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Ky. Dist. 8 State Rep. Candidates Debate Service Tax, 2nd Amendment, Felony Expungement, More

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Candidates for Kentucky’s District 8 State Representative debated issues from voter purging to immigration in a Hopkinsville debate Thursday night.

The local chapter of the League of Women Voters hosted and moderated the forum. Republican Representative Walker Wood Thomas is seeking reelection against Democratic challenger Jeff Taylor. Taylor is looking to reclaim the seat that he briefly held in 2016.

Walker Wood Thomas

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Thomas said while in state office he has helped establish I-169 as an interstate and is currently assisting in the effort to establish two traffic lights in Hopkinsville. He said he is also a co-sponsor of a pre-filed bill to repeal sales tax legislation requiring nonprofit organizations to pay a service tax. He said the Supreme Court ruled that nonprofits would also be taxed under the law after the Republican-led legislature’s passing of a tax measure last session.

“It’s a little bit of a mix between of two storms that came together, but we will address this January 1st,” Thomas said.

He said the state’s tax reform that dropped the personal income tax from six percent to five percent is moving the commonwealth forward. Taylor rebutted the statement and said that the money saved from the income tax is lost to the service-based taxes. Thomas said Taylor’s argument was the same one that was being made federally and that the legislature is trying to slowly make their tax system more like Tennessee’s.

Thomas said the legislature is also studying whether or not to tax electric cars, which pay no fuel tax. He said one way they could could tax cars is by mileage compared to a flat gas tax.

Thomas said believes that the freedom of press should not be regulated but recognizes that there is a problem with biased information in the media. He said he thinks it is wrong for news media to put out stories with “part of the information” or false information with a rebuttal tucked behind classified section.

On the topic of non-violent felons and expunging their records, Thomas said he believes that everyone deserves a second-chance. He said they need to bring people out of the prison system and back into the workforce.

When asked about city classification in Kentucky, Thomas said he believes that laws need to be fair on all cities. The state constitution divides cities into six classes based on population. Hopkinsville is a class 2 city, which can’t charge restaurant tax like Cadiz and Madisonville.

“Whether they want to raise taxes or do restaurant taxes or different taxes that would help their own economy and their ideas and things in the city, I am all for,” Thomas said. “We need to push more control back to the cities, back to the counties. Take it away from us at state.”

Thomas said he was proud that the state budget fully funded the SEEK formula, which allocates money to local school districts. Thomas said he also filed a bill to help fund the local community college. He said the Rotary Scholars Program is limited by how much money it can give to the community college and have matched.

“My bill is hopefully going to move that where instead of just a million dollars to get up to match, its going to bump it up to three million dollars,” Thomas said.  

In a rebuttal, Taylor said that although SEEK funding was increased, there were other bills passed to “pump funding” out of public schools, which he said are “suffering.”

“We have schools right here where the ceilings are leaking,” Taylor said. “We have textbooks that are bound together by duct tape. Then, we’ve taken away from before-school programs and after-school programs. These things are very vital in a rural community that is stricken by poverty.”

Thomas denied Taylor’s claim regarding cuts to after school programs and said the legislature fully funded the FRYSC system. Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (or FRYSCs) are centers providing learning programs to students. Thomas said the legislature also fully funded teachers pensions “for the first time ever.” He said he and Taylor each passed one budget as District 8 representative--Thomas in 2018 and Taylor in 2016-- and Taylor underfunded the pensions by 100 billion over the biennial.

Taylor said he voted to fully fund the ARC (actuarially required contributions).

In a question inquiring whether or not Thomas supported early voting, he said that he did not and proceeded to speak on second amendment rights. He said there have been thirteen bills attacking gun rights filed by Democrats in the past legislative session. He said Republicans are protecting the second amendment rights of Kentuckians and quoted the Bible to express his support for the law. Upon prompting by the moderator to address his stance on early voting, Thomas said the current voting system has been in place for many years and he doesn’t believe it is broken.

On Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed Medicaid changes, Thomas said he supports Bevin’s plan to allow able-bodied workers to work for their health care. He said he is also supportive of a small copay. “The more people we can get back working the more people we can get off this Medicaid program,” Thomas said.

He said Kentucky picked up 400,000 extra people in the Medicaid system during an expansion under former Governor Steve Beshear’s administration. He said there’s a lot of people working that can not sustain their own health care.

Taylor rebutted and said people may be abusing the system but “we need to be sure that we’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” He said that not everyone is abusing the system and that’s where the state’s focus should be. He also said a $20 copay may not seem like a lot to him and Thomas, but for other people it determines whether or not they can afford food or gas.

On the topic of immigration, Thomas said illegal immigrants are still ‘illegal’ and wondered why sanctuary cities can “pick and choose” what laws to follow. He mentioned the U.S. bound illegal immigrant caravan that has dominated the news cycle and said he supports the president in stopping it at the border.

“I challenge anyone in this room here. If you believe that we should just let all of these people in and open our borders, then go home tonight, unlock your doors, unlock all your windows, and for the next couple weeks just sleep with your door open,” Thomas said. “In fact, stick a welcome sign out in the front of your yard and just welcome everyone in because that’s what we’re doing with our county.”

Addressing the voter purge where more than 50,000 names were scratched from the rolls in Georgia, Thomas said he supports everyone being able to vote but there is still a need to purge voter rolls. He said there are so many people on the voter rolls and that opens the door for fraud.

