BARBOURVILLE — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Trey Grayson called for reining in federal spending but not eliminating congression al earmarks, while the leader in the polls, Rand Paul, vowed repeatedly during a forum Monday to shrink Washington's resources.
The front-runners, sharing the stage with three other candidates, spent much of a nearly two-hour event at Union College defining the differences in their views about how much power the federal government should wield.
Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor, said Congress needs "an ironclad budget amendment" to bar lawmakers from tagging funds for projects and programs, a practice known as earmarking.
"I don't accept the proposition that earmarks are the only way to have money for your community. ... Earmarks represent a lot of what is broken in the system," Paul said. That brought applause from supporters in Conway Boatman Chapel.
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The crowd of about 150 was about evenly split between supporters of Paul and Grayson.
Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, defended the concept of earmarks and cited U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, who is known for directing federal funds to Eastern Kentucky.
"Eliminating all the earmarks is completely irresponsible," he said, although he added that the process needs to be reformed.
Grayson mentioned floodwalls in Eastern Kentucky towns, the anti-drug program Operation UNITE and the environmental clean-up program PRIDE, for which Rogers directed federal funds.
Grayson said he wants to balance the federal budget by freezing spending on programs other than defense, allowing presidential line-item vetoes and passing two-year budgets instead of annual spending plans.
In addition to ending earmarks, Paul said the federal government should shut down certain agencies, such as the Department of Education, and impose a hiring freeze.
Paul and Grayson took a couple shots at each other. Grayson accused Paul of flip-flopping on supporting continued operation of the prison camp for accused terrorists at Guantánamo Bay.
Paul complained that Grayson takes his words out of context. At one point, after they gave similar answers about increasing border security to cut down on illegal immigration, Paul quipped: "The interesting thing is that Trey and I agree on this. But I'm sure there will be a 30-second ad next week showing how we really don't agree."
The forum, sponsored by four area chambers of commerce, allowed each candidate one minute to respond to questions asked by journalists. The event brought the five Republican candidates together for the first time before the May 18 primary.
Gurley L. Martin, 86, a retired Army sergeant, brought the forum to a halt when he arrived 20 minutes late without his hearing aid. Unable to hear the questions, he had to get them in writing, then read them to the audience.
John Stephenson, Kentucky superintendent of education from 1992-1994 before that position was abolished, livened up the debate by occasionally breaking into song during his answers and consistently going over his one-minute limit. He also peppered his responses with biblical references.
That prompted candidate Jon J. Scribner, who lives 10 miles away in Gray, to quip that it was appropriate Stephenson's podium was the chapel's pulpit.
Scribner, who retired from the Arizona Department of Corrections, agreed often with Paul and Martin that the federal government needs to relinquish power over communities.