Politics & Government

With election a week away, rhetoric heats up at last Kentucky gubernatorial debate

Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams, left, and running mate Richie Farmer take aim at Gov. Steve Beshear as they kick off a bus tour Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, at the Jefferson County Republican headquarters in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)
Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams, left, and running mate Richie Farmer take aim at Gov. Steve Beshear as they kick off a bus tour Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, at the Jefferson County Republican headquarters in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon) AP

Republican David Williams sharply criticized Democrat Steve Beshear on taxes, gambling, and other issues and independent Gatewood Galbraith said he was the only one who could change the state during Monday night's second and final debate for the candidates for governor before next Tuesday's general election.

Williams and Galbraith tried to put Beshear, who holds a substantial lead in the polls in his quest for a second four-year term, on the defensive for much of the contentious 90-minute debate with host Bill Goodman at the KET studios in Lexington.

But Beshear did not take Williams' and Galbraith's criticism against him without firing back, especially at Williams.

On defending his tax incentives plan to attract businesses and create jobs, Beshear resurrected his comment that Williams' father-in-law, Russell County businessman Terry Stephens, applied for incentives to create 25 jobs for his pipe and steel company.

Beshear first raised the issue in the candidates' first debate earlier this month at Eastern Kentucky University.

Williams countered that Stephens filled out the application at the state's request but never pursued or received any money from the state.

"How disingenuous can you be? Have you no shame?" Williams asked Beshear.

Williams claimed that the only jobs Beshear has created have been for friends of the governor's running mate, Jerry Abramson, in state government.

Earlier Monday, Restoring America, an independent political group, reported to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance that Stephens had contributed $2.8 million for it to run ads against Beshear.

Stephens also has given $1 million to the Republican Governors Association for Williams' cause.

The state Democratic Party contends that there has been illegal coordination between Williams and his father-in-law in contributing to Restoring America. Williams denies any coordination.

During the KET debate, Williams claimed that Beshear has "no plan to change the situation" in improving Kentucky's economy.

He especially was critical of Beshear's reluctance to talk about tax reform. Beshear says now, with a fragile economy, is not the time to change the state's tax system.

Beshear said Williams' call to end personal and corporate income taxes would amount to 43 percent of the state's General Fund revenue.

That would be tantamount to an increase of the state's 6 percent sales tax to 14 percent, Beshear said.

Williams said specifics of his tax plan would be worked out by an independent panel of tax experts.

No tax reform will be needed if the economy improves, Beshear said.

On education, Williams said Beshear is the only governor who has cut basic funding for public schools and faces a $700 million hole in the next two-year budget as higher education seeks more money.

Beshear said he has had to balance the state budget nine times and has had to cut $1 billion.

"We made small reductions in higher education but didn't want to," Beshear said.

Beshear also blamed Williams for failure of the state legislature to raise the state's high-school dropout age from 16 to 18.

"He won't let it on the Senate floor," Beshear said.

Galbraith said he would freeze college tuitions and offer a $5,000 voucher to every high school graduate for higher education.

Williams and Beshear also tangled over pardons to criminals.

Williams noted that Beshear in 2008 restored the voting rights for convicted child molester Ron Berry, the former head of the defunct Micro-City government youth program.

Williams said the restoration was done without consultation of Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson.

Beshear countered that his office sent a letter to Larson but that Larson has said he never received one.

His office tightened up procedures about pardons after that, Beshear said.

Beshear also defended his use of furloughs of state workers to balance the budget, noting that he took six days of furloughs and cut his salary by 10 percent while Williams did neither.

Williams countered that the legislature cut its workforce by 5 percent.

Gambling was another hot topic. Beshear, who favors expanded gambling, said Williams has stood in the way of a constitutional amendment to allow Kentuckians to vote on the issue by ruling the Senate with "an iron fist."

Williams said Beshear has not been able to get the issue through the Democratic-controlled House and will not spell out details of what he wants in a constitutional amendment.

In response to a caller who said Williams has gone out of state to gamble at casinos while opposing expanded gambling in Kentucky, Williams said it has been years since he has gambled.

On the issue of mountaintop removal, a controversial way to extract coal, Galbraith was the only candidate who voiced disapproval of it.

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