“I’m all for people being able to vote but make sure there is a person linked to that name,” he said.

Thomas said the state also needs to “broaden the base” and make more people move to the community. He said he is endorsed by the pro-life organization Kentucky Right To Life, the NRA, the Kentucky Chamber and President Donald Trump.

Jeff Taylor

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Taylor said Christian County has among the lowest voter turnout in the state. According to a report from the State Board of Elections following the 2016 general election, Christian County had 44.6% voter turnout. The lowest was Fulton County at 43.7%. He said this needs to be addressed.

Taylor also said the state has a governor with the forth lowest rating approval in the nation. That comes from a quarterly ranking report completed by the online survey research technology company Morning Consult.

Referencing a Kentucky New Era survey, Taylor said that this past legislative session had an 87% disapproval rating.

Taylor asked the audience why state leadership is ranked so low. He speculated that it might be tied to the method of the pension bill’s passing, as it was sneaked into the “sewer bill,” or the sexual harassment scandal surrounding former Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover. Taylor also mentioned the stripping of workers compensation benefits and the “lack of civility from the national level down in politics,” such as name calling and bullying tactics from Governor Bevin.

“This is not the country that I know,” Taylor said. “It’s not the state that I know. If I’m elected I’m going to reach across party lines. I’m going to do everything I can to bring civility back into politics.”

Regarding the service tax law that went into effect this past July, Taylor said he wants it repealed. He said his opponent voted for the bill and now the legislature wants to correct it because they know they made a mistake.

Thomas also said he wouldn’t add more taxes to electric cars because they’re already taxed at the point of sale. He said there is a surcharge on a person’s electric utility bill that fluctuates with fuel charge.

“You’ve got to consider that they [electric cars] are good for the environment, so we don’t want to drive people away from them,” Taylor said. “We want pull people to them. I would not change anything about it, as it stands now.”

Thomas rebutted and said it is debatable that electric cars are good for the environment. He said they still run off of electricity that comes from coal-fired plants and natural gas, which is still putting pollutants into the environment. Taylor responded, saying coal powered plants are being phased out across the country and suggests they will be a thing of the past in an era of electric cars.

Taylor said that laws are not needed to regulate the press and that the freedom of speech is “the backbone and core of democracy.” He said if legislators start tampering with it, the nation will head down a path with a democracy-less future. He said media regulations are unnecessary because of terms like ‘libel’ and ‘slander’ that exist in the law to protect people from being damaged by false information.

Addressing the expungement of certain crimes for non-violent offenders, Taylor said he favors scaling back the required time period of five years for felons to clear their record. He said when he was in office he cosponsored House Bill 40, which allowed certain class D felony convictions to be expunged. He said the state has the “worst felony expungement laws in the nation” and that if he goes back to Frankfort he will be “very aggressive” in this fixing this issue.

“These young men can’t find jobs. They can’t even work at an autoparts store,” Taylor said. “They can’t carry arms. If someone breaks into their house, they can’t protect themselves and their families. It also cuts down on our labor pool. I will do a lot to restore those class D felonies. We need to broaden it and we need to broaden it alot.”

Taylor also said he would consider revising the law that allows only certain classes of cities to charge restaurant taxes. He said such restrictions put places like Hopkinsville at a disadvantage. He said he believes government control should be at the local level whenever possible and that the issue is one of many things he would like to eventually see put on a referendum ballot for the people of Kentucky to decide. He said state representatives make too many decisions on behalf of citizens and too often intervene according to their personal morals and beliefs.

Taylor said that education funding is a number one priority. He said the state should invest in statewide broadband to teach kids and get parents more involved in their child’s education. He said that the state needs to invest in the youth.

On early voting, Taylor said it was a “humane issue.” He added, “You don’t know a person’s physical disabilities or their challenges in life or their work schedules. Or maybe they’re taking care of an elderly parent.”

He said that not making early voting available is a form of voter suppression that targets poor people and minorities.

Taylor made similar statements regarding the voter purging in Georgia. He said voter suppression has been going on for years and it is a socioeconomic and racial issue. He said there needs to be poll observers and hotlines to the attorney general’s office available at voting locations.

Taylor addressed Thomas’s off-topic speech on gun rights and said that he (Taylor) is a gun collector, but doesn’t support “putting the guns on a person that is mentally incapacitated to walk into our schools and shoot up our children.” He said he believes in sensible gun control.

“This is not about taking guns. It’s about putting our children first,” Taylor said.

Addressing the governor’s proposed Medicaid changes, Taylor said he understands the governor’s rationale in the challenge of funding the program, but doesn’t agree with it. He said “the humane and right thing to do” is to continue funding Medicaid.

On immigration, Taylor said everyone is either a descendant of an immigrant, a slave or a refugee. He said he does not believe in open borders but thinks the government needs to work on legal ways to make illegal immigrants citizens.

“They’re here. We’re going to have a hard time driving them back across the border. They have children here, who--guess what--are American citizens because they were born here,” Taylor said. “They do jobs that nobody else wants to do and primarily they are employed by wealthy people. It’s not a poor people problem.”

In a rebuttal, Thomas said the government brings in people to help in the agricultural community. He said there are permits that allow such arrangements and he supports expanding that process. He suggested a five-year work permit for immigrant workers.

District 8 represents part of Trigg and Christian counties, including Hopkinsville.


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