Monday, October 31, 2011

Beshear and Williams develop deeper divisions in final debate as Galbraith plays off their contrasts

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
               LEXINGTON, Ky. – In their final encounter before next Tuesday’s election, a debate televised statewide on Halloween, the candidates for governor ramped up their attacks and developed deeper contrasts on a range of issues.
               Republican state Sen. David Williams called Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear “the most ineffectual governor in history,” while Beshear blamed his failures on Williams’ “obstructionist kind of politics” as president of the Senate, and Lexington lawyer Gatewood Galbraith said the two party nominees showed why Kentucky needs an independent governor.
               “If the other side has an idea the other side has an obstruction to it, “ Galbraith said after the last of many exchanges between the partisans, seated behind a broad desk in the KET studios. “We need to get some cooperation up there.”
               Galbraith was less specific about how he would do that than Williams or Beshear, who have been battling since Beshear became governor four years ago, in Williams’ eighth year as Senate president.
               Williams repeatedly said that Beshear “has no agenda,” while Beshear said he expects that he will have an easy victory that will be “a strong message we don’t want this obstructionist kind of politics.”
               In a new area of disagreement, Beshear said he favors a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their sentences, “because in 48 states this is automatic.” Galbraith agreed, but Williams said he opposed the idea and said Beshear had abused the current process for what Williams calls “partial pardons.”
               “I haven’t pardoned anybody,” Beshear said, “What we do is the same thing that every governor before me has done.” He said that rights are restored only if the prosecutor in the case approves, but Williams cited the case of a notorious child abuser in Lexington who got his rights back, to the surprise of the commonwealth’s attorney.
               Beshear said the prosecutor “said he never got the letter” asking him about the case, and “We tightened up the procedure to make sure that communication is there.”
               The first major exchange of the debate was over Beshear’s economic-development policies, which Williams has said the governor uses to pick winners and losers.
               “Not at all,” Beshear said, noting that Williams voted for his bill to expand incentives. Williams said he voted for it because he added to it an income-tax exemption for military pay, which Beshear opposed.
               Williams said the state relies on incentives “to overcome obstacles we have in competition with other states. I say tear down the obstacles,” such as the state’s tax and unemployment-insurance systems, and enact a “right to work” law.  “We need broad and bold leadership and changes.”
               Galbraith said, “I’m against using tax incentives … to give money to big corporations to establish $8-an-hour jobs. . . . Let’s elevate our gaze and give it to jobs that are gonna pay for themselves after a while.”
               Beshear then repeated his point, made in the trio’s first televised debate on Oct. 11, that the fence-supply business of Williams’ father-in-law, Terry Stephens of Russell Springs, “entered into an agreement with us” for incentives to create 25 jobs, and read what he said was a statement from the company.
               Williams, in the first of several indignant moments, replied, “How disingenuous can you be, Governor? Have you no shame?” He said the statement was from a press release, and “What is anybody going to say? . . . Stephens Pipe and Steel has not accepted a dime and will not accept a dime from you.”
               To receive the incentives, which are in the form of a tax credit, companies must claim them on their state tax returns.
               Williams pressed his case, telling Beshear, “You haven’t created any jobs other than the jobs you created for Jerry Abramson’s friends who came over from Louisville,” where Abramson was mayor before becoming Beshear’s running mate for lieutenant governor.
               As Beshear stared at Williams with an air of his own indignation and intensity, the challenger added, “The governor wants to pick and choose and get personal about these things. That’s the mean-spirited side of the nice Steve Beshear.”
               During an argument over whether Beshear had or would balance the state budget, and whether Beshear had protected education, Williams said, "When he comes back he’s going to have to submit a budget” that would face a $700 million hole.
               Beshear shot back, “What he said that’s right is, I am coming back.”
               The two men went at it over expansion of gambling, which was Beshear’s main platform plank in 2007 but has made little progress in the legislature. Beshear again blamed Williams for that, and Williams repeated that Beshear was so weak he couldn’t get a constitutional amendment on gambling through the majority-Democratic House.
               Beshear said of the Senate, “Everybody knows he runs that place with an iron fist,” and Williams replied, “I’ve never stopped the process.” Beshear responded, “It’s the Republican senators who are weak and won’t stand up.” Williams shot back, “No wonder you have so little success” with legislators.
               When Beshear said he would press the issue next year, Williams pressed him in vain to reveal details, finally saying, “This is the most ineffectual governor in history.”
               Galbraith called the exchanges “exactly the kinds of vituperation, exactly the kind of blaming, exactly the kind of dysfunctionality that has existed in Frankfort for the last several decades. … It’s what has kept us from progressing, it’s what has put us on a downward slide.”
               The 90-minute debate, part of KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” series with Bill Goodman, was also broadcast on C-SPAN3 and public radio stations in Central and Eastern Kentucky. It can be watched by videostream at
Al Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky. He was political writer for The Courier-Journal and still writes a twice-monthly column for the Louisville newspaper.

