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ELECTION 2018: State rep candidates debate taxes, rights

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By Randy Patrick

The two Democrats vying to challenge incumbent Republican Chad McCoy for re-election — Kory Miller of Boston and James DeWeese of Bardstown — agreed more often than not in their televised debate Thursday night at the Civic Center, but there were some differences.

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DeWeese, for example, is against abortion, and Miller is pro-choice.

Miller is for a higher cigarette tax, and DeWeese is not.

And although both support making marijuana legal for medical purposes, Miller also supports legal recreational pot, while DeWeese said he was until recently opposed to it because he thinks it’s a “gateway drug,” but he’s open to studying the issue.

He is, however, for decriminalizing marijuana so that the state’s overcrowded jails won’t be full of low-level drug offenders.

On standing up for workers and teachers and opposing regressive tax burdens on the poor, though, both agreed.

“I’m running because I want to make government work for working families,” DeWeese said, coming out of the starting gate with his main campaign message.

DeWeese, a business agent for Teamsters Union Local 89, representing UPS workers, said he has been defending labor interests since he was a young shop steward. And in the past two years, he said, working class people have been under attack as a result of Republicans’ repeal of the prevailing wage, passage of right to work (an anti-union measure), changes to teachers’ pensions and tax policies that benefit the rich and hurt the poor and middle class.

Miller, a consulting project engineer for Fortune 500 companies, said he’s running because government has gone awry.

He said he grew up in an America of “patriotism and freedom for all. Now we live in a country of mass incarceration and unemployment, a failing health care system,” selfishness and corruption.

“We have let greed and graft divide us,” he said. “We must stand united as one country” and stand up against injustice.

Asked about their political philosophies, the contenders differed somewhat.

“Kentucky Democrats are different … and I feel I’m representative of that,” DeWeese said. “I am a supporter of the Second Amendment. I am pro-life.”

Miller said that “everybody’s pro-life, but at the same time, I respect individuals’ rights.” He added that “most people forget religious freedoms do not (trump) personal rights.”

On the subject of school shootings, Miller said he wants to “get down to the real reasons why shootings are happening.” He wondered aloud whether it’s a “socio-economic issue?” Or is it about kids being bullied? He said it’s too expensive to put police officers in every school, but schools should have more teachers so they can spend more time one-on-one with kids and identify problems.

DeWeese said he favors inexpensive devices that attach to doors and allow teachers to lock their students and themselves in classrooms and “mitigate the damage.”

“I’m never going to support teachers being armed,” he said.

Asked whether they backed the 50-cents-per-pack cigarette tax the legislature passed this year and if they would support future increases, Miller said he would.

“Of course I support raising the tobacco tax,” he said, adding that he would be in favor of it going as high as $2. “It’s been proven that increasing the cigarette tax discourages smoking.”

“I’m against that tax,” DeWeese said. He said he doesn’t like it because it’s “a tax on the working poor” and a “fading tax” with diminishing returns as smoking decreases.

Both candidates opposed the tax legislation the Republican House and Senate passed this year that lowered the income tax to a flat 5 percent for everybody and extended the 6 percent sales tax on goods to some services as well.

“If you make $175,000 or less, you actually got a tax increase,” DeWeese said, while the wealthy got an overall tax break. “That’s unfair,” he said. “We should have closed tax loopholes.”

Miller, who said one thing he does as an engineer is replace people with robotics, said Kentucky should tax automation.

The state should also tax new products, such as recreational marijuana, he said.

“We’re producing 80 percent of the marijuana in the United States. Why aren’t we taxing it?” he asked.

The two parried back and forth on the expanded gaming and taxes.

Miller said studies show that casino gambling jobs only pay about $9 an hour, and causes people to commit crimes because they can’t get by on such low wages. Besides, the state shouldn’t be making money off people’s gambling addiction.

That’s not so, DeWeese said. “They’re good union jobs” that pay high wages, and gambling addiction is happening anyway because people are going across the Ohio River to bet.

The two candidates were asked if they support a statewide fairness statute to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in employment, housing and public accommodations, and whether such a law should include First Amendment protection for religious conscience.

“I support equality for everyone, pure and simple,” DeWeese said. “I believe everyone should be treated fairly, regardless of who they are and how they identify themselves.”

“I think James and I are 100 percent in agreement on this issue,” Miller said. He said it is wrong that in Kentucky, one can legally discriminate against LGBTQ persons in housing, and that companies looking to locate to Kentucky want protections for workers based on sexual identity and orientation.