Now that the legislative session is over in Kentucky, attention is turning toward the primary elections for constitutional seats - the race for Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and others. Four Democrats are looking to unseat incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin. One of those candidates is former state Auditor Adam Edelen. His running mate is Louisville developer Gill Holland. Matt Markgraf sat down with Holland to talk about what makes the Edelen campaign unique, reaching rural voters and big issues like pension reform and public education.
“This state is going backward fast and it’s not even a left or right issue anymore, it’s a forward and backward issue,” said Holland. He feels the state is operating under an old economic development model. “Come to Kentucky. We don’t really pay our workers very much. You don’t have any environmental safeguards. You don’t have any environmental safeguards. You don’t have to worry about your pollution. You don’t have to worry about your worker safety on the job. So come here because it’s really cheap. And I don't think that’s the economic model that works for the 21st century.”
Holland said one of his jobs as lieutenant governor would be to “improve quality of place” by helping towns revitalize their main streets. He said people can work from anywhere so long as there is broadband access, suggesting a statewide investment into such an effort. “The entrepreneurs of today need caffeine and wireless.”
Of the other Democratic candidates, Holland said longtime lawmaker Rocky Adkins “has been in Frankfort for so long that it’s hard to run as a reformer” and as for Attorney General Andy Beshear, he said no one has gone from that office to Governor’s mansion and that he entered the race too early. As to what makes the Edelen/Holland campaign unique, he said he and Edelen are “problem solvers” and pointed to his running mate’s $130 million solar farm project, creating jobs for out-of-work coal miners.
Holland described his family’s rural Kentucky background (Harlan County) when asked how he would reach voters beyond Louisville/Lexington. He said “as the two business guys in the race” moderate Republicans “appreciate our approach to problem-solving.” He noted he held a recent fundraiser attended by only moderate Republicans who, he said, were upset with the direction of Bevin’s administration. “I feel like we can go toe-to-toe with Republicans on job creation, economic development, entrepreneurship because that’s what we do,” he said. And added that Edelen can go “toe-to-toe on corruption” with his experience in the Auditor’s office.
On pension reform, Holland said, “I do think there’s a little bit of hysteria, fear-mongering that’s been created when the present administration doesn’t really seem to believe in government at all. So they’re trying to starve the beast. And I think there’s a little more fear than reason.”
In support of a renewable energy portfolio, he said solar is the fastest-growing energy sector. “We believe we can create 10,000 jobs in Kentucky alone. Every government building can be a mini power plant.” He suggested Kentucky is not attractive to companies under a mandate to have a certain portfolio of renewable energy. “The Facebooks, Amazons, Netflix - they are not going to come to Kentucky based on our 1970s model of ‘come here, don’t pay our workers.’ So, we need to have renewable energy because that’s how we’re going to attract the 21st Century CEOs.”
Holland said he’s “100 percent” on establishing a livable wage policy. He suggested rural areas don’t necessarily need $15 dollar-an-hour minimum wages, but rather something more akin to $11 dollars-an-hour where the cost of living is lower. “We’ve got to stop incentivizing these out-of-state corporations to bring jobs that don’t pay a livable wage and don’t provide healthcare benefits because that ends up being a burden on the taxpayer.”
On medical marijuana, he said the campaign supports the effort and that he would go further to decriminalize small possession. “And I’m working on Adam on this. I just think this is one of those things that’s such a big revenue generator. It’s a huge cash crop that’s not being taxed. There’s a social justice issue with the percentage of African Americans who go to jail. Again, cause burden to the taxpayer for minor possession. So we need to also decriminalize it, is the reality.”
On higher education funding, Holland compared the rising cost of college tuition to taxation on the youth. He said for $300 million, the state could provide two-years of free post-high school education to every Kentuckian. “So we need to start figuring out ways to get that number accomplished. Because if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
As for who pays for these initiatives, Holland pointed to new jobs in solar and investing in tourism. He said increasing automation will mean job loss in Kentucky and one of the only industries not susceptible is the “woefully underleveraged” tourism industry.
Governor Matt Bevin has been criticized for not releasing his tax returns and so has Holland. When asked why and whether doing so would build trust and transparency, he said candidates have to file detailed financial disclosures. “So in my financial disclosure [uploaded by the Lexington Herald-Leader], I have every stock I own. I have all the buildings that we own. I have all the startups I’ve invested in. And the great thing is I could sell those at any time if there’s perceived to be a conflict.” He said any conflict issues are there for all to see. When asked if this satisfies the concern, he said, “I do and you know the reality is nobody is asking Mike Pence for his tax returns. This is all about Trump and Bevin. Nobody cares about the LG. This is, I would argue, Andy Beshear trying to score a point. And I believe the transparency is there.”
As for his thoughts on the future of the Kentucky Democratic Party, Holland said, “I feel like in the past, Democrats have just been against stuff. And you cannot run against something. You have to be for something.” He said of the Edelen/Holland campaign, “Vote with the E’s: education, environment, economic development, entrepreneurship, empowering others, equity, equality and everyone. Because we want everyone to be uplifted.”
The Kentucky Primary Election is on May 21. The General Election is on November 5.