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Democratic candidates display contrasting styles at annual dinner

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By Randy Patrick

RANDY PATRICK

rpatrick@kystandard.com

Two of the four Democratic candidates for governor made their case to the party’s faithful Friday night and presented contrasting campaign styles during the annual Nelson County Democratic Dinner at Maywood.

Rocky Adkins, the minority leader of the state House, gave a stemwinder in which he emphasized the party’s association with the kind of workers who wear a hard hat and steel-toed shoes and carry a dinner bucket, and he attacked Republican Gov. Matt Bevin as someone who has “done everything he could do to hurt the economy of wages that helps people put food on their table and a roof over their head.”

Adam Edelen, the former state auditor, urged voters to embrace “21st century leadership” for a changing economy with an emphasis on high-tech, digital jobs and renewable energy.

Kentucky can’t afford what he called “the luxury … of old politicians listing yesterday’s talking points,” but must seize the opportunity to do big things, like taking broadband internet into every home in the state and being a leader in building motors for electric cars and solar panel farms.

“Kentuckians can build the future rather than get run over by it,” he said.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, son of the last Democratic governor, couldn’t attend the dinner but was represented by his running mate for lieutenant governor, Jacqueline Coleman, who until the start of the campaign was serving as a school administrator in Nelson County.

The fourth candidate, Geoff Young of Lexington, had paid to attend the dinner, but didn’t show.

Edelen touts tech, bipartisanship

Edelen started out by joking about the cake auction, saying that he now knew what an $1,100 cake tastes like.

“Somewhere after the second bite, I learned that I paid for it,” he said.

Edelen, who noted that he isn’t taking any political action committee money, is running with Gill Holland, an independently wealthy entrepreneur with ties to the Brown-Forman Corporation through his wife.

He accused Bevin of “chasing a low-skill, low-wage economy,” and said Kentucky must take a different approach to economic development.

“It’s not about being the cheapest place to do business, it’s about being the best place to live,” he said.

He lamented the “indignity” of a job seeker having to pull into a McDonald’s parking lot to get Wi-Fi on his phone so he can fill out a job application because the fast-food chain is “the most reliable provider” in the state, and there’s no longer “any such thing as a job application that you fill out with pen and paper.”

For those who dismiss his plan to have broadband for every household because Kentucky was too rugged or isolated, he said that’s similar to what naysayers told Franklin D. Roosevelt when he promised to provide electricity to rural America.

Edelen mentioned a solar panel project he’s going to build as a private investment that will be so big it can be seen from space, and noted that his partner is a coal company. He also emphasized bipartisan cooperation and took an apparent dig at Beshear, who has sued the governor many times as attorney general, and Adkins.

“For those who whine and complain that they can’t get anything done, that they have to go to court to stop things, that they can’t bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats, we can do big, important things. We’ve just got to understand that mediocre leadership will never produce more than mediocre results,” he said.

Adkins focuses on health, education

Adkins emphasized his experience in government and his willingness to take the fight for affordable health care and public education to the governor and the current Republican majority in Frankfort.

“Kentucky needs strong leadership … that can hit the ground running on the very first day, and what better training ground than in the Kentucky House of Representatives?” he said.

He castigated Bevin for his name-calling and insulting comments about teachers.

“We will have a message and … a tone that will lift up the people of Kentucky instead of tearing them down, that will bring people together,” he said.

Adkins accused Bevin of trying to “privatize public education” with charter schools and filing a waiver that would take 100,000 people off the health insurance rolls, a reference to rolling back former Gov. Steve Beshear’s Medicaid expansion.

As a 24-year cancer survivor, he said, he knows that “quality health care for the people of Kentucky is a fight worth fighting. Are you willing to fight with me?” he asked, to loud applause.

He also accused the governor of placing a target on the back of organized labor in the state after the passage of anti-union initiatives such as right to work and repealing the prevailing wage.

And he hinted at his reputation as a centrist candidate by saying he is the one who “knows how to bring Democrats home and maybe even a few Republicans” in November.

Coleman praises teachers, Beshear

In her speech, Coleman praised public school teachers and mentioned a young woman dear to her who began high school reading on a third-grade level, but ended up graduating with honors and going on to college because teachers were willing to work with her before and after school every day.

“They’re the same people the current governor as referred to as thugs, as ignorant people,” she said. “It breaks my heart, and it fires me up.”

“This is my life’s work,” said Coleman. “I believe more than anything that our public school teachers should be respected.”

Coleman said that as attorney general, Beshear has fought for teachers’ interests, and that without his efforts, “the sewer bill would have become law,” a reference to a Republican attempt to convert teachers’ defined-benefit pensions to defined contribution plans similar to a 401k. He has also defended women and children, taken on human traffickers, reduced the rape kit backlog and defended the Affordable Care Act, she said.

Others who spoke at the dinner Friday included Joe Trigg and Robert Conway, candidates for commissioner of agriculture; former first lady Heather French Henry, who is running for secretary of state; auditor of public accounts candidates Kelsey Hayes Coots, Sheri Donahue and Chris Tobe; state treasurer candidates Michael Bowman and Josh Mers; and nonpartisan Court of Appeals candidates for the 3rd District, Jacqueline Caldwell of Cox’s Creek and Judge Michael Caperton of London.