Republican candidates for Ky. governor talk Medicaid, economic development at Paducah forum
Ahead of next month’s primary election, four Republicans in a crowded field of candidates running for Kentucky’s GOP gubernatorial nomination came together Tuesday in Paducah to share their platforms and try to garner support from western Kentucky voters.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron, State Auditor Mike Harmon, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles shared the stage at the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum.
The quartet of GOP gubernatorial hopefuls all believe incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear should not be reelected to office.
“Look, we need to replace Andy Beshear as governor of Kentucky and remove him from the office,” Cameron said. “Over these last three years, I've been trying to stand up for your constitutional rights. But we've had a governor that has rebuffed every opportunity to stand up for your values.”
Questions from the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce’s forum primarily focused on how the candidates would approach economic and workforce development in the state if they were elected to serve as Kentucky’s next governor. Beyond references to prioritizing conservative values and parents’ rights in the classroom, discussion at the hour-long forum largely avoided other statewide hot-button social issues, such as transgender rights and gun violence. WKMS was invited to submit questions for the forum and submitted one related to the recent shootings in Louisville and what steps candidates would take to mitigate deadly events like these if elected.
Former U.N. Secretary Kelly Craft was invited to the forum, but did not attend. GOP gubernatorial candidate David Cooper was also in attendance, though he did not take the stage.
Most of the candidates touched on rural economic development efforts and how statewide development initiatives could help the far western end of the commonwealth. Keck, a business owner, said while new “homerun” multi-million dollar projects coming to the state are good, communities should not overlook businesses that are already here.
“I think it's important that we understand 70% of new job creation comes from existing business,” Keck said. “We need to appreciate that it might not be the ribbon cutting that the current governor wants to come and take all the credit for, but it's still life-changing [in] your community.”
Quarles said, if elected, he would address workforce development on his first day in office.
“Day one, I will appoint a workforce participation task force with experts from around Kentucky, our employers, [the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce], etcetera, to come up with long term solutions to this we've got to get people to work again.”
Candidates identified expanded Medicaid coverage as one barrier to workforce participation in the state. As of February, Kentucky has a workforce participation rate of 57.5% – one of the lowest rates by state in the nation.
Cameron said Beshear’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage and eliminate the work requirement for able-bodied people on Medicaid has been “the biggest challenge to the workforce participation rate.” The attorney general said he would seek a waiver from the federal government to put a work requirement for Medicaid recipients who are able-bodied.
Harmon also voiced support for a work requirement for able-bodied Medicaid recipients, but said he wants to lay out a path for transitioning those folks to private insurance.
“We need to have an off ramp, not a cliff, for people that are on benefits,” Harmon said. “I've often said that we need to seek a waiver to allow people to stay on Medicaid for a little while longer, and pay a percentage of their salary above poverty and make that percentage such that eventually it makes more sense to go back into the private sector than to stay on Medicaid.”
Cameron is the frontrunner among the field of 12 GOP gubernatorial candidates, according to polling data from Emerson College and Lexington-based television station WDKY released last week. About 30% of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for Cameron, while about 24% of voters chose Craft and nearly 15% said they would go with Quarles. However, 20.7% of voters were still undecided.
Statewide executive offices, including governor, are up for election this year. Kentucky’s primary election is on May 16. The winner of the GOP nomination is expected to face Beshear in the general election in November. The incumbent does have minor primary competitors in former Republican nominee for governor Peppy Martin and Geoff Young.
Kentucky’s primary elections are closed, meaning only registered Republicans can vote for GOP candidates, and only registered Democrats can vote for Democratic candidates.