Politics & Government

At forum without Beshear, Williams calls for dissolution of Jefferson school board

LOUISVILLE — Participants at Tuesday's annual Kentucky Chamber of Commerce business summit were greeted by a person in a yellow chicken outfit wearing a placard that read "Governor Steve Beshear Kentucky's Biggest Chicken!"

The stunt was to ridicule the Democratic governor for not participating in a forum on business issues with Senate President David Williams, his Republican challenger in the Nov. 8 election.

Williams attended the forum, at which he called for dissolution of the Jefferson County school board.

Williams said the authority of running the state's largest school system should be under the metro government because the school board is controlled by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Williams also got shots in at Beshear for not attending, telling House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who substituted for Beshear, that Stumbo was there "by default."

"Just a joke, kind of," said Williams.

The Williams campaign has criticized Beshear, who is leading in the polls, for declining to participate in the chamber forum and a forum Thursday at the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association summer conference at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.

Beshear campaign manager Bill Hyers said last week that the governor would participate in debates once the campaign gets going in the fall.

However, the Kentucky Farm Bureau said Tuesday that its board of directors will host Beshear and Williams at a "Measure the Candidates" forum July 20 in Louisville.

The release said it would be the candidates' first joint appearance in the campaign and emphasized that it would be a two-hour forum, not a debate, open only to the bureau's board, staff and the media.

The candidates will be invited to participate in a news conference after the forum, the bureau said.

Matt Erwin, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, confirmed that Beshear would attend the Farm Bureau forum.

Erwin said the Beshear campaign had no comment about the "chicken" at the Chamber of Commerce summit. Beshear spoke for about eight minutes Tuesday night at the summit. He listed his administration's accomplishments but did not mention Williams.

The chamber's forum Tuesday, attended by several hundred, focused on the economy, Medicaid and public pensions. Williams and Stumbo sounded arguments they made on those issues during this year's legislative session.

Williams commented on the Jefferson County school board during a question-and-answer session with the audience.

He called the board dysfunctional, saying private schools in the county are "blossoming and blooming" while the public schools are suffering academically.

The state cannot provide some advanced projects for students in Jefferson County because the Jefferson County Teachers Association opposes differential pay for teachers.

Brent McKim, with the teachers' union, could not be immediately reached for comment.

After the forum, Williams said he was serious about his suggestion about the school board.

"The school board does not reflect recognition of the problems in the school system," he said.

He said legislation would be filed on the issue.