On economy, Beshear says he has protected Ky. well; Williams says state is being outpaced by neighbors and needs new policies

By Christie Craig
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

When political forecasters predict the winner and losers of an election, the factor most often considered is the economy. This is typically true for national elections, but economic conditions in Kentucky and the nation make it a major concern in the Nov. 8 election for governor.

Kentucky had the 14th highest unemployment rate in the nation in September, a slight improvement from 11th during 2008, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s first year in office. Beshear argues that his policies have helped Kentucky weather the Great Recession better than most other states.

Republican state Senate President David Williams says Kentucky is being eclipsed by neighboring states and needs big changes in tax policy to make the state the best place in the nation to create jobs. Among other things, he proposes the elimination of the corporate and personal income tax.

Independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith says education is the key to economic prosperity and job creation. He advocates a voucher for high school graduates to be used on books, tuition, and fees for any form of higher education after graduation.

Williams’ plan would assemble a commission of tax and economic experts who would submit a reformed local and state tax system to the legislature. He wants to replace income taxes with what he calls “consumption” taxes, which will likely come in the form of a higher and broader sales tax.

His plan also calls for the elimination or suspension of several taxes, including those on aging whiskey, hay and feed for the horse industry, automobiles (the state portion, not the local), construction-related purchases by businesses, and energy used in manufacturing, processing, production, and transportation and distribution.

Williams opposes income taxes more strongly than he did during the Republican primary, when he told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “A new system should emphasize consumption taxes over income taxes.”

The sales tax in Kentucky is 6 percent.  Items exempt from taxes include food and prescription medications.  Williams believes Kentucky needs to compete with Tennessee, which has no personal income tax, for job creation.  Tennessee has a sales tax of 7 percent (5½ percent on food), plus varying local sales taxes.

While Williams supports big changes in the tax system, Beshear does not, at least for now. “As we are climbing our way out of this recession, I’m not fixin’ to support any broad-based tax increase on anybody,” he said at the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum in July.

The other major element of Williams’ plan is a package of changes affecting labor and business, such as a “right to work” law, which bans union contracts that require employees to pay union dues or fees for collective bargaining. Businesses are attracted to states with right-to-work laws because they weaken unions. Rather than a state law, Williams would allow counties to enact local right-to-work laws by referendum, something done in no other state.

Likewise, he would also allow counties to vote against being covered by the “prevailing wage” law, which sets generally union-scale wages for public construction projects costing $250,000 or more. 

Beshear took office in December 2007, about the time the economic downturn began. In 2008, he got the legislature to expand the state’s tax-incentive programs for creation of jobs. From 2008 to 2011 state press releases named 120 companies that promised to create jobs with the incentives. CN2’s news service, Pure Politics, surveyed them and got a response from 87. The initial estimation of those to be hired was 11,786, but the verified number of those hired was 3,691, less than a third of the jobs originally promised.

