LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican attorney general candidate Whitney Westerfield took aim at his opponent’s close family ties to Kentucky’s governor Monday night, summing up the race as “experience versus inheritance.” Democrat Andy Beshear fired back by criticizing Westerfield’s record as a prosecutor and his reliance on outside money to prop up his campaign.
The candidates for attorney general squared off during an hourlong joint appearance on Kentucky Educational Television in Lexington.
The two also wrangled over how state leaders responded to the headline-grabbing case of a county clerk who chose jail time over issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In doing so, Andy Beshear defended his father’s handling of the contentious issue in socially conservative Kentucky.
The joint appearance came three weeks before Kentucky voters choose a new attorney general on Nov. 3.
The incumbent attorney general, Jack Conway, is the Democratic nominee for governor this year, facing Republican Matt Bevin.
Beshear, the son of Gov. Steve Beshear, touted his experience as a lawyer and promoted his plans to combat child abuse, drug abuse and scams against older Kentuckians. He said that legal background makes him best qualified for the job as Kentucky’s chief law enforcement official.
“I’m battle tested,” he said. “I’ve been in the largest litigations. I’ve taken on government and I’ve won.”
Westerfield stressed his background as a former county prosecutor and his current role as a state senator.
Westerfield, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointed to his role in helping craft legislation to combat heroin addiction and to allow victims of abusive dating relationships to seek emergency protective orders.
“I don’t think this race should go to Andy because he’s the son of the governor,” Westerfield said. “I don’t think the people of Kentucky are interested in dynastic politics. I’ve gotten here because of God’s grace and hard work, and I think that makes a big distinction between the two of us.
“You’ve got experience versus inheritance,” he added.
Beshear said the only inheritance in the race is the millions of dollars spent by the Republican Attorney General’s Association on Westerfield’s behalf. The group has run attack ads against Beshear, who has raised considerably more money than Westerfield in the bare-knuckled race.
Westerfield has said his prosecutorial experience makes him best suited for the job. But Beshear brought up a comment in Westerfield’s personnel file as a young assistant prosecutor that indicated his personal interests sometimes took priority over his job.
Nearly one-third of Westerfield’s debt-collection cases, however, were dismissed due to lack of action, Beshear said.
Westerfield called the attacks distortions, accusing his opponent of bringing up “childish, petty things from years gone by.”
Meanwhile, the candidates delved into the case of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who chose jail time over issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing religious liberty.
Westerfield said Gov. Steve Beshear should have issued an executive order to exempt Davis and other clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples due to religious objections. Minus as executive order, Westerfield said Beshear should convene the General Assembly in special session to take up the issue.
“There’s a way to do this, to get those licenses issued and to protect the religious freedoms of those persons who object,” Westerfield said.
Andy Beshear countered that the governor cannot change a section of law by executive order, adding: “It’s law school 101.”
Beshear said a special legislative session would be a waste of taxpayers’ money since lawmakers start their regular 2016 session in early January. He said lawmakers can then debate whether to change how the marriage licenses are issued.
“As long as it meets the requirement of the Supreme Court decision, it will be perfectly legal and I think we’ll have cooler heads at that point,” he said.
Westerfield replied: “I just hope no one gets locked up for the next several months, as one’s already done.”