Kentucky’s candidates for attorney general squared off in their first televised debate Monday night, arguing over each other’s experience and how the office should treat potentially unconstitutional laws passed by the legislature.
Republican candidate Daniel Cameron argued that his connections to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who he used to work for — and President Donald Trump — who has endorsed him — make him the best candidate for the job.
“I worked for two large law firms in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I have been a federal law clerk, I was general counsel to the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. I don’t think anybody questions my ability to lead effectively,” Cameron said.
The debate comes days after a court ruled against a lawsuit that argued Cameron won’t have the constitutionally-required years of experience to become attorney general.
Democratic candidate Greg Stumbo has used the case to contrast his years of experience with Cameron’s relative youth and lack of trial experience.
“He’s never tried a citation, never tried a jaywalking case,” Stumbo said.
“How can you lead a team of prosecutors when you have no idea what they’re talking about, what they’re up against? It’s pretty clear. This race is about experience. I’ve led that office once before, I can do it again.”
Stumbo was Kentucky’s attorney general between 2004 and 2008. He most recently served as House Speaker before he was ousted in Republicans’ sweep of the legislature in 2016.
The two candidates differed on how they would treat anti-abortion laws passed by the legislature in recent years, many of which have been challenged in federal court.
Current Attorney General Andy Beshear has said he will not defend some of the laws, including a so-called “heartbeat” abortion ban that passed this year.
Democrat Stumbo said he would not defend laws that he thought were unconstitutional.
“If they have constitutional questions, then why would you waste taxpayers’ money defending unconstitutional acts?” Stumbo said. “I was in the legislature a long time. Pandering to any group in an unconstitutional manner is not something the attorney general should approve of.”
Cameron argued that the attorney general’s job is to defend laws passed by the legislature and accused Stumbo of “pandering to Planned Parenthood.”
“When you send your elected representatives to Frankfort to make the policy judgements and the policy prescriptions, you don’t send your attorney general there to then substitute his preferences for those of his very liberal base,” Cameron said.
When asked if he would have sued over the legislature’s controversial pension bill that was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court last year, Cameron said he wasn’t sure.
“We’ll look at anything that comes up in that regard and make an assessment at the time as to how we would respond to that, but ultimately our responsibility is to enforce and defend those laws that are passed by the General Assembly,” Cameron said.
Stumbo said he agreed with Beshear’s lawsuit.
“I think General Beshear was exactly right in taking that case to court. The process that they used was clearly unconstitutional,” Stumbo said.