Beshear has assured taxpayers that state tax incentives will not be delivered to these companies unless they deliver jobs, but he continues to say that the incentives have created 19,500 jobs.

Beshear points out that USA Today ranked Kentucky fourth in overall personal income growth in 2010; that the state jumped 12 spots in Forbes magazine’s ranking of best places to do business; that its business tax climate was ranked 19th in the nation by the National Tax Foundation, an improvement of 15 spots since 2009; and that the credit rating agency Moody’s predicted Kentucky will have one of the five highest job growth rates in the coming year. However, Moody’s and another rating agency recently lowered Kentucky’s credit rating.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, every county in Kentucky county but one gained jobs from the second quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2011, a distinction achieved by no other state. The only county that did not gain jobs was Williams’ home Cumberland County.

Williams prefers to compare Kentucky with neighboring states, which he says are outpacing Kentucky, and cites the testimony of Mike Mangeot, head of the Kentucky Economic Development Association, on right-to-work laws.

Mangeot, who represents local economic developers, was asked how Kentucky could improve its competitiveness with Tennessee and other Southern states. He replied, “Right-to-work, honestly. I can tell you it keeps us from the table, period.” He added, “The personal income tax hurts us especially when dealing with the other seven states that don't have that."

In one of his television ads, Williams accused Beshear of losing nearly 100,000 jobs. Most of that loss has been recouped. The ad, and more recent ones from Williams and a supportive group, also cites a report calling Kentucky the worst managed state. That label came from a website that looked mainly at long-term trends in the states, such as education and poverty rather than short-term factors influenced by the current administrations, such as the lower credit rating.

On education, Beshear runs on his record; Williams, Galbraith say more improvement and leadership are needed

By Rachel Bryant
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The nation’s largest teachers’ union named Gov. Steve Beshear this year’s “greatest education governor,” but according to Kentucky education-advancement groups’ latest measurement, Kentucky’s schools are improving too slowly, and Beshear’s opponents in the Nov. 8 election say more leadership is needed.

The Transition Index, which provides data for schools’ performance based on test scores since 2007, is compiled by the Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Association of School Councils, and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.  They are tracking Kentucky’s transition to a new set of academic standards in legislation sponsored by Beshear’s Republican opponent, Senate President David Williams.

The Transition Index predicts that only 43 percent of primary schools will reach the new standards by 2014 at their current pace of improvement, while only 3 percent of high schools are on track to reach the goal.

Williams says Beshear has done little to improve the education system. Beshear says he has helped schools by protecting the primary funding program for Kentucky classrooms from small, across-the-board cuts Williams would have made. Williams says Beshear underestimated attendance in order to balance the budget.

Beshear has repeatedly proposed a bill to raise Kentucky’s compulsory school-attendance age to 18. He says he has had to keep proposing it because Williams will not let the Senate vote on it. Williams says no data prove that raising the age would accomplish anything, and calls it an unfunded mandate. He says instead of spending money on students who do not want to attend school, the money should be spent on individual testing to track student achievement.

Gatewood Galbraith, a Lexington lawyer running as an independent, says his “Commonwealth Incentive” plan would give students something to look forward to when graduating high school, leading to more students obtaining a diploma. He would give each high school graduate a $5,000 voucher to use on higher education expenses.

Galbraith would also buy every eighth grader in the state a laptop to “enrich the education environment” at home, and says he would get the money by reducing what he calls wasteful personal-service contracts for state work.

Williams and Galbraith both say it is time for Kentucky to adopt charter schools, which are tax supported but may have different curriculum and philosophy than other schools in the area and have to follow fewer regulations.. Williams’ campaign website says he “supports voluntary charter schools to give local communities another tool to improve educational opportunities for children in areas where current options just aren’t working.

