The Kentucky Primary Elections are on May 21. Republicans and Democrats will choose their candidates for the constitutional office seats of Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Commissioner of Agriculture, Auditor and Treasurer. The General Election is on November 5.
WKMS News compiled the following series of candidate profiles, based on interviews with the candidates at various campaign stops in the region or over the phone. We asked the candidates about their priorities and what differentiates them from their opponents.
Matt Bevin (incumbent) / Ralph Alvarado
At a Republican fundraiser in Murray, incumbent Governor Matt Bevin joked that sometimes being governor is analogous to being in the barn in the springtime: "especially if it’s been a long winter. Stuff just piles up.” He added, “this is a season of shoveling.” That season, he said, has been going on for the more than three years he has been in office. He said he hopes to continue to have the opportunity because he is optimistic that "at some point, some future governor is going to get to ride the pony."
He says his reelection message to teachers affected by the pension issue is that the vast majority are retirees, or are hoping to someday be retirees, and are supportive of his efforts to reform the pension system. He says he's the only governor who has ever fully funded their pensions, that no one else has ever led the charge on it. "For every person who's scared and or confused, there are dozens and dozens that are grateful that somebody's actually fighting to fund their pension," he said.
Bevin calls his pension reform efforts "a legal and moral obligation" to deliver on the promise made to state employees. He says the only way to deliver on that promise is to change the structure for future employees because it is not financially possible to keep doing in the future what has been done to this point. He pledges to keep fighting and to "do the dirty work."
He says his work requirements for Medicaid policy is an effort to get able-bodied, working-age men and women back to work. He says he wants everyone Kentucky to have a job whether they want one or not, with an exception for people who are gainfully retired. The policy requires people to work, volunteer or undergo job training for 20 hours a week. “We want people to have the satisfaction, the dignity, of doing for themselves," he said, and that comes coupled with job growth in the state.
Bevin’s campaign has not responded to an interview request. WKMS News interviewed Bevin’s running mate, Senator Ralph Alvarado, about the campaign.
State senator Ralph Alvarado says Bevin has been “a busy governor,” representing the state well around the country. He says Bevin sells the state in bringing jobs and economic opportunity and is able to represent Kentucky with the federal government, attracting grants.
Alvarado says the top priority is “to continue the economic trajectory that we’re on. It’s been tremendous what we’ve accomplished in this state in the last three years in partnering between the Bevin administration and what we’ve been able to do in the General Assembly. 50,000 new jobs have been created in the state. We’ve got, I think, the lowest unemployment rate in two generations, over $19 billion dollars now…” He touted economic development and workforce development investment.
“There’s almost more jobs out there than workers so we have to make Kentucky grow,” Alvarado said. “Make it a place where others want to come do. And then people that are able to work and are wanting to work - make sure they have the jobs and they can go out there and earn a good living for their family.”
He says Bevin is arguably the most pro-life governor in the union and Kentucky is one of the most pro-life states in the union. He says Bevin will continue to defend the rights of the unborn.
Alvarado says Kentucky needs to create job opportunities for coal miners in the eastern part of the state ravaged by the reduction in coal production. He wants to make sure those miners can earn $75,000 to $80,000 and up. He suggests these could be technical and manufacturing jobs, for example at automotive and aluminum plants.
He says the Bevin agenda tends to promote American ideals, which he explains is the inherent worth of the individual and the ability for someone to achieve whatever they want to achieve through the dignity of work.
Another issue is health care, Alvarado says. He wants to make sure jobs can provide health care for individuals. "The governor has worked really hard to help reduce the number of people off of Medicaid rolls so they can get them into normal employment and normal private insurance." He says 72,000 people have come off those rolls this past year just because they've been able to find jobs - saving the state $300 million in Medicaid costs.
