Hal Heiner quoted an unlikely source when addressing the Lexington Rotary Club on Thursday, summing up some of the fiscal troubles facing Kentucky by using the words of ...
... Rahm Emanuel?
"Now, I don't often quote him, but the current mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, said we can't continue to kick the can down the road because we're running out of road."
Heiner, now over a year into his Republican candidacy for governor, laughed about his reference to President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, joking with the Herald-Leader: "So that'll be the headline, but it's a great quote."
It also goes to the heart of the message Heiner is deploying as he travels the state at a furious pace, hitting on average four counties during a 13-hour workday, spreading what he believes is the virtue of electing a governor who is not a "Frankfort insider."
"We need new ideas," Heiner told the crowd at Lexington's Fasig-Tipton. "We need a governor that is willing to challenge a system that has been in place, has been entrenched quite frankly, for decades. We need the kind of ideas someone from outside of Frankfort is in a position to bring in."
Heiner, who regularly touts his business experience as an asset the next governor should have, spoke to the crowd about the need for tax and regulatory reform and improving the business climate in Kentucky.
Less than seven weeks until the May 19 primary, Heiner took about five questions from the crowd, and two of them were about health care. One audience member asked specifically what Heiner plans to do about the looming expense of Medicaid expansion after the federal government shifts some of those costs to the state.
Heiner has not yet released a detailed health care plan, but he told the crowd and the Herald-Leader that he will unveil one before the election.
In response to an audience question, though, Heiner said "there is simply no way to continue" with the current program, which includes a state-run health insurance exchange and expanded Medicaid eligibility.
"The simple answer is we cannot continue with the plan that we've signed up for, but we also have serious health concerns in Kentucky," Heiner said.
He added: "We can't just sign up for the federal program. We need a new plan for Kentucky and a plan that we can afford."
In an interview with the Herald-Leader after his remarks, Heiner was asked if he held a position similar to one of his opponents, Agriculture of Commissioner James Comer, who on Monday released his own health care plan.
While Comer decried "Obamacare" as the "worst piece of legislation of my lifetime," he did not go as far as Republican candidates Will T. Scott and Matt Bevin, telling a roomful of health care professionals and reporters that he will have to govern under the law unless the federal government does away with it.
Heiner did not embrace the comparison to Comer's plan, but he did appear to suggest that abolishing the law immediately upon taking office would have an adverse effect on medical professionals and patients.
"To just say we're going to kill it, I think kills health care across much of Kentucky," Heiner said. "But we need to find a plan that's financially sustainable, and today we don't have that."
Heiner said he would be releasing details of his plan in the coming weeks, but he said he envisions a "hybrid" of plans being proposed by Republican governors in Tennessee and Iowa.
Looking back on his year in the race, Heiner said he has felt a boost of "momentum," joking that a year ago, people often didn't know who he was even after he had introduced himself as a candidate for governor.
"There's a big difference in the last two months and the first two months," he said.
Heiner, who put nearly $5 million of his own money into the race last year, has vastly outspent his opponents in television advertising, going on the air last year and then blitzing the airwaves this year as he claimed frontrunner status against the rest of the Republican field.
Heiner said interest in his campaign has "increased dramatically" in recent weeks, including offers to go door-to-door on his behalf from 150 volunteers in the last 10 days.
Edwin King, Comer's campaign director, said in an email that Heiner's claims of momentum are overstated.
"We are confident in where we are in this campaign," King said. "We have the best grassroots organization of any candidate in this race and our volunteers are making thousands of phone calls and knocking on hundreds of doors each week."
"This election cannot be bought by a multi-millionaire who is out of touch with Kentuckians," King said.
When asked Thursday if he had put more of his own money into the campaign, or whether he planned to, Heiner declined to say, noting that first-quarter finance reports will be released within the next couple weeks.
"No decisions have been made going forward one way or another," Heiner said.