In the race for governor of Kentucky, Republican David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith will square off during a televised debate Monday focusing on education.
The forum will air statewide on Kentucky Education Television, but will not include Democratic incumbent Steve Beshear, who declined to appear.
Education advocates are pleased with the focus on education, but there are mixed reviews about the governor’s decision to skip the forum, which the Lexington Herald Leader derided as “arrogant” and showing a lack of respect for voters.
Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham says Beshear’s decision to skip the debate does narrow the public’s ability to make a decision this November, but he recognizes it’s a campaign strategy.
“It does not help the public understand the positions in the race, but I do understand the reasoning—whether I agree or disagree with it—I do understand the reasoning,” he says. “And I would hope that Governor Beshear would make known his position on education issues in other ways since he is not going to participate in this debate.”
A recent poll shows Beshear leading Williams by a commanding 29-points and with high approval ratings among voters. Political observers have pointed out that due to the lead, the governor is avoiding his opponents and adopting a strategy he once criticized when running for U.S. Senate against Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in 1996.
From the Courier-Journal:
“I think it’s time that candidates such as (U.S. Sen.) Mitch McConnell quit hiding behind the 30-second ads and come out and discuss issues all across this state,” Beshear said in 1996 as he challenged McConnell, then a two-term incumbent.
The Democratic governor has found time to attend ribbon cuttings for factories that have announced they are creating a handful of new jobs in Kentucky, and he’s made other stops around the state, but he can’t find time to talk face-to-face with Republican Senate President David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith.
But the governor’s supporters contend he has a well-established record of supporting public schools and engages voters on education while on the campaign trail, adding he doesn’t need to appear at the televised forum.
“On the campaign trail the governor talks quite a bit about education and he has a track record to look at,” says Jefferson County Teacher’s Association President Brent McKim, whose organization endorsed Beshear earlier this year. “And more information is of course available online if you visit his website, you can find.”
McKim noted he is more interested in hearing state Sen. Williams defend his position, saying the GOP nominee is against collective bargaining rights and has sought to cut public education to balance the state budget.
Supporters also note Beshear received an honor from the National Education Association and should be praised as an “education governor.” But the strategy of avoiding his opponents at forums hasn’t pleased every education advocate interested in tonight’s discussion.
Bluegrass Institute President and CEO Phil Moffett ran for governor in the 2011 GOP primary and lost to Williams. He says he looks forward hearing the candidates ideas on improving education in the state, but that Beshear is afraid to discuss his views publicly.
“I think Governor Beshear’s record shows a support of teacher’s unions, not of the students. The students still languish; they continue to fall farther behind. I think Governor Beshear has a shameful record and I don’t blame him for not showing up, he has nothing and no solid ground to defense his positions on,” he says.
The governor has agreed to appear on KET’s Kentucky Tonight program on October 31 for a general discussion. The hour-long education debate airs Monday at 8 p.m. eastern/7 p.m. central.