Alvarado says the Bevin administration wants to encourage adults to gain trade skills for manufacturing jobs. "For some reason, in society, we've gotten to the point where we don't equate a trade to a college degree and I think we've got to start getting used to that." He says sometimes people with college degrees struggle to earn a living after graduation, while people learning trades - like plumbers, carpenters and HVAC specialists are making much more in salary. He wants society to treat trade skills like a college degree.
Another issue is trying to get people to be more computer savvy in the state, opening up potential for jobs in the IT industry. "We're working toward that," Alvarado said, suggesting rural broadband initiatives.
Alvarado says he personally has a reputation of filing a lot of bills and experience getting a lot of bills across the finish line. He says others either don't have experience in the General Assembly or haven't had a lot of success in that regard. He says Bevin's success, and proven track record, speaks volumes and nobody can deny the results. A vote for Bevin will continue that trajectory, he says.
"If the state wants to continue to move forward. I think this is the opportunity,” said Alvarado. “I think any other alternative is going to be a step backwards in where this state needs to go."
He said Bevin is a governor that's taken on tough assignments, things that no one else wants to talk about or do. He said a lot of them just want to say ‘yes’, be popular, ignore the problem and kick it down the road. He said Bevin has taken on pension reforms, trying to create tax reforms and has never shied away from this. He says he tries to get there not with popularity in mind, but with success in mind.
Robert Goforth / Michael Hogan
Robert Goforth is a state Representative for Laurel, Jackson and Madison Counties. He served in the US Army and has a background in pharmacy. He says seeing the scourge of drugs affecting children prompted him to decide to run for the legislature.
He says his top priorities are dealing with the pension issue and the drug epidemic. He says he also wants to focus on tax reform, education and health care.
“We have to bring everybody together to solve the tough challenges for Kentucky,” Goforth said, and added that Kentucky needs a different approach than how it’s been handled so far. He credits his legislative experience for making him qualified for the position and says he has a vision for Kentucky - a plan to go down a different road than "what we've been down the same old failed attempts."
When asked what his answer or solution is to solving the pension issue, Goforth said he co-sponsored HB504 last session that saves the defined benefit plan for teachers, saves more money than the so-called 'sewer bill' passed last year and said it's a good solution for the pension issue for teachers. Then, there needs to be funding for KERS, he said. "We need to find better sources to invest our dollars since this governor has been the governor, he's supposed to be investing our dollars wisely, yet that pension board has paid out $400 million dollars in management fees in 2016, 17, and 18 to his hedge fund cronies. So we need to get a better return on our money for less fees."
On Bevin's recent veto of the pension relief bill for universities and quasis, Goforth said, "There again, it just proves you can't believe a word Matt Bevin says. He sent us a letter in the legislature that he was wanting and urging the legislature to pass the bill. I knew it was a bad bill to begin with. There's a loophole that people's pensions, public employees pensions in these quasis - their pensions would be in jeopardy and he still urged them to pass the bill. I think it's a political stunt because he realized that there's more employees than administrators that were against the bill than for it."
Goforth says the Democrats in the governor's race "don't represent the values that most of us in Kentucky represent," but rather the "same old failed policies and political values that we've seen in the past." He says they don't believe in standing up for the right for life, the unborn and they don't believe in people defending themselves. When asked about Rocky Adkins running as a pro-life candidate, Goforth said Adkins voted against pro-life legislation.
He says he believes the Republican Party has experienced great successes over the past several years, but those are in "great danger" due to Bevin’s low approval rating. He says the party is bigger than one person and says Kentucky deserves to have a governor that shares conservative values.
He has filed a fetal heartbeat bill and says he's the first state legislator to file a bill to make it a felony to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
He also filed what he describes as conservative Second Amendment legislation that says one should never be defenseless if they are a law abiding, trained citizen with a permit.
Goforth says the pension system can be fixed in a "fair and just" way. He says Common Core needs to be repealed. He says revenue doesn't need to be raised through predatory casino-style gambling or on the backs of hard working Kentuckians. And says billions are wasted in Frankfort due to politics.
