FRANKFORT — Two Kentucky businessmen who want to be auditor of public accounts squared off in a sometimes contentious debate Monday, accusing each other of a variety of wrongs in a scheduled hourlong exchange shown around the state on public television.
Democrat Adam Edelen blasted Republican John T. Kemper III for being a poor manager of his personal finances, pointing to a bankruptcy filing that Edelen insists makes Kemper a poor choice to watch over state government spending. Kemper retorted that Edelen has business and political ties with government officials that would prevent him from being an unbiased auditor.
Kemper, a Lexington real estate developer, and Edelen, a Lexington business consultant and former chief of staff to Gov. Steve Beshear, are running in the Nov. 8 general election to replace incumbent Democratic Auditor Crit Luallen. She has served the two-term limit and cannot seek re-election.
Kentucky Educational Television has been hosting a series of debates for statewide candidates. The Edelen-Kemper face-off was the latest in that series, and perhaps the most heated. Edelen repeatedly raised Kemper's financial problems as an issue.
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"I have been running businesses longer than you've been alive," Kemper said.
"Correction," Edelen interrupted, "you have been running businesses into the ground."
Kemper accused Edelen of "feeding at the public trough."
The winner of the general election will oversee an office responsible for conducting annual financial reviews of local and state government programs and services.
Kemper, 47, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 after a real estate deal went sour along with the housing market and the national economy.
"The experiences I've had have prepared me for what's coming for Kentucky," Kemper said.
Edelen, 36, said Kemper's bankruptcy should be alarming to voters looking for a competent auditor needed to root out wasteful spending in state and local government.
Edelen has a huge fund-raising lead, amassing more than $750,000 with more than $500,000 still in the bank. He said he expects to begin running TV ads within a week. Kemper said he had raised about $60,000 during the campaign and had slightly less than $10,000 on hand, which he said would allow him to be an independent auditor who owes no allegiance to financial donors.
Edelen defended his past political and business endeavors, saying the Executive Branch Ethics Commission looked at his business relationship with a lobbyist while he was Beshear's chief of staff.
"I'm not going to apologize for being in the mix," Edelen said.