Kentucky’s Democratic candidates for governor participated in the first televised debate of the campaign season Wednesday night. They argued over issues like abortion, how to generate more revenue for the state and who has the best chance to beat incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin.
Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, is trying to maintain his front-runner status in the race while former auditor Adam Edelen and longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins search for a path to victory.
When asked if they would sign a bill that totally banned abortions in Kentucky if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, both Beshear and Edelen said they would not, but Adkins said he would.
“I would uphold the constitution and the law of the land. On that issue or any other. So my answer would be yes, because if that was the law of the land and that was, basically, the constitution that had been implemented by the Supreme Court, yes,” Adkins said.
This year the Kentucky legislature passed a so-called “trigger” law that would totally ban the abortion procedure if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Adkins voted in favor of it.
Abortion will likely become a major issue beyond the primary election after Bevin signed a handful of anti-abortion measures into law this year, including a ban on the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy.
Adkins also addressed his 2004 vote in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which he said he regrets.
“There’s no question about that, I think people ought to be treated with dignity and respect,” Adkins said.
Candidates made their pitches for generating more revenue for the state’s cash-strapped budget.
Beshear advocated for legalizing casino gambling and sending proceeds to the pension systems. Adkins called for closing tax breaks and Edelen said that “Kentucky has to make decisions” on tax loopholes.
All the candidates said they were in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, but did not advocate for “recreational” use.
Edelen said that he wants to decriminalize possession of marijuana, which he says would free up $50 million in incarceration costs.
Beshear touted his experience as Kentucky’s top law enforcement officer throughout the debate while avoiding going after the other candidates.
But Beshear found himself on the defense when asked if he regrets representing the Boy Scouts of America when they were sued over child abuse allegations.
“What I learned from that case has driven my work as attorney general. We nearly tripled the number of child predators that we’ve caught and arrested,” Beshear said.
Beshear defended the Boy Scouts of America in a 2012 case in which two men said they were abused by their scoutmaster in the 1970s.
Internal polling shows Beshear with a 20-point lead ahead of the primary election on May 21.
Lexington engineer Geoff Young is also running in the Democratic primary, but only candidates who have polled above 5 percent of likely voters were invited to participate in the debate.
The debate was hosted by Hey Kentucky!, a program on LEX 18 in Lexington.
Former State Auditor Adam Edelen is the third Democrat to launch a bid for Kentucky governor.
During an announcement in Lexington, Edelen said as governor he would focus on fixing the state’s public education system, protecting health coverage and generating new revenue for the state’s cash-strapped budget.
Edelen depicted himself as a new direction for Kentucky Democrats, saying that he is an alternative to “the stale scent of incrementalism and nostalgia.”