Kentucky governor’s race headlines off-year state elections

Adam Beam

Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A county clerk from Kentucky jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and secretly recorded videos that reignited the debate over abortion dominated national politics this summer.

But in Kentucky, home to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and the most competitive governor’s race in the country, Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway have scarcely mentioned those issues in TV ads and debates in the final weeks of the campaign. Instead, the focus has stayed on issues of everyday concern to voters, such as health care and education.

Kentucky is among several states in which voters will cast ballots Tuesday in off-year elections that will be watched for any signs of the nation’s shifting political attitudes ahead of next year’s presidential election. Other races garnering attention include rival school-funding initiatives in Mississippi, an attempt to restrict Airbnb operations in San Francisco and mayoral races in Salt Lake City, Houston and Philadelphia.

This year, three states are choosing their next governor. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, appears on track for re-election, while Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is prohibited from running for a third term. A runoff in Louisiana between Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter is scheduled for Nov. 21.

Kentucky has drawn interest not only for having an open gubernatorial seat but for being one of only a few states in the country where political power is divided. Democrats control statewide offices and the state House, while Republicans dominate the state Senate and the congressional delegation. The governor’s race has turned into a referendum on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, and the results could affect the health insurance of more than half a million people.

Beshear used an executive order to expand the state’s Medicaid program to cover an additional 400,000 Kentucky residents and create a health exchange, where more than 100,000 people have purchased discounted health plans with the help of federal subsidies. In the race to replace him, Republican Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman, has promised to scale back the expansion and eliminate the exchange, saying taxpayers can’t afford it. Democrat Jack Conway, a two-term state attorney general, has called Bevin’s plan “callous” and said he would keep both programs.

A third candidate, independent Drew Curtis, has said he would keep the Medicaid expansion as well.

Bevin and Curtis have said they would sign a bill legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, while Conway has warned that such a law would inflame the problem of drug addiction in Kentucky, where prescription pain pills and heroin have led to an increase in overdose deaths. Conway also has focused on expanding the state’s public preschool programs, but Bevin has balked at spending money on programs he says are ineffective.

Frankfort resident Bill May said he is opposed to gay marriage but does not think it’s a political issue, adding he won’t be voting for Conway because the Democrat is “too close to Obama.” Lizz Taylor, who owns an independent bookstore in Frankfort, expressed relief that the marriage license controversy had dissipated.

“I’m glad that happened and that we’re back to focusing on what’s important for Kentucky,” said Taylor, who supports Conway.

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