Galbraith calls charter schools a “very well controlled, very study-able kind of situation.” He says Kentucky needs to implement them, take a look at the results they produce and, if they work, implement more throughout the state

Beshear has been ambivalent about charter schools, which teachers’ unions generally oppose.  He was named “greatest education governor” by the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union. Williams has said Beshear received the award due to support from the Jefferson County Teachers Association, which is against charter schools and for the student-assignment plan for racial balance, which Williams says should be replaced by neighborhood schools.

The Jefferson County teachers group is part of the Kentucky Education Association, which is part of the National Education Association. Beshear was one of three governors running for re-election this year who could have received the award. The others were Republicans. An acting governor in West Virginia, elected governor in October, is a Democrat.
In presenting the award to Beshear, NEA cited his budget policy and the dropout bill, as well as his support of “quality preschool programs.” In recent interviews, Beshear has said he would like to make preschool available for all Kentucky children if money becomes available.

Williams, in a televised debate on education that Beshear declined to attend, said no money would be available unless state government is made more efficient and the tax and regulatory systems are changed to attract more employers. “I’m confident that a governor with some leadership we can continue making progress in education in this state,” he said.

The education-advancement groups say test scores show more action is needed. Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton said, “We clearly need to do much more to meet the new college-and-career-ready standards that we are now aiming to meet."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Conway ad poses contrast with Washington, gives him credit for budget cuts that he was forced to make

By Rachel Bryant
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Candidate: Jack Conway, Democrat
Election: Attorney General, Nov. 8

Male narrator: While Washington politicians waste our money, Kentucky’s Attorney General Jack Conway fights for us. (Soft music) Conway cut his own pay. Conway cut the staff in his own office by 20 percent. Then Conway went out and saved taxpayers even more; he prosecuted fraud saving another $200 million. (Pleasant music) Kentucky deserves an attorney general just as tough on the budget as he is on criminals. Jack Conway: real results for Kentucky.
The U.S. Capitol appears on a black screen with money in the background. The words “Washington Wastes Our Money” come into view, followed by small images of Conway talking to people shift onto the screen with the words “Jack Conway fights for us” in capital letters. A narrow strip of small pictures appears at the bottom of the screen and moves horizontally throughout the ad, with hands in cuffs and jail cells among the images. The next scene shows Conway walking down a hall, talking to a man wearing a suit, and the words “Jack Conway cut his own pay” in capital letters.
The next scene is a head-and-shoulders, rear-view shot of people in line, standing or walking. Conway then talks to more people as the screen reads in capital letters “Conway saved taxpayers even more.” Three newspaper articles about Conway’s legal actions are superimposed in the next scene with small video frames of a jail door and him talking to a police officer. The phrase “Saving $200 Million” starts small in the middle of the screen and grows slightly larger. The picture of Conway talking to the officer appears again, but bigger, and there are computers in the scene with charts and graphs and Conway’s name superimposed. The words “tough on the budget” and “tough on criminals” in capital letters appear side by side. The ad ends with Conway walking and talking to a woman in an official setting with the words “Jack Conway for Attorney General. Real results for Kentucky” superimposed.
Republican opponent Todd P’Pool’s ads criticize Conway for supporting President Obama’s policies, and this ad attempts to contrast Conway with Washington politicians, with whom voters are unhappy.
Elected officials cannot legally cut their own pay, so Conway voluntarily gave back 10 percent of his salary by writing a check for $7,246 to the state last year, following an example set by Gov. Steve Beshear. He also makes donations for the furlough days that state employees are required to take off. He was also forced by Beshear to make budget cuts which led him to cut his own office staff.
The ad does not specify how Conway has prosecuted fraud or where the $200 million came from. His campaign website says he recovered $175 million in Medicaid funds and “fined oil companies who gouged taxpayers at the pump.” But neither the ad nor the website say Conway failed to get a temporary injunction against Marathon Petroleum Co. for alleged price gouging.
The ad keeps busy with a lot of images and fast scene changes; it may leave the viewer with the feeling that Conway accomplishes a lot and is always on the go. The same pictures appear throughout the ad: police, jail cells, and hand cuffs, suggesting that Conway is serious about crime. The image of people standing or walking in line, reiterating that Conway was forced to cut his staff, could be inferred to be an unemployment line, appealing to voters’ unhappiness with government and even government employees. Newspaper headlines add legitimacy to the ad’s claims. Pie charts and graphs, which represent facts, appear in the background of a scene and may imply that the ad is factual.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First debate with Beshear focuses on jobs and the economy