"We can be pro-business and pro-worker at the same time,” Goforth said. “We have to make sure some of those rights go to those in the breakroom and not just the board room."
Ike Lawrence / James Anthony Rose
A self employed businessman in real estate from Lexington, Ike Lawrence says he started the city’s Town and Gown Commission. He says his business model involves buying distressed student properties and “raising the bar.” He says he’s trying to fix Town and Gown problems the University of Kentucky has put on citizens. He says the community is losing kids due to injury and death due to alcohol problems.
Lawrence says Governor Matt Bevin is big at bringing companies from the outside to grow the economy - but says two haven’t come to fruition: an aluminum plant and a battery plant. He says the state has lost millions in trying to bring them here. And says the money going to these investments should go back to the communities. He predicts this would be about $330,000 per county, which could be used to help grow small and medium size businesses rather than the promise of large companies that may never break ground.
“I’m a big believer that this economic development that comes out the treasury and the governor’s office isn’t working,” he said. “The taxes they pay are deferred for 10 to 20 years. So we lose money from the treasury. The numbers, as far as salary, are inflated. Nobody’s going to pay lineworkers $75,000 times 400 workers and expect to compete against the Chinese and Japanese to sell aluminum, unless these numbers are really inflated.”
Lawrence says he’s not too different from Bevin. “I do philosophically think that he’s just hitting the tip of the iceberg. The opioid and fentanyl problem and the pension problem…” He said, however, he would tackle “the whole iceberg, not just the top two percent.”
On school issues, Lawrence says he’s big on “tough love” in high schools and middle schools - raising the bar through a higher dress code and mandatory turning off of cell phones during school hours. He believes in making changes to campus policies with regard to alcohol and “leveling out the tuition from freshman to senior year” - with no tuition increases.
He says he’s pro right-to-work. He doesn’t believe the inviolable contract extends beyond the original contract. “All the add-ons from the past 29 years, although they’ve received it, I don’t think they’re protected.”
He says defined benefit plans need to change because people are living longer and because of economies of scale, “ you have to change things and give back a little bit so future beneficiaries can receive.”
Lawrence says his 40 year resume is “all business” and “about fixing things.” He says he goes after issues that people typically don’t go after, such as “real liberalism” and wants to take this experience statewide.
William Woods / Justin Miller
William Woods has not responded to an interview request and hasn’t appeared at the campaign events WKMS News has attended.
Attorney Daniel Cameron says his biggest priority is re-establishing the office in its proper place as the chief law enforcement office in Kentucky. “We’ve got a huge drug epidemic here. We’ve lost 1,565 individuals to drug overdoses in the commonwealth. And I’m hoping the next Attorney General - and I’m hoping that that is me, needs to focus on that issue, primarily.”
Measuring success comes down to reducing that number, he says. Cameron also wants an Attorney General who stands up for First and Second Amendment rights and the rights of the unborn. “I think that’s a really, really important issue as we move into the next decade,” he said.
It’s also important, he says, “that we have an Attorney General who is not suing the governor at every turn.” He says the current Attorney General has found himself suing the governor on every piece of consequential legislation that has been passed in the General Assembly. When asked if voters elect him AG and a Democrat wins the governor’s race if he’d fight the governor at every turn, Cameron said he’d abide by his principles, “but at the end of the day you’re supposed to uphold and enforce the laws that are passed by the General Assembly.” He added that public safety doesn’t have an ‘R’ or ‘D’ so he is happy to work with whomever on that issue.
Cameron says he has long relationships with Kentucky law enforcement. He served as Senator Mitch McConnell’s general counsel for two and a half years and says he’s proud to have worked with him to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. He says he has worked with various law enforcement agencies in the state.
State Senator Wil Schroder says he is a pro-life advocate and it's time we had a pro-life Attorney General. He says the drug epidemic continues to wreak havoc across Kentucky. He also supports constitutional rights, particularly the First and Second Amendment.
