FRANKFORT — On the campaign trail this spring, the two Republican candidates for state attorney general talk more about current officeholder Jack Conway and the lone Democrat running for the job, Andy Beshear, than they do about each other.
Lawrence County Attorney Michael T. Hogan and state Sen. Whitney Westerfield strongly criticize Conway for not appealing a federal judge's ruling striking down the state's ban on gay marriage.
They contend it was Conway's duty to do so, whether he agreed with it or not.
Conway, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor this year, has said he did not pursue the appeal because he considered the ban discriminatory.
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The two GOP candidates, each of whom hopes to become Kentucky's next top law enforcement official, chastise Beshear, son of Gov. Steve Beshear, for not publicly identifying the clients he has represented who ran afoul of the state attorney general. Andy Beshear is a lawyer with the Louisville law firm Stites & Harbison.
Beshear has said he could face a legal ethics violation if he identified the clients without their permission.
The two candidates in the May 19 GOP primary election also hit at the nearly $1.94 million Andy Beshear has raised for his campaign. He has received many contributions from state contractors, state officials appointed by his father, lobbyists and officials of companies regulated by state government.
"If his name were Andy Jones, he wouldn't be a serious candidate in this race. He's counting on his father's name," said Westerfield.
Beshear "is trying to buy the office," said Hogan.
Beshear has said contributions would not influence his actions as attorney general.
The Republicans lag far behind Beshear in campaign contributions.
The latest campaign finance reports showed Westerfield's receipts at $64,244 and Hogan's at $5,400.
Westerfield said the Republican nominee for attorney general in the November general election "will have plenty of money," and Hogan said he expects to spend more of his on the primary election.
The strongest issue between the two GOP rivals deals with Westerfield's position on two issues during this year's legislative session.
Hogan contends Westerfield was "naive in how counties are funded" by voting against a bill that eventually was approved to set a floor on the state gas tax.
The state's gas tax is based on the wholesale price of gasoline; when prices drop, money in the state's Road Fund drops, and counties get less money for their road projects.
Westerfield said he voted to keep taxes low, while Hogan argued that counties need the revenue to build roads, especially Eastern Kentucky communities that have experienced severe flooding this year.
Hogan also criticized Westerfield for his vote to raise the limit on individual campaign contributions from $1,000 to $2,000.
Westerfield, who represents Christian, Logan and Todd counties, said he supported the measure because it might send more money to candidate-run campaigns that must disclose contributions rather than to some political action committees that don't have to report donors.
"I like Whitney, but there's already too much money in these political races," said Hogan. "Plus, many people I know can't put two nickels together. They have little interest in upping how much more money rich people can pour into campaigns."
Like most Republican candidates in Kentucky this year, Westerfield and Hogan blast unpopular Democratic President Barack Obama for his environmental policies, saying they have hurt coal miners and farmers.
Westerfield said voters should side with him in the election because he has experience in the judiciary branch of government as a former prosecutor in Christian County and experience in setting policy as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He takes pride in his work this session on bills to curb heroin abuse and dating violence, and his efforts in last year's session to improve the justice system for juveniles.
Westerfield also has received endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Kentucky Right to Life Association, and was praised by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the state, when Westerfield filed to run for attorney general.
Hogan said the endorsements came because of Westerfield's position in the legislature. Hogan said, he, too, opposes abortion and supports gun rights.
Concerning McConnell's kind words for Westerfield, Hogan said he had not seen McConnell's involvement in the primary.
Hogan said he had "real experience" in dealing with "real Kentuckians."
"I know the real issues and the real problems because I have dealt with them on a daily basis for years as a local prosecutor," he said.