Politics & Government

In attorney general forum, Cameron touts ‘a new face,’ Stumbo cites legal experience

Daniel Cameron, left, and Greg Stumbo.
Daniel Cameron, left, and Greg Stumbo.

Democrat Greg Stumbo and Republican Daniel Cameron each tried to explain Monday night why they were the best qualified to be Kentucky’s next attorney general and why their opponent was too flawed to hold the state’s top law enforcement post.

On KET’s Kentucky Tonight, Stumbo, a former attorney general and Kentucky House speaker, said his chief priority if elected Nov. 5 would be continuing nine lawsuits the state is pursuing against opioid manufacturers and distributors, with any damages collected to be used to establish a fund for much-needed addiction treatment programs.

Stumbo hit Cameron on two points, saying that his current employer, the law firm Frost Brown Todd, has represented Purdue Pharma in the drug maker’s addiction-related lawsuits, and adding that Cameron himself has no practical courtroom experience. Cameron has served short stints as a federal judicial clerk and legal counsel to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“He’s never tried a traffic case, he’s never tried a citation, he’s never tried a jaywalking case,” said Stumbo, presently with the firm of Morgan & Morgan, which has helped the state of Kentucky pursue the opioid lawsuits. “How can you lead a team of prosecutors when you have no idea what they’re talking about, what they’re up against?”

Cameron later interrupted Stumbo to fire back about Purdue Pharma, the controversial company that makes the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin.

“He has been going — again, there has been a list of sort of falsehoods and lies that Mr. Stumbo has been telling during this campaign. He has tried to tell people that I am connected to Purdue Pharma,” Cameron said.

Daniel Cameron, the Republican candidate for attorney general, speaks to members of the Herald-Leader editorial board at the newspaper’s office in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

“But didn’t the law firm that you work for, Frost Brown Todd, did they not represent pharmaceutical companies?” asked Kentucky Tonight host Renee Shaw.

“Look, I have never represented Purdue Pharma,” Cameron said.

“But your firm has,” Shaw said.

“The firm perhaps has,” Cameron said. “I have not been involved in that litigation in any way. But he’s been lying about that.”

Where Stumbo touted his decades of experience as a trial attorney and veteran of the state legislature, Cameron said he offers Kentucky voters “a new face,” one better connected to modern Kentucky values, which are conservative. Voters in Stumbo’s Floyd County House district rejected him for a freshman Republican in 2016 even though he was House speaker because he lost touch with them, Cameron said.

“He lost because his values had become inconsistent with the folks that he was serving, and they recognized that,” Cameron said. “He’s had a slew of losses. He was endorsing Hillary Clinton, who lost to President Trump in 2016. He said that the Democratic Party is the party of Barack Obama.”

Cameron pointed out his endorsements from President Donald Trump and the Fraternal Order of Police and his relationships with Kentucky’s two federal prosecutors, who were appointed by Trump. As attorney general, Cameron said, he could use his contacts in the federal government to bring in fresh resources from Washington that would help Kentucky fight its war on drugs.

“I think it’s time that we give a Republican attorney general an opportunity,” Cameron said.

The two men ran through a list of subjects where they agreed and disagreed.

Greg Stumbo, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, speaks to members of the Herald-Leader editorial board at the newspaper’s office in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

On abortion, Cameron said he believes in “the sanctity of life” and he would defend from legal challenge any abortion restriction that the Republican-controlled General Assembly passes. By contrast, Stumbo said he would not defend an abortion restriction that he determined unconstitutional under current law.

“If they have constitutional questions, then why would you waste taxpayer money defending unconstitutional acts?” Stumbo said. “You know, I was in the legislature a long time. Pandering to any groups in an unconstitutional manner is not something an attorney general should approve of.”

On gun violence, both men said they oppose state involvement in gun control.

“I am a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association,” Stumbo said. “I’ve got a 100-percent voting record with all my years of public service with the National Rifle Association.”

“We’re gonna stand up and protect the Second Amendment if I’m gonna win and be the attorney general,” Cameron said. “In fact, I think that was one of the questions that President Trump asked me when he endorsed this campaign for attorney general.”

On criminal-justice reform and reducing prison and jail overcrowding, the men said they’re open to new ideas. For example, each said he believes the state legislature needs to make it easier for nonviolent, low-level offenders to be released from jail before trial, even if they can’t afford bail, a subject that lawmakers might address in their 2020 session.

Stumbo said he has supported legalizing medical marijuana since his time in the legislature. He’s open to a discussion about reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, but that’s a policy decision for lawmakers, he said. Cameron was more cautious, saying he would be willing to be part of a conversation about medical marijuana, but he could not advocate legalizing pot generally.

“As the individual running to be the chief law enforcement official here in the commonwealth of Kentucky, we can’t be arguing for or in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana,” Cameron said.