LOUISVILLE — State Rep. Ryan Quarles, the Republican nominee for state agriculture commissioner, alleged Thursday that the father of his Democratic opponent, Jean-Marie Lawson Spann, has texted answers to her during their debates and forums.
Spann and her father, Sam Lawson, strongly denied the charge. "It's the silly season," Lawson said.
With a little more than two months until the Nov. 3 general election, most of the candidates for the state's constitutional offices — including gubernatorial hopefuls Jack Conway and Matt Bevin — attended the 52nd annual Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast on Thursday at the State Fair.
The breakfast attracted nearly 1,600 early risers, along with Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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Both men profusely praised the work of outgoing state agriculture commissioner James Comer, a Republican who narrowly lost a bid in May to be this fall's GOP nominee for governor.
But the two people who want to replace Comer had a strong disagreement.
Quarles' campaign showed photos of Sam Lawson texting on a phone and other photos of his daughter looking at a phone during a candidate forum last week in Louisville.
Quarles, R-Georgetown, contended that Lawson was texting answers to his daughter.
Quarles said "multiple persons" have told him that Sam Lawson texts answers and comments to his daughter during debates and forums.
Sam Lawson, a farm marketing executive in Bowling Green who is seen frequently on the campaign trail with his daughter, said he often texts his wife, Beverly Lawson, about their daughter's campaign appearances.
He said he would never text his daughter during a debate. "That would distract her," he said.
The Democratic candidate, a farm show radio host from Union, called Quarles' allegations "smear tactics I do not appreciate."
She said her father has never been sued by farmers, an apparent reference to Quarles' father, Roger Quarles, being sued as a board member of the Burley Tobacco Co-operative.
Ryan Quarles said the lawsuit was directed at the board regarding federal tobacco buyouts and was not directed solely at his father.
Both candidates for agriculture commissioner said they would not give state jobs to their fathers if elected.
Bevin and Conway were relatively mild-mannered at the breakfast as reporters peppered them with questions about same-sex marriage.
Conway, the state attorney general and Democratic nominee for governor, again defended his decision not to appeal last year's lower-court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Kentucky, citing the extraordinary cost of appealing a decision that appeared guaranteed to be defeated.
The U.S. Supreme Court validated same-sex marriages on June 26.
Conway went on to say that big companies are not looking to move jobs to states that practice discrimination, telling reporters "they want to go do business in places that have policies of inclusivity."
He also said he supports a statewide fairness law, saying "I don't think we should allow any kind of discrimination."
Bevin, the Republican nominee for governor, continued to rail against Beshear for not doing something, either by executive order or by calling a special legislative session, to protect county clerks who think that issuing marriage licenses to gay couples infringes on their religious beliefs.
"They want to do their job," Bevin said. "The reality is our governor owes it to them to protect their ability to do so while still complying with the law and protecting the ability of people to get married as they see fit."
Both candidates said they see no need to revise gun laws in the wake of the televised shooting of a TV reporter and camera operator Wednesday in Virginia.
"I am a concealed-carry gun owner," Bevin told WHAS-TV's Joe Arnold. "I wish to blazes I had been there. I wish somebody like me had been there. That's the reason we have those rights."
Conway said that "in that particular instance, I can't see anything that any additional gun laws would've done."
When asked for his thoughts on the gubernatorial race, McConnell said his "impression is it's a very close race."