to have a governor that has a gift and a talent for drilling down into the specific issues that affect these systems. The first is the teacher retirement system, that I know because I did the audit of it when I was auditor. It is a well-run system. The problem with that system is that while school teachers paid their 13 percent every year, the politicians did not. Yes, we need to create new sources of revenue like casino-style gambling and close tax loop holes, but we've got to acknowledge what got us into this problem in the first place ... we've got to reform it. 

QUESTION: What limitations would you support on abortion?

Edelen

I support the constitutionally protected under current case law approach that says the first trimester, those should be legal ... The question in this election is will Kentucky become the first state in the union to pass a de facto ban on access to reproductive freedom. That’s the issue. That’s the direction Matt Bevin and this group of extremists are driving this question ... We are the only ticket on the ballot this year that hasn’t had difficulty explaining our position, because we believe to build a modern Kentucky, you have to recognize the full equality of women.

Adkins

I am pro-life, and you express the views of your constituents that you represent in the legislature through your votes, so that’s what I’ve done ... But I have gone ahead to say in my stance on pro-life that I supported pre-K funding for preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds ... I have also said that we need to put warm food on the table and a roof over these babies’ heads when they’re born. And to make sure that they have strong public education and quality health care.

Beshear

I am pro-choice, and I support Roe v. Wade ... I’ve actually had to fight for it, and this goes back to 2017 when the legislature started passing unconstitutional attacks on reproductive freedom. I refused to defend a bill that they passed then, and they attacked me for it ... The only person who is really excited we are having this conversation is Matt Bevin. This is all he’s going to talk about in the general election, because he has a failed record when it comes to creating jobs that have good wages. He is trying to strip away health care from over 90,000 Kentuckians. He has failed to get ahead of this drug epidemic. Folks, he is going to try to talk about this as much as he can, because he knows he can’t get reelected on his own record ... Now, the law does allow for some (abortion) restrictions ... and I think there are restrictions in the late term that all Kentuckians can accept.

QUESTION: Do you support Gov. Bevin’s waiver plan to require able-bodied adults to work, volunteer, go to school or other community engagement requirements to maintain coverage under expanded Medicaid?

Adkins

I was there when we expanded Medicaid, and I watched it drive down those uninsured from 19 percent to 7 percent to 6 percent. It expanded Medicaid across Kentucky and allowed basically rural hospitals and providers to once again be able to serve people ... What the governor has proposed with his waiver is the wrong approach ... I stand here tonight as a 24-year cancer survivor ... We must keep expanded Medicaid in the commonwealth of Kentucky, not only for the health of Kentucky but also for the health care industry itself, a health care industry in rural parts of the state where that is the only growth that we have seen in the economy whatsoever. It is where (there are) the rural hospitals that we have the potential to lose without expanded Medicaid.

Beshear

I am fighting every day in the most important fight of our lifetime for health care, because Matt Bevin and the federal government are trying to tear away the most important protections. They’re trying to tear away mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions. That is half of Kentucky and three out of four members of my family. They’re trying to allow discrimination again, charging women more than men for the exact same policy. Maybe saddest of all, they are trying to reinstitute those lifetime caps (on coverage) ... I am going to win this fight, but that is not enough. I don’t trust D.C. anymore. I have a plan at andybeshear.com where we are going to put all those protections into state law ... People on expanded Medicaid are already working. This is just an attempt to give them paperwork to kick them off. The difference between Matt Bevin and I is I believe health care is a basic human right.

Edelen

My approach to Medicaid is to make sure people who work for a living have affordable health care and that health care belongs as a right to everyone ... For 100 years, Kentucky tried the approach of having a large, uninsured population, and it darn near bankrupted us, and it gave us the worst health care outcomes in America ... The overwhelming majority of the poor in Kentucky are working poor, and for (Bevin) to say that you have to earn your health care at a time and a place where we don’t pay people a living wage, where they don’t have the next rung of the economic ladder available to them ... It’s not only dumb ... It’s immoral. We need a governor that understands that lawsuits don’t build the future, that leadership does.     

QUESTION: Do you support expanded gambling and legalizing marijuana to raise revenue? 

Adkins

When you talk about raising more money, you've got to be realistic about what can pass and what can't. When I become governor, we're going to be working with two chambers that have super majorities. Republicans in the house and in the senate — we've got to be realistic about what can pass through the General Assembly. I think I have the relationships to bring about those folks through the impasse on realistic measures that we can sell to the legislature. I would tell you first that we need to close the loop holes ... I'm for medical marijuana. 

Beshear

We start with expanded gaming, because if we tie to the pension system where 100 percent of the revenue goes to it, folks, it will pass. My family is from a small town in western Kentucky and eight years ago would have been against this, but we need to keep a promise to our teachers. It would mean we could still recruit good law enforcement. It means we can have the best social workers to go into a home to protect the neglected. That is $550 million. Medicinal marijuana is where we start. That is $50 million. 

Edelen

I believe that medical marijuana is, by the very definition, medicine. I will never be a governor who believes we ought to tax medicine. What I do support is a common sense system of reform that acknowledges that we can't afford to dumb, expensive things. I can't think of an initiative that makes less sense, that is more expensive than the fact that we spent $50 million last year prosecuting 11,000 people for what was generally small amounts of marijuana ... It's about having a governor who will make the case that if we want additional investment, then we're going to have to close loopholes.

