FRANKFORT — The major candidates for governor exchanged some of the nastiest accusations of the campaign on Monday while offering contrasting appeals for the crucial support of teachers this November.
Democrat Andy Beshear touched off the bloody exchange in a 30-second campaign ad that asks viewers to imagine the closing of their public school.
“That could happen with Gov. Bevin’s budget cuts,” Beshear says in the ad.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin quickly responded with a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion and with a campaign video of his own that labels any suggestion that he doesn’t care about teachers “a load of horse manure.”
Bevin charged that Beshear’s ad is a “scare tactic” intended to distract voters and the news media from “the rampant corruption that has existed for a long time in the Beshear family.”
Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers answered with a statement describing the Bevin press conference as “wild and unhinged.”
Throughout the campaign, Beshear has tried to characterize Bevin as a bully, citing the derogatory remarks Bevin made about protesting teachers at the end of the 2018 legislative session and his Labor Cabinet’s investigations of the “sickout” protests involving thousands of teachers.
Last week, Beshear made a further appeal for teacher support — a promise to raise teacher salaries by $2,000. And the Beshear campaign’s new 30-second television ad cites a Courier Journal story headlined, “Kentucky schools could fail under Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget proposal.”
Bevin called reporters to the mansion to rebut that ad and tout his own record supporting teachers and state pensioners.
The campaign video he played said, “Matt Bevin is the first governor ever to fully fund the Kentucky pension system.” And it said that Bevin’s predecessor, Andy Beshear’s father Steve Beshear, “stole the teachers’ money and spent it elsewhere, billions of dollars.”
Bevin also told reporters that base public school funding — now at $4,000 per student guarantee — “is higher than it has ever been in the history of Kentucky. Not just in absolute dollars, but in per pupil spending.”
But Bevin’s budget proposal to lawmakers in 2018 called for school funding of $3,981 per student — the same as it was during his first term and the same as it was in the last years of Steve Beshear’s administration.
Bevin said he did not know how much inflation has eroded that number, but said, “We’ve been in a pretty noninflationary environment.”
Bevin said, “At the end of the day, these are the facts, and you can focus on the truth of them or find one little thing to undermine this in some way.”
But that base per pupil guarantee in the state budget is only a part of public school funding. And the governor cut off questions and ended the press conference as a reporter tried to ask about other education cuts he proposed in 2018, which were the focus of The Courier Journal story in January of that year.
Those proposed cuts included shifting millions of dollars in transportation and health insurance costs from the state to local districts, as well as eliminating funding of textbooks, professional development for teachers and other important education programs.
The 2018 General Assembly decided to pass a tax increase that provided it with the money to fund some — but not nearly all — of what Bevin proposed be cut.
Bevin vetoed that budget, and the tax increase, but his fellow Republicans who run the General Assembly overrode his vetoes.
The governor said the Beshear campaign claims are an attempt to divert attention from corruption in the Steve Beshear administration, charging — among other things — that the Beshear administration Economic Development Cabinet steered legal work to Andy Beshear as a private sector lawyer, and awarded a no-bid contract worth about $3 million on its last day to a technology company that had been represented by Frank Lassiter, husband of Steve Beshear’s Cabinet Secretary Mary Lassiter.
“This family is corrupt. They’re crooked and corrupt …” Bevin said. “Andy Beshear is no different. He’s a chip off the old block, and it’s a corrupt and crooked block.”
Bevin also mocked Beshear’s promise to raise teacher pay by $2,000, noting that Beshear never adequately explained how he plans to come up with the money for that plan, which would cost about $84 million per year.
“There’s no way he can even begin to deliver on that without taking the money from somewhere else. … Is he planning to do what his father did and just take it from the pensions?” Bevin asked.
Asked why the teacher’s union Kentucky Education Association is backing Beshear, Bevin said, “The people at the KEA don’t give a rip about their membership. They don’t care about the average teacher. They care about their money, they care about their dues.”
The Beshear campaign’s response did not address Bevin’s allegations of Beshear corruption, but did say on the revenue issue that Beshear is the only candidate “who has a plan to open up new revenue streams to fund public pensions, including expanded gaming, legalizing medical marijuana, and closing tax loopholes on the sale of luxury jets.”
The only one of those revenue options that could likely raise significant revenue is casino wagering, and many key lawmakers in the legislature’s Republican majority say it would have little or no chance of passing in 2020 if Beshear is elected governor.
By Tom Loftus
Louisville Courier Journal