Conway and Mongiardo exchange barbs

Attorney General Jack Conway and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo clashed Monday night over Conway's contributions from utility lobbyists and Mongiardo's use of a $30,000-a-year state housing allowance.

The two frontrunners in the May 18 Democratic primary election for U.S. Senate appeared seated side-by-side on a statewide television show with three other candidates in the race — former U.S. Customs agent Darlene Fitzgerald Price of Whitley City, Louisville businessman Maurice Sweeney and Henderson physician James Buckmaster.

Political sparks flew on Kentucky Educational Television's Kentucky Tonight when host Bill Goodman asked Conway about Mongiardo's claim that Conway has pocketed more than $70,000 in campaign cash from utility executives and lobbyists while approving millions in utility rate hikes.

"He's been stretching the truth," Conway said.

He said Mongiardo knows that the state Public Service Commission approves utility rates and that former attorneys general Greg Stumbo and Ben Chandler have asked Mongiardo "to knock it off."

Conway also said he has saved taxpayers more than $100 million by challenging various rate hikes.

"Jack, if you save us any more money, we're going to go broke," Mongiardo said before paraphrasing a Bible verse in Matthew that says no one can serve two masters.

Mongiardo also charged that lobbyists for Kentucky Utilities and LG&E hosted a $4,800-a-person fund-raiser last month for Conway as the companies are seeking a $262 million rate hike.

Conway said his office is filing a motion to dismiss the rate increase request because the companies have recently been sold.

Conway and Mongiardo also tangled over the $2,500 a month the lieutenant governor receives for a housing allowance. State law does not specify how the money should be used.

Conway charged that Mongiardo has received the allowance while living with his in-laws in Frankfort and buying a 54-acre farm in Franklin County for potential development.

Mongiardo said that he is not developing the property and that he lived on it except for last winter.

Conway also noted a Lexington Herald-Leader report that Mongiardo has spent more than seven times what Conway has on state travel.

"He's attacking me. This is all he has got," said Mongiardo.

Mongiardo and Conway also disagreed about federal "cap and trade" legislation designed to control carbon emissions.

Mongiardo said several newspapers have reported that Conway supports the legislation, which could hurt Kentucky's coal industry.

But Conway said he did not support cap and trade and would never do anything to hurt the coal industry.

All the candidates were asked whether they would have voted for the sweeping health care legislation Congress passed earlier this year.

Price, Sweeney and Conway said they would have voted yes, but Conway added that he would try to improve it.

Buckmaster said he would not have, and Mongiardo said no unless he had assurances that some items in it would have been changed.

The candidates also were asked whether they would want President Barack Obama to campaign for them.

Buckmaster said no, and Price and Sweeney said yes.

Conway said he would be happy to have the president in the state. Mongiardo said that he would love to have Obama in Kentucky to talk about issues but that the U.S. Senate campaign should be decided by Kentuckians.

Republican candidates for U.S. Senate — Trey Grayson, Rand Paul, Gurley Martin, Jon Scribner and John Stephenson — are to appear on next Monday's Kentucky Tonight.