By Rachel Bryant, Lauren Forsythe and Sara Jean Burton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The invisible governor has appeared. Gov. Steve Beshear participated in a televised debate Tuesday night, the first with all three candidates for his job in attendance. The discussion at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts in Richmond focused on jobs and the future of the state's economy.

"The governor wants to keep emphasizing incentives," state Senate President David Williams said. "You have to take a broader look at our unemployment situation," the Republican said, adding, "You have to change the tax system, the unemployment insurance system, the tort reform system." Williams said the state should abolish income taxes and raise consumption taxes.

Beshear said in rebuttal, “Our economic incentives programs are obviously working because it bothers these two guys tremendously to even talk about it." At two points, he noted that Williams' father-in-law is creating 25 jobs with the incentive plan Beshear pushed through the legislature, and "I even got Senator Williams to vote for it.”

Independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith sided with his GOP opponent. He said the government is rewarding companies that pay $8 an hour to their employes, and "They are going to be on food stamps."

Among the many topics of disagreement were tuition increases for higher education. Beshear said he would keep trying to hold down tuition if re-elected. “No Kentuckian ought to be denied higher education because of cost and we’re getting close to that,” he said, adding that in the nine times he has cut the state budget he has never cut or lottery-funded KEES scholarships.

Williams said the cost of higher education in Kentucky is still a “good deal” compared to other states, and said Beshear had proposed “a significant cut to higher education” in 2008 and wanted to pay for the scholarships by borrowing money.

Galbraith said he supports a tuition freeze and would implement the “Commonwealth Incentive,” giving each high school graduate a $5,000 voucher to be used towards higher education expenses. He focused more on the importance of technical education, saying "Someone who can fix a transmission is going to be more valuable than someone with a degree in English lit."

Galbraith disagreed with the major-party candidates about mountaintop-removal strip mining of coal, which he called "overly destructive." Williams said "I support mountaintop removal" because using coal keeps Kentucky’s electricity costs low and helps the state compete for manufacturing jobs.

Beshear said likewise, but he said mountaintop removal should be done in an environmentally friendly way. He noted the law generally requires reclamation to the approximate original contour, except "when you can show a better and higher use for the land … for things like hospitals, airports, subdivisions and the like … . In those limited circumstances we should allow it." (Only about 3 percent of such sites are actually developed.)

The expansion of gambling in Kentucky was another topic of conflict. Williams said he was opposed to an expansion of gambling. “Slot machines are the worst enemies of folks at racetracks,” he said.

Beshear and Galbraith both said more gambling in Kentucky would bring more money to the state and help the horse industry, which Beshear said the state could lose because other states have slot machines at racetracks, or full-scale casinos.

“We’ve got folks going across the river to spend their entertainment money, including Senator Williams,” Beshear said. Williams has said that he no longer visits casinos.

Williams said he supports taking pseudoephedrine off of drugstore shelves to crack down on methamphetamine, which is made with the drug. Beshear talked about prescription drug abuse but did not take a position on pseudoephedrine. Galbraith said that if elected he would sue the pharmaceutical companies for money to be used towards rehabilitation services, and said money should not be spent on arresting college students for smoking marijuana but instead spent on more serious drug problems.

The debate was sponsored by the Kentucky Broadcasters Association and the League of Women Voters. It was broadcast in most Kentucky TV markets and on more than 100 radio stations. The candidates are scheduled to share a stage one more time, on Oct. 31 at KET.