State legislative candidates discuss pension, higher ed and attack ads in forum and debate

State representative candidates Patti Minter and Ben Lawson debate on issues facing Bowling Green community at Downing Student Union auditorium on Tuesday.

Emily DeLetter

WKU got a chance to see democracy in action Tuesday night when candidates for the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives spoke at a forum and debate Tuesday at Downing Student Union, sponsored by the Bowling Green Daily News and the WKU Department of Political Science.

Kentucky Senate candidate Jeanie Smith (D) answered questions from the moderators during the forum. Her opponent and incumbent candidate Mike Wilson (R) was invited but was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.

Both the forum and debate were moderated by Wes Swietek from the Bowling Green Daily News, Emma Austin from the College Heights Herald and Chad Young from Talk 104.

Smith, a current teacher at Drakes Creek Middle School, was asked questions during the forum concerning higher education budget cuts, solutions to Kentucky’s pension problem, and ways she would advocate for Bowling Green and Warren County, if elected.

Smith said she viewed education as the “basis and backbone” of the community and would like to see WKU fund more need-based scholarships for students.

“They are denying students the opportunity to move ahead and get a better quality of life,” she said.

In response to a question stating one third of Bowling Green residents live below the federal poverty level, Smith said she was fully in favor of raising the minimum wage, as well as supporting skills training programs in the classroom.  

“We have thousands of open jobs but not the workforce to fill those jobs,” Smith said.

Following Smith’s forum, Kentucky House of Representative candidates Patti Minter (D) and Ben Lawson (R) answered questions from the moderators. Minter, a WKU history professor and Lawson, a salesman with Van Meter Insurance are both running to fill the seat previously held by Rep. Jody Richards.

The candidates were asked question by the moderators about cuts to higher education, fixing Kentucky’s pension system, attack advertisements, and the proposed statewide Fairness Ordinance.

Lawson said he would not have voted for the pension bill when it was passed earlier this year and believes the system as it is now is “unsustainable” for the long term.

“When the money runs out, it runs out, and that’s the real danger,” Lawson said.

Minter referenced a documentary by PBS documentary series Frontline which presents Kentucky’s pension problem as “deliberately underfunded” and proposed ending putting money in hedge funds and having “meaningful tax reform” to fix the issue.

Moderators also asked the candidates about attack advertisements targeting their opponent. Minter mentioned an advertisement paid for by Lawson’s campaign which said she traveled on $16,000 of WKU’s expenses.

“Over the course of five years I have taken students on life altering study abroad trips,” Minter said. “these are revenue producing for the university. All public employees know how important it is to travel for their job, and that you often lose your own money when doing so.”

The candidates also held opposing views on the Fairness Ordinance, which was not passed in Bowling Green in 2017 but is currently being introduced at a state level.

Minter said her support of the Fairness Ordinance was “the least surprising answer of the entire evening.” She said she would continue to support the Ordinance at a state level.

“I’m proud to be part of a movement that history has validated to be on the right side,” Minter said.  

Lawson said he could also get behind a version of the Fairness Ordinance and would work together with “both sides of the isle” to make meaningful change happen. 

“I understand different perspectives on the issue,” Lawson said in a rebuttal to Minter. “We need to learn to get along together to make change happen.”

Reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.