Two candidates for the state's top office criticized incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear for being a no-show in the first televised debate of the governor's race.
Republican David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith appeared Monday on KET's Kentucky Tonight to discuss education. Beshear, who is leading in most polls by more than 20 points and has amassed millions in campaign donations, declined the invitation to attend.
Williams, who has been state Senate president for more than a decade, said that the "'education governor' won't even come here tonight and talk about education."
Williams said that besides pushing a measure that would increase the dropout age to 18 — which Williams opposes — Beshear has not made any significant changes in education during the past four years and has been an "obstructionist" when it comes to education. Williams said there was no data to show that raising the dropout age would improve education outcomes.
Galbraith questioned how Beshear got the nickname the "education governor."
"He has no credentials," said Galbraith, a Lexington lawyer who has run for office multiple times during the past two decades.
Much of the debate Monday centered on Jefferson County schools, its busing policy and the role of teachers' unions.
Williams has tangled with teachers' unions in the past, particularly in Louisville. Williams backs a plan that would allow parents to enroll students in neighborhood schools as opposed to the current plan that buses students across Kentucky's largest city.
Williams said that the Jefferson County Teachers Association had "over-reached" and blocked efforts to pass legislation earlier this year that would allow charter schools. That meant the state lost about $150 million in federal Race to the Top funds, Williams said.
Galbraith said that he, too, supported charter schools.
Galbraith also said that he was not opposed to prayer in schools or corporal punishment. Williams said he would support voluntary prayer in schools and before sporting events.
Williams also touted the passage of Senate Bill 1, which overhauled the state's testing system and core curriculum standards. Williams said he also would support legislation that would help students develop career pathways earlier in their high school careers.
Galbraith said he wanted to give every eighth-grade student a laptop computer and said he would like to give high school graduates a $5,000 voucher to use toward tuition to college or technical or vocational school.
Williams and Galbraith have been critical of Beshear for not attending most forums where the other two candidates are present. Most recently, Beshear bowed out of a Louisville forum after learning Williams had agreed to attend. Beshear shared the stage with Williams and Galbraith at the Fancy Farm political picnic in August.
Matt Erwin, a spokesman for the Beshear campaign, said Beshear would take part in the KET debate on Oct. 31 and would participate in a Kentucky Broadcasters Association and League of Kentucky Women Voters debate with the two other candidates before the Nov. 8 election.
"He looks forward to discussing education as well as all issues that are of importance to Kentucky families and businesses at these debates," Erwin said.