"Standing up for pro-life legislation, I mean, our current Attorney General hasn't even put up a fight. I've stood up against groups like Planned Parenthood and ACLU as state Senator and I'll continue to do so again as Attorney General," he said.
As for the drug epidemic, Schroder wants a conversation, more dialogue, with county attorneys, commonwealth attorneys and law enforcement on the issue.
He says he's the only candidate who has been a prosecutor as assistant commonwealth's attorney for Campbell County before serving in the state Senate.
"As Attorney General, I'm going to be deciding things not based on political influence or what's popular politically,” he said “People have asked me, ‘well, what if it's not a Republican governor?’ It's not going to matter. I'm going to be approaching things from a compass of: what does the constitution say. What does the U.S. constitution say, what does the Kentucky constitution say and what does the law say? And those will guide my decision making."
SECRETARY OF STATE
Former McConnell aide and a native of Paducah, Michael Adams says west Kentucky never gets the attention it deserves and says he'll be an advocate for the region.
He says he's the only one on both tickets that has election experience. He has a national Republican election law practice in Kentucky and is Vice President Mike Pence's attorney for political law.
Adams says his highest priority is restoring dignity and honor to the office of Secretary of State. He says incumbent Democrats have scandalized the office. His biggest policy priority is requiring a photo identification to vote.
Adams also wants to clean up the voter rolls. "We have numerous counties in Kentucky that have more registered voters than voting age citizens. There's a process in federal and state law for cleaning those voter rolls up but it's not been followed by the incumbent Democrats and I want to fix that."
He says automatic voter registration is "a recipe for fraud and corruption.” He also opposes multilingual ballots because "they are very costly to the county" and "caters to people who are not citizens."
Attorney Andrew English is a military officer, has spent six years active duty in the Navy, is currently lieutenant commander in the reserves, has run an office of more than 40 lawyers, paralegals and investigators for the past the years as the general counsel for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
English says the Secretary of State’s office is in trouble right now and needs someone to come in and rebuild. His first priority is to rebuild relationship with state board of elections and county clerks offices. After that, he says voter ID is needed and voter rolls need to be cleaned up.
He says the business side of the office - involving LLCs and corporation documentation - doesn’t get much attention, but needs a plan. Kentucky One Stop needs to be modernized, he says. “We have so much potential in the state, we need to create that entrepreneurial spirit, especially out here in western Kentucky, making sure people are taking advantage of all those economic opportunities that are coming to the commonwealth.” He wants to make this process as easy as possible to spur economic development.
Voter ID will need to be a piece of legislation - similar to Indiana’s laws, he says. As for cleaning the voting rolls, he says there’s a process in place right now, but is needs to be automated.
“We need somebody in there who can actually lead and understands that, look, you have to put the right people in the right places and you have to have a team in that office and that team expands out to the county clerks and the state board of elections,” he said.
Former Erlanger city councilman Stephen Knipper ran for Secretary of State in 2015 against Alison Lundergan Grimes and lost. He says many of the same issues he championed then are relevant today.
Knipper wants to clean the voter rolls. He says 48 counties lack supervision over this. He says he was alarmed to learn voter data was sold on the dark web. He says there is “a lot of room for a good time if you have a bad heart” when it comes to illegally assuming people’s identities to vote in Kentucky, suggesting such activity has occurred in past elections in the state. He noted he mentioned this in 2015 and now it’s the number one issue. He says a vote for Knipper is a vote for someone who can operate in the office right away, knows the plan and how to clean up the rolls.
He credits his experience working with large companies and considers not being an attorney a “big plus” because it offers some innovation.
On other issues, Knipper is an advocate for adoption because he and his wife adopted five children from China, which he said was a laborious process. “You talk about an education in bureaucracy - Oh my goodness.” He wants to streamline the process.
Knipper said Democrats running for Secretary of State will have a hard time separating themselves from Alison Lundergan Grimes’ track record.
