The race for governor of Kentucky this year offers one of the clearest choices voters could wish for: One of the leading candidates is fundamentally unsuited to govern, both by temperament and experience, while the other is among the most qualified candidates in memory.
Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway brings a broad and deep understanding of issues facing the state and what government can — and can't — do to address them.
Matt Bevin, who narrowly captured the Republican nomination this spring, touts his status as a non-politician. He's a talented, engaging salesman, but through this race — one he took up after a crushing loss to Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary last year — we've gotten to know Bevin too well. He has repeatedly demonstrated how little he knows about Kentucky and the role of state government.
Bevin also has shown himself to be prickly, easily riled and defensive — traits that would likely render him ineffective in Frankfort, where getting anything done requires thick skin and the ability to negotiate. He has backtracked on positions he's taken on — to name a few — health care, early-childhood education and public-private infrastructure partnerships.
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Bevin is the only candidate in this race who did not meet with the editorial board.
Conway has been attorney general since 2007, but his government experience goes back to 1995 when he served as deputy general counsel to Gov. Paul Patton. In that role, he helped draft and push legislation to reform higher education, create tax incentives to help UPS expand and reduce environmental damage by expanding garbage collection and reducing "straight pipes" that dumped raw sewage into streams.
Often described as wonkish, Conway understands that Kentucky's people and economy are better served by improving education at all levels than by grandstanding on hot-button social issues.
As attorney general, Conway has successfully collected multi-million dollar settlements from for-profit colleges, mortgage and pharmaceutical companies. His office has aggressively investigated and prosecuted Medicaid fraud and cybercrime. He's been a leader in the National Associations of Attorneys General, where he's co-chaired committees on substance abuse, consumer protection and veterans issues.
Bevin, meanwhile, doesn't seem to understand the difference between Medicaid and Medicare. He called for drug-testing recipients of both, which would subject retirees who paid into Medicare for years to a ridiculous indignity.
The key distraction this campaign season has been same-sex marriage. Conway defended Kentucky's 2004 constitutional amendment banning such marriages in U.S. District Court but lost when it was ruled unconstitutional. He decided it was not wise to appeal a ruling reinforced by other federal courts around the country. Though not the easy political choice, that decision was within his authority. Instead, the governor hired outside counsel, the state lost and faces over $2 million in court costs.
Bevin has praised Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis as a religious freedom martyr while Conway has counseled respect for and obedience to the law.
The contrast between the two is also clear in their choices of running mates.
Republican Jenean Hampton is smart and accomplished but does not seem knowledgeable about state issues and government's role in addressing them. In the KET debate, she relied on slogans, mythical studies and generalizations; but in terms of solutions, essentially fell back on "we can do better."
A significant portion of the debate was devoted to education where Democrat Rep. Sannie Overly, who has served in the House since 2008 and chairs the Democratic caucus, showed a command of the research and experiences in other states as well as the economic challenge of delivering better education, including early-childhood learning.
A third candidate, independent Drew Curtis has been a refreshingly frank presence in this race. Owner of a news aggregator website, the first-time candidate focused on the state's troubled pension system and the need to expand technology across the state.
But this close race is between Conway and Bevin. Voters genuinely concerned about Kentucky's future should vote for Conway.
Unendorsed candidate who met with the editorial board may submit a 250-word response by noon Wednesday.