Several Republican gubernatorial candidates offered support for imposing work requirements for some able-bodied Kentucky adults receiving Medicaid health coverage as they met in a high-stakes debate on statewide television Monday night, about two weeks before the state’s Primary Election.
The 90-minute event on Kentucky Educational Television marked the long-awaited first faceoff between Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former ambassador Kelly Craft on a debate stage. The two rivals — at the center of an increasingly combative GOP contest — quarreled over campaign contributions and a U.S. Justice Department report that found Louisville police engaged in a pattern of violating constitutional rights and discrimination against the Black community.
The debate featured five candidates — Cameron, Craft, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and retired attorney Eric Deters. They’re among a dozen candidates in all who are competing for the state’s GOP nomination for governor in the May 16 Primary. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is seeking reelection to a second term, in a campaign drawing national attention to see if the popular incumbent can overcome his party’s struggles in the GOP-trending Bluegrass State.
The Republican rivals spent considerable time delving into the past, focusing their attacks on restrictions imposed by Beshear during the COVID-19 pandemic. They accused the governor of overstepping his authority, with Quarles pointedly saying that Beshear “ruled by a committee of one.” Beshear says his actions saved lives. The pandemic is blamed for more than 18,000 deaths in Kentucky.
The GOP candidates also delved into a range of issues including education, tax-and-spending priorities, gun rights and putting conditions on some adults to be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Medicaid is a joint federal and state health care program for the poor and disabled.
Cameron offered more details about his support for Medicaid-related work requirements for able-bodied Kentucky adults — an issue likely to reignite during the general election campaign. Cameron said that Medicaid should be “a transitory program unless medically necessary or means tested.”
Cameron offered a plan that sounded similar to what former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin unsuccessfully tried to implement in Kentucky. Cameron said the requirement could include such other conditions as volunteer work to qualify for Medicaid.
“If you are a mother who has a baby at home and aren’t able to get out into the workforce yet, that is OK,” Cameron said. “This is not targeted or applying to you.”
Quarles and Craft sounded supportive of the Medicaid proposal as well.
“Whenever people are healthy, able bodied Kentuckians, it actually takes away from those that truly do need benefits like the disabled and those that truly need help,” Quarles said.
Craft said Medicaid coverage should be “a pathway to take them from poverty to work.” Craft mentioned either work, study or community service standards for some recipients. Craft is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Medicaid became a flash point during the state’s 2019 gubernatorial campaign, when Beshear narrowly defeated Bevin. After taking office, Beshear rescinded efforts by Bevin to set work requirements for some able-bodied adults to receive Medicaid coverage. At the time, Beshear referred to his action as the “moral, faith-driven thing to do.” Advocates have said work requirements would become one more hoop for low-income people to jump through, and many could be denied coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork.
During a discussion about education, Quarles said it’s important that Kentucky get a good return on its investments in schools. Such reviews should include public universities and colleges, he said.
“We need to make sure that the cost of education is affordable, and that our educational programs are aligned with what employers are looking for,” Quarles said.
Meanwhile, the escalating back-and-forth attacks that have focused on Craft and Cameron — and their surrogates — spilled over into the debate.
Craft borrowed an attack from one of her TV ads, criticizing Cameron for not opposing the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of Louisville Police practices.
“What does say about backing the blue?” Craft asked.
The federal investigation was launched after the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, and found a years-long pattern of discriminatory practices by the department.
Cameron countered that he had the support of more than 100 law enforcement officials. Cameron called Craft “naive” for believing that he “could have stood at the Ohio River and told the Department of Justice they couldn’t come into the state.”
Deters was critical of Craft after she said she was not aware of her husband’s contributions to a political action committee that supported her.
“Her husband is financing her campaign and they’re trying to buy the governorship,” Deters said.
After one prolonged round of joisting that featured Cameron, Craft and Deters, Keck expressed disgust. The Somerset mayor said: “The last 10 minutes are why people are sick of politics in America.”