Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear, met Thursday in Paducah for the first of five gubernatorial forums across Kentucky.
The hour-long local forum, hosted by the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce at the Julian Carroll Convention Center, centered on business-related issues. It comes with about five weeks until the Nov. 5 election.
Todd Faulkner, WPSD Local 6 evening co-anchor, served as moderator. The media panel included Jennifer Horbelt, WPSD Local 6 evening co-anchor; Carrie Dillard, Paducah Sun editor; Greg Dunker, News Talk 94.5 FM radio host; and Ryland Barton, capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.
The candidates gave opening and closing statements and answered 10 questions.
Questions ranged from attracting and keeping good-paying jobs in western Kentucky, efforts to deal with Asian Carp, and different ways the state can help local governments and schools manage the state's pension crisis.
Both supported the state helping Barkley Regional Airport Authority meet its local funding portion of the cost of constructing a new passenger terminal, and principally agreed the statewide broadband plan, KentuckyWired, is essential to business growth and economic development.
However, the question of whether Kentucky should follow in the footsteps of neighboring Illinois and pursue expanded gambling and medical marijuana drew a sharp contrast between the candidates.
"How's that working out for Illinois?" Bevin asked. "They're hemorraging people. People are flying out of there, their revenue is struggling and their taxes are ratcheting up because the state is bleeding out.
"These are not solutions. They're fool's gold is what they are. The heart of the question is where does revenue come from. Revenue comes from the fundamental, simple things of getting more people here and paying taxes."
Beshear said the state desperately needs new revenue to fund the pension system.
One way to do that, he said, is "we have to start with expanded gambling. We talk about being competitive, other states are eating our lunch. It's Tennessee that just authorized sports betting. It's Indiana that has leeched money off us, and if you go right over the river there's Metropolis.
"And, I bet if you go to that parking lot, almost every single license plate is from Kentucky. We already lost $550 million of tax revenue from what Kentuckians bet in our border states in casinos alone. So yes, it's time for casino gambling."
Beshear said the state also needs to move forward on medical marijuana.
"Opioids do not work for chronic pain, and what we're doing is we're not giving people the pain management they need," he said.
Bevin said he was for medical marijuana, "but the idea that we would tax that as a way to make money is cruel and absolutely inappropriate."
With an audience filled with business leaders, both candidates likened the selection of a governor as voters picking a CEO.
In that regard, Beshear said, "You would look for someone that has vision, that has ideas and plans to move your company forward, somebody who gives you a future for the next 30 years. You would look for somebody that you would be proud of to serve as your CEO, and how about somebody that simply governs by the Golden Rule?
"Doing right by our neighbors is about protecting health care ... protecting people's promised retirements and creating jobs. I don't just want to be your governor, I want to govern well, right here."
In his closing, Bevin offered: "You have been asked to think about who you would elect. Only one of us is going to be the next governor, really it's that simple. You don't get part of me and part of him, part of the two of us and someone else you might like.
"Which one of us would you trust to run your business in your absence? If you had to ask one of us to look out for the best interest of your community economically, which one of us would it be, somebody who has no experience ... or somebody who's actually done it?"