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Kentucky kafuffle: Candidates bicker over guns, marriage equality

Kentucky kafuffle: Candidates bicker over guns, marriage equality
Gov. Steve Beshear
Gov. Steve Beshear

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Democrat Jack Conway spoke out against arming teachers as a way to prevent schoolhouse shooting sprees, while Republican Matt Bevin advocated random drug testing for people receiving public assistance as the gubernatorial candidates bickered on a range of issues in a televised debate Tuesday night.

The rivals differed on right-to-work legislation, the need for a higher state minimum wage and whether to legalize casino-style gambling during an hourlong debate at Centre College that was broadcast across Kentucky.

The face-to-face meeting, sponsored by AARP, comes less than a month before the Nov. 3 election. Both candidates kept up their favorite lines of attack on personal and policy issues.

Asked to wade into the gun-control issue in a state where gun rights are cherished, the candidates were urged to express their views on gun-free zones following the most recent mass shooting in the U.S., at an Oregon college. The shooter killed nine people and himself.

“The answer to gun violence at schools is not putting more guns in schools in the hands of the teachers,” Conway said.

Bevin spoke out against putting restrictions on where people with concealed carry licenses can legally take their weapons. He was critical of gun-free zones that he said can be targeted by mentally ill people looking to inflict harm.

“We should not have it so easy for someone to walk into a school or a theater or wherever and know that nobody will challenge them,” he said.

Both candidates opposed more restrictions on gun purchases. Conway, the state’s two-term attorney general, said states should be more diligent in getting the names of people deemed mentally ill onto registries aimed at keeping guns out of their hands.

Meanwhile, Bevin said that people receiving public assistance should be held accountable through drug testing. The Louisville businessman advocated testing that would not violate the recipients’ constitutional rights. He said that if public safety employees face random drug tests, so should people on public assistance.

“I do believe we should have random drug testing for people who are on social benefits,” he said.

Bevin’s answer was in response to a question from Conway, who asked if the Republican supported random drug testing for Medicare recipients.

Bevin answered the question but as the give-and-take ended, the Republican interjected: “We’re talking about Medicaid in this instance, Jack. And you know that’s what we’re talking about.”

On another hot-button issue, the candidates delved into the uproar over the Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Conway said he has sympathy for Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis but added: “She didn’t go to jail for a few days because of her religious beliefs. She went to jail for a few days because she defied a federal court order.”

Conway expressed support for legislation that would provide an exemption for clerks from being the ones to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples due to their religious objections. But he said it would have to be “narrowly tailored” and adhere to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Bevin also offered support for an exemption based on religious objections. He repeated his criticism of Conway for not appealing a federal judge’s decision to overturn Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban.

Conway replied that as attorney general he defended the ban when the case was heard in U.S. District Court and lost. He said he decided that an appeal would not be successful.

“Was I going to spend … what ultimately turned out to be millions of dollars wasting taxpayer money on something that I thought we would lose?” he said.

While bemoaning what he sees as an overly burdensome state permitting process, Bevin said: “We will, indeed, unconstipate Frankfort on the business front.”

Conway replied: “Let me say, I prefer to say that I will streamline rather than unconstipate.”

Meanwhile, Conway said he supports putting a casino-gambling measure on the ballot for voters decide, and said the state’s horse-racing tracks should be a key player.

“I don’t think that we ought to let out-of-state gaming companies come in and compete with our tracks,” Conway said. “If we’re going to have people in the state vote to have gaming, the tracks need to be part of it.”

Bevin said he opposes casino-style gambling, adding: “I don’t think it’s the solution to what ails us financially in this state.”

Bevin advocated right-to-work legislation as a way to stimulate economic growth. Conway spoke out against such a measure. On another economic issue, Conway endorsed a higher state minimum wage while Bevin opposed it.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis was not invited to participate in the debate. The candidates are vying to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

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