Republican primary candidates for vying for the state 4th District House seat recently debated in Hopkinsville. The League of Women Voters hosted the forum between incumbent Lynn Bechler and challenger Fred Stubblefield. The candidates discussed a wide range of issues, including education, health care, minimum wage and marijuana.
Incumbent Lynn Bechler said his priorities are economy and taxes. He wants to see the elimination of the state income tax and to move toward a consumption-based system. He said he would also work to reduce state spending. As co-chair of the Program Review and Investigations Committee, he also said he would investigate the Kentucky Wired program.
Challenger Fred Stubblefield introduced himself as a farmer who lives in Crittenden County. He said he is involved in a local museum and an arts organizations. He also serves as a volunteer firefighter. He wants to address infrastructure issues and supports a consumer-based tax system. He specifically took issue with the US641/KY91 project, which he said has "been at a standstill for years."
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said in a release earlier this month that construction of a diversion is underway where the New US 641 will connect with the existing road just south of Marion. Stubblefield said this project began because residents expressed frustration over the issue. As is the case with many road projects, this particular project has been a long-term, evolving process.
Bechler said he feels elementary and secondary schools are adequately funded and noted that the legislature recently upped per-student spending. "Part of the problem is I'm not sure that we're teaching our children what needs to be taught," he said, pointing to a need to change Common Core. He said he is a firm supporter of all forms of education: public, private, Christian, homeschooling, etc. He said the state needs to assess the education system as a whole and not strictly the amount of money being put into the system. He said he wants to see a focus on programs other than four-year degrees, such as vocational or two-year degrees. He said he would not support free tuition at community colleges because there are "no such things as free lunch" and said students should make a decision about what an investment in their education means to them. Bechler said he has "no problem" with charter schools, but said public schools should be funded first. He suggested public schools could benefit from removing regulations that are not imposed on charter schools.
These regulations vary by state. Here is a list as of 2014 from the Education Commission of the States as to what those differences are.
Stubblefield said elementary and secondary schools are adequately funded. He noted that the legislature recently increased per-student spending by $19. "I'm not sure how much money is needed," he said. He called for an assessment of how education funds are being spent and whether they are really benefitting students. He wants to see more skill-based education to prepare the workforce for companies that want to do business in Kentucky. Stubblefield said he doesn't support free tuition for two-year associate degrees at community colleges. "Nothing in life is free," he said. He suggested applying the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) towards high school. He said some students can get their first year or two of postsecondary education in high school. On Charter schools, he said he has no problem with them, but said they'd have to fund themselves. He added that public schools "have to be first."
Health care is a "misnomer," Bechler said, "What we're really talking about is insurance. You can have all the insurance in the world and still not be healthy," Bechler said. He added that every citizen and non-citizen can get treated in an emergency room. He said there's not a lack of medical care, but the deliberation is in its cost.
Stubblefield said Kentuckians are 'hurting in a number of ways' on health care. He said facilities are good but the way Medicaid and Medicare pay needs to change. He said the amount of money critical access hospitals receive is "astronomical" and needs to change.
Starting July 1, some Medicaid enrollees in Kentucky could be fined for going to a hospital emergency room if they end up not actually having an emergency.
Bechler said he does not support an increase in minimum wage. Pointing to restaurants in California, he said a minimum wage increase to $15 dollars there replaced certain workers with robots. He said raising the minimum wage would exclude a chance for "kids" to get work experience.
Stubblefield said minimum wage should not increase at this time. He said this wage is for 'beginning jobs,' for people 'getting started.' He said if this is raised then children wouldn't be able to get summer jobs.
McKinsey Global Institute found in 2017 fast food is among industries most vulnerable to automation... At least one restaurant in California is using a robot to flip burgers. Here is an update on minimum wages across the nation from the Economic Policy Institute. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2016, workers under the age of 25 represent a little more than half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less.
Medical Marijuana & Drugs
Bechler said he does not support medical or recreational marijuana. He said there have not been enough peer-reviewed studies to indicate whether it's a 'good thing.' He said he has supported a measure to study medical marijuana. He said people who support medical marijuana come to his office and admit they want all forms of marijuana legalized. He said it's illegal in the United States "and until such times are changed I don't think we should violate the U.S. law." Stubblefield said he neither supports or is opposed to medical marijuana. He said he wants more education, science and studies on this topic. He said he does, however, favor hemp (which is also cannabis).
Drug addiction can't be solved by legislation, Bechler said. "Every time a law was passed to try to address that [in Kentucky] a new drug would come along and drug addiction would become worse." He said the focus needs to be on education, to make sure physicians are only prescribing what is necessary.
Stubblefield said kids should be taught at an early age in schools about the dangers of drugs and drunk driving.
Bechler said he doesn't support smoking bans in public places, but added that he personally wouldn't go into a restaurant where people are smoking if there is another restaurant that serves the same thing at a reasonable price. He added it's up to local municipalities if they want to have public smoking bans but he wouldn't support a state law. Stubblefield said he would not support a smoking ban, but said it should be limited inside municipal buildings.
As for a local option sales tax, Bechler said he would support it in theory, however, feels the issue has not addressed what should happen if a project goes over budget or takes too long to complete. Stubblefield said it should be up to cities to determine local option sales tax for specific projects.
If a city wants to impose a restaurant tax, Bechler said, he would consider it, but under the conditions that the people have a chance to weigh in on the matter. He didn't feel cities should be excluded due to their classifications. Stubblefield said he'd support the measure if it were on a ballot for residents to vote on.
Bechler said he's proud of recent foster care reforms and feels work needs to continue on this front. Stubblefield said the foster care program needs revamping.
Bechler said early voting would require a constitutional amendment. He said he does not support electronic voting, pointing to Internet vulnerabilities. Stubblefield said he wouldn't support early voting until the Internet infrastructure is improved.
In closing remarks, Bechler said he has supported infrastructure legislation and wants to focus on economic development efforts. He said he has worked with lawmakers to override gubernatorial vetoes for a balanced budget. “Those who promise everything often deliver nothing. What I have promised. I have delivered," Bechler said.
Stubblefield said he wants Kentucky to spend more resources on repairing roads and bridges. He would support a gasoline tax increase of 1 or 2 cents. Infrastructure is a big issue, he said, but acknowledged that there is not enough money to go around. Infrastructure needs include roads, the Internet, rivers, sewer systems, etc. "Without the infrastructure, we don't have growth. And that's what we need to get in this state," Stubblefield said.
The candidates face each other in the May 22 primary. The winner faces Democrat Abigail Barnes in the November election. District 4 is comprised of Livingston, Crittenden and Caldwell counties and a portion of northwest Christian County.
Taylor Inman contributed to this report.