Question: Do you support teacher 'sick outs,' even if it comes at the cost of student learning time in the classroom, and what can be done to improve education outcomes in Kentucky?

Beshear

I’m a graduate of Kentucky’s public schools, and I support public education as one of the primary parts not just of our platform but what I want to do as governor. As governor, I’m going to fully fund every public school, because that’s where the American dream is still possible for so many. I believe in education enough that I chose an active teacher, Jacqueline Coleman, as my running mate. She’s a teacher, a basketball coach and an assistant principal. And she would be the first active educator since Martha Layne Collins to serve in that role. But everybody is going to talk about how they like public education, but I’ve actually fought for it. When Matt Bevin tried to illegally cut the retirements of our teachers, I stood up to him, and we beat him 7-0 in the Supreme Court. Two weeks ago, when he claimed he could control the board of education and the teacher disciplinary board – Matt Bevin in charge of teacher discipline – I took him to the Supreme Court. I made our argument, and we’re waiting for the decision. And this Monday, I filed suit against him again, because I am not going to let him bully our educators. I’m not going to let him subpoena our teachers. I’m not going to let him try to fine them $1,000 each. Folks, that is wrong.

This tactic that they’re taking is not only a First Amendment right, but I’m suing over Matt Bevin’s attempt to step in the shoes of the employer … Yes, I support our teachers, especially when it’s against a private school tax credit.

Edelen

I certainly support the teachers’ right to express their constitutional right to have an opinion, particularly when they’ve been pushed around by the broken politics in Frankfort. They frankly were left with no other course of action. And thank goodness that they had the courage to take that course of action.

I understand that just holding on to what we have is not an education agenda, that we have got to be bold, and we’ve got to be future-focused. You know, keeping the promise that we’ve made to teachers in the form of their pension isn’t the best we can do. It’s the least we can do. And we need a governor who knows the difference, who knows that we have to drive technology into a teacher-driven curriculum, because children process information differently than we did when we were in school ... We’ve got to talk about how to shrink class size, because everybody with a brain in their head knows that kids learn better when there are fewer of them in the classroom. We’ve got to have an agenda to make the 11th and 12th grade of high school a better transition into whatever it is that comes next, and whatever that educational experience that comes next ought to be affordable to those in the middle and the working classes.

Adkins

It’s a shame that teachers have to come to Frankfort. It’s a shame that they had to come there to protect their profession and have a voice for public education. So, yes, I support the right of teachers or anybody else, working families or whoever to come to Frankfort, Ky., to have a voice in the process, to be able to be engaged in the process ... What’s sad about that is they believe they have to come because of the very agenda that’s coming out of this governor’s office, the very agenda of charter schools, the very agenda of trying to privatize public pensions, they very agenda of two bills in this last session that basically changed the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System board and also gave the tax breaks for private schools.

Question: How will you realistically work with a Republican majority in Frankfort and get your agenda accomplished, and work with President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell?

Edelen

It’s a great question, and it’s one I hope is asked of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, because it’s clear he’s not doing a very good job working with his own majorities. Folks, I have always been well-served by this approach: You don’t have to agree with someone on everything to work together on something. It’s how I worked in a bipartisan manner with (former GOP Agriculture Commissioner) Jamie Comer to hold Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer to account for his misdeeds in office. It’s how I worked with Republican majorities while I was state auditor to get a sweeping system of reforms passed in terms of special taxing districts and the $3 billion a year of money that had not been previously tracked. It’s the work I did uncovering the rape kit crisis that was done in a bipartisan manner. I have a proven record of getting big, important things done by working with people and bringing them together.

Adkins

Well, I’m the only one on this panel tonight that actually works within that very General Assembly that you’re talking about. Over my years in the General Assembly, as a member of the budget committee, as the majority leader and now as the minority leader, I have spent a lot of my adult life working within those two chambers developing the relationships that you have to have to bring people together in compromise. I did it as majority leader. I do it as minority leader. You have to be able to know the process well enough within the Kentucky General Assembly, of the teamwork, of the different factions of the General Assembly, of being able to know how to write a budget, to understand that the communication that you have within that very General Assembly of bringing Democrats and Republicans together is what I’ve spent a lot of my life doing, working within those two chambers ... When I need to go toe-to-toe like I have for the last 3 ½ years with Matt Bevin, I’ve stood toe-to-toe on his bad policies that I believe have had a negative impact on the people of Kentucky.

Beshear

The reason Matt Bevin ... his administration has been an absolute disaster is that he bullies, and he attacks everyone who disagrees with him. So the moment I become governor, we change the tone. No more name-calling. No more bullying. No more ‘my way or the highway’ type of government. Folks, we were raised better than this, and it’s time we started acting better than this. So the bully pulpit is no longer going to be used to bully. And we are going to set that tone where if people still try to attack, we don’t take the bait. We say our citizens expect us to work together, and we can settle the rest in court ... I’ve actually had to work with this president, and when he has done things that help Kentucky, I’ve worked with him.

Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2019 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

Digital Reporter

Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.

Digital Reporter

Marcus Green joined WDRB News in 2013 after 12 years as a staff writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal. He reports on transportation, development and local and state government.

Reporter

Travis Ragsdale joined WDRB in Jan. 2015. He focuses primarily on investigative reporting involving police, local government and infrastructure. He can be reached at 502-585-0817