Carl Nett is a trained criminal investigator with a background in the U.S. Secret Service as a member of the Presidential Protection Division. He says he is the only trained intelligence and counterintelligence officer in the race and that this makes him qualified to take on new and emerging threats to elections from foreign intelligence agencies. He said he led a unit for the Pentagon at a U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay dealing with the Office of Military Commissions. He says he'd bring the same level of expertise and discretion to the office.
Nett’s top priority is to clean up the voter rolls. He says the law has not been adhered to by the incumbent. He wants to follow "a model that was implemented out of state" and approved by the Supreme Court, which is to go through and look at those who have been dormant for two federal election cycles, send them a pre-paid postage mailer that asks if they're still a resident of Kentucky. "And if we don't get a response, we wait two more years and if they haven't voted then, a full decade, then we purge the voter rolls, citing change of address."
Nett further explained, "If they haven't voted already in eight years, two federal election cycles, then that should be a red flag, of possibly having moved out of the state, or never having existed, or being an illegal alien, or being deceased."
"I would make the case to everyone that what we want out of government, particularly in this role as chief election official is someone who's going to be faithful to the law, is someone who is going to operate with integrity, is someone who is going to make sure every vote counts with equal weight, and is going to make sure that we police our elections and keep them fair and honest. That's what we should all want as Americans."
COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE
Incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles wants to continue to grow Kentucky Proud, getting beef and meat into grocery stores in a significant way.
Quarles wants to continue to expand industrial hemp. "That's a signature achievement during my first term." He says 1,000 farmers are growing and 120 companies are involved. Because Kentucky chose to lead on this, and now that the recent Farm Bill legalized the crop, he says Kentucky will play a pivotal role in developing the national framework and creating jobs.
He wants to make sure Kentucky is an advocate for agriculture - from food literacy to expanding farmers markets, and playing defense against "ridiculous" legislation like the Green New Deal, which he says targets "cow farts.” He said there are also unfair targets to the beef industry with "fake meat."
He says success would be an increase in people using Kentucky Proud and the overall quality of the programs. Another measure would be job creation and economic development through industrial hemp. As for being an advocate in “preventing bad things from happening” and educating consumers, he said, this one is hard to measure, “but making sure that when the two percent of the population that feeds the rest of America is appreciated and included in conversations, that's a success for agriculture not just in Kentucky, but nationwide."
Quarles says he would continue to be active in eastern Kentucky, which he says has a tremendous amount of timber. This would include having discussions with the growing bourbon industry to make sure that Kentucky has enough white oak so as that industry continues to grow and that they buy Kentucky timber first. He added that eastern Kentucky has a reputation for doing more with less.
He says he's proud of his track record, being active with the state legislature. Also, he says he’s well connected with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He says it's important Kentucky has someone who grew up on a family farm and has "dirt on their boots" to serve as state Commissioner of Agriculture.
Quarles says he believes in the free market and says Democratic challengers want to impose unnecessary bureaucracy on the hemp industry. He says this industry doesn’t need to be restricted, but rather unleashed.
He says the state Department of Agriculture is more than “cows, plows and sows.” It plays a consumer protection role. It also cracks down on credit card skimmers at gas pumps across the state. "Elect someone that knows ag, but also understands that they're looking out for consumers as well and over the past three-plus years we have a track record that I believe would make Kentucky proud,” he said.
Bill Polyniak has six years of experience in hemp farming. He says he was the fifth person in the state’s hemp pilot program. “We’ve seen thousands of people helped. So I’d like to use my experience that I've already used to help Kentucky farmers, but to expand that experience and use it at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to really put forth, what I would say is the finest quality program in the United States.”
Polyniak says his first top priority is hemp: “getting farmers really on board with what they need to do to be successful in hemp.” He says there’s a lot of “fake news” that suggests hemp is doing well, but says Kentucky is destroying hemp that is helping people.
