Beshear, Cameron talk education, COVID, abortion in debate
Published 10:31 pm Monday, October 23, 2023
Monday night, Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron took the debate stage once again to trade jabs and share their policy positions.
The debate, hosted by Kentucky Educational Television and journalist Renee Shaw, focused on several key issues: education, COVID and abortion.
19,000 Kentuckians died of COVID during the pandemic. Beshear has been criticized for the strength and duration of restrictions, which included closure of small business, schools and in-person church gatherings.
Monday night, he said he did not regret the decisions he made.
“This is about leadership, and I showed people during the pandemic I was willing to make the hard decisions, even if it cost me,” Beshear said. “Put politics out the window and I made the best decisions I could to save as many lives as possible.”
Cameron said that he would have done things differently, and made sure not to infringe on Kentuckian’s constitutional rights, including the right to assemble.
As attorney general, Cameron fought Beshear’s executive order requiring out-of-state travelers to quarantine for two weeks upon their return. He also fought Biden’s vaccine mandate. He won in both cases.
“I would have done what a lot of red state governors did, which was try to get their states open as quickly as possible,” Cameron said.
Kentucky students’ proficiency in math and reading has dropped significantly since 2019, alongside most of the nation.
Addressing that learning loss—and blaming it on Beshear—is a major component of Cameron’s platform.
His plan includes an increase in starting salaries for teachers, a 16-week tutoring program run by teachers and student teachers and more disciplinary tools for teachers who he said are leaving the classroom partially due to discipline problems.
Beshear said that learning loss didn’t begin with the pandemic.
“This was something that was happening even before the pandemic and it’s primarily been driven by not having enough educators,” he said. “If you want to catch a kid up on math, they have to have a math teacher in the room every day.”
Beshear’s plan includes 11% raises for all school employees. However, he needs legislative approval to make that happen.
In 2019, Beshear promised to pass teacher raises. While the last budget included historic K-12 funding, the legislature did not mandate that a certain portion of that money had to be used for raises.
“The reason that you haven’t gotten any of those is because this governor has no relationship with the legislature,” Cameron said.
Beshear contends that he’s gotten bipartisan legislation passed before, including sports betting, medical marijuana and historic raises for Kentucky State Police, and he can do it again.
The other key education issue was private school vouchers, and whether Cameron would push for them to be implemented if elected.
Beshear said that he does not support vouchers, and that they “steal money from our public schools and send them to our private schools.”
Cameron did not say whether he would personally push for vouchers, but said that he would sign a bill sent to him including scholarship tax credits or vouchers.
“I would support primarily our public school system,” he said.
“…I agree that we need to expand opportunity and choice but this program and policy that I’ve put forward is about our public schools.”
Shaw asked the candidates whether they would support abortion exceptions for rape or incest.
“Look, if the legislature brings me those exceptions, I will sign it,” Cameron said. “But let me just say this today—I’m Planned Parenthood’s worst nightmare.”
Beshear said he is in favor of reasonable restrictions on abortion, including late-term abortions.
“I believe that victims of rape and incest deserve options, that there has to be an exception,” he said.
Cameron signed onto a letter with 18 other Republicans opposing a federal privacy rule that would block state officials from getting medical records of women who seek out-of-state abortions.
Shaw asked him what he meant to accomplish with that. Cameron did not directly answer that question, but said that he opposed a proposed bill last year that would have criminalized women who sought abortions.
Beshear said that Cameron’s actions—defending Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban in court—speak for themselves.
Shaw asked both candidates about their opinions on national political figures in their party.
She asked Cameron whether or not he believed former president Donald Trump was responsible for the attack on the Capitol on January 6th.
Cameron did not answer the question, but he did express some support of Trump, who has endorsed Cameron in the race.
“The fact of the matter is that when it comes to Joe Biden and Donald Trump, I think most people at home right now agree that things were better in terms of the money in your pocket than what you have in D.C.,” Cameron said.
Shaw asked Beshear whether he approved of Biden’s handling of the economy. Beshear also avoided a direct answer, but said that there have been times he has disagreed with both Trump and Biden.
“We’re disagreeing with the President right now on some EPA rules and regulations that simply won’t work when you’re building the two biggest battery plants on planet Earth,” Beshear said.