He would define success in this regard as farmers getting paid and building quality products. “Right now, when you look at the hemp industry, we have a lot of products showing up on store shelves and Marathon and gas stations and stuff and when you look at the success people are having on CBD, it’s not because they’re buying those products in gas stations.” He says he wants to get Kentucky farmers moving forward so they can be successful and that plan doesn’t exist today.
He says he’s the only candidate that has the leadership experience to put forth a plan, rather than a guess.
Mike Harmon (unopposed)
Incumbent state auditor Mike Harmon says his top priority if reelected is to continue the work he’s been doing the past three years in office. Harmon says he feels he’s moved the office in the right direction and conducted historic audits. He referenced the first audit of the Administrative Office of the Courts where they issued 20 fines and found that one of the justices was leasing space from a company owned by his two sons. Harmon says the lease was three times more expensive than the next closest bid.
Harmon also harkened back to 2018 Kentucky Wired audit, which found an originally $30 million investment bumped up to $1.5 billion by former Governor Steve Beshear.
Harmon says his office has released data bulletins to condense information in a way that’s accessible to the public. He named the debt data bulletin as an example, which showed the state had $54.6 billion dollars in debt. He said 80% was unfunded pension liability.
“That’s almost $12,300 for every man, woman and child in the state of Kentucky. That helps the average citizen grasp better what situation that we’re in,” Harmon said.
Harmon says he’s spent 13 years in Kentucky General Assembly. He says his office has been able to advance several pieces of legislation to “make the state efficient, effective and ethical.” In 2018, they advanced Senate Bill 144-- also called the AUP bill --which allows sheriffs and county clerks to opt for an agreed upon procedures audit rather than a full financial statement audit if they had a clean audit the previous year. Harmon says this saves counties 25-50% on cost of audits and allows for better use of assets.
Harmon says he has more experience than his Democratic opponents with a background in banking and insurance. He says he doesn’t have any personal agenda in the Auditor’s office and says its important to follow the data.
“It’s important for the Auditor, when he steps into the office, to take the partisan hat off and put on the independent, non-partisan hat…” Harmon said.
Allison Ball (unopposed)
Incumbent state Treasurer Allison Ball says she believes the job is about being a watchdog over taxpayer dollars. She says she's tried to restore that as an emphasis of the office in cutting spending and catching fraud attempts.
Ball says she's returned more unclaimed property dollars than any other Treasurer in the same period of time. She says she has returned more than $73 million dollars. "That's something that I actually have ideas on how to improve,” she said. “I've improved it while I've been in office and there's other things that I want to do that will identify people so that they don't always have to come to me - that I'll be able to find them and return the money."
Ball was a bankruptcy attorney before becoming Treasurer. She says she got to see firsthand the need for financial literacy in Kentucky and wants to tackle this issue. Last year, she championed a bill to make it a requirement for high school students to have a financial literacy course before graduation. This past year, she supported a bill to make a Commission on Financial Literacy, led by the Treasury office, for resources for teachers to teach financial literacy. She says the office will use the private sector for this, adding that it does not involve taxpayer dollars. She says they’ll partner with credit unions.
Ball is also an advocate for encouraging women to run for office and to take on leadership roles. She says it helps to see a young mom, such as herself, doing an important job like state Treasurer, that both can be done, and done well. She wants to encourage women to “jump in” and do more "because we need their voices across Kentucky."
She says people know what kind of treasurer she is, and says it helps people in making their decision at the poll. She says the role has an opportunity to be transparent and says she launched a transparency website. "You want people in office who believe in transparency. That's something I’ve done. And of course financial literacy is something that I have recognized as something we need in Kentucky," she said, adding that she also launched a database that categorizes financial literacy resources in Kentucky.
"The job is a watchdog for taxpayer dollars. It's not necessarily a political role. It's a core function of government role. You want somebody who understands the fiscal elements of the role,” she said.