Cameron goes on offense, Beshear plays above fray in first general election debate

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The Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce debate between incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and GOP challenger Daniel Cameron started with a handshake. But there was no love lost between the two candidates as they waded through regional issues and traded barbs on each other’s policy proposals.

Cameron, currently Kentucky’s attorney general, went after Beshear on his partisan affiliation, social issues and his ties to Democratic President Joe Biden from the start of the debate. Meanwhile, Beshear framed himself as someone who operates above partisan squabbles to a crowd of around 600 people at the Julian M. Carroll Convention Center on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Paducah.

Much of the debate centered on which candidate was more in touch with reality.

Cameron said the governor’s race was about “crazy versus normal” and that Beshear’s record on crime, COVID-19 and loyalty to the national Democratic Party made Beshear the crazy one. Beshear, meanwhile, said Cameron was the one looking at the world through a distorted, overly partisan, lens and saying “anything to get elected.”

“Having an overly partisan governor is dangerous, and you’re hearing it right now,” Beshear said. “If you see the world as everything good happening is because of the General Assembly and everything bad that’s happening is because of the governor, it means you see only in ‘team red’ and ‘team blue’ and not in Team Kentucky. The way we move forward is together.”

Cameron said Beshear was in denial about all the issues to tackle in Kentucky and in the nation, and won’t stand up to Biden. Recent polls of the state show Beshear is largely popular in Kentucky while Biden has high disapproval numbers. Inflation, coal and alleged indoctrination from the far left were frequent targets for Cameron’s attacks on Beshear.

“This is a race about crazy versus normal, and I think it’s crazy to have a governor who endorses Joe Biden for president,” Cameron said. “I think it’s crazy to have a governor who refuses to protect women’s sports from biological males. I think it’s crazy to have a governor who puts criminals back on our streets to prey on our communities.”

At one point, Beshear joked to the crowd as if they were playing a round of bingo.

“If you had ‘Joe Biden’ or ‘the far left’ on your bingo card today, congrats. You just won,” Beshear said to a raft of laughter.

The governor tried to focus on economic development throughout his answers. He touted a record $27.5 billion in private investment during his term as well as 48,000 new jobs.

He also mentioned that Kentucky’s infrastructure is in its “Eisenhower moment,” with three major road projects — Mountain Parkway expansion, the Brent Spence Bridge project and I-69 expansion — in the works. Additionally, two of the largest economic development announcements in Kentucky have been made under Beshear’s first term, and another large project could be circling the state.

“For too long we’ve been running ourselves down. It’s time to talk ourselves up,” Beshear said. “We’re being recognized nationally, last year we were number two in per capita economic development.”

Cameron moved the economic conversation towards the personal income tax. Beshear vetoed a bill setting Kentucky on a path to get to zero percent income tax but later signed a bill affirming a drop from 4.5% to 4%.

The Republican challenger said he was committed to completely cutting the state’s income tax.

“You’ve got to have a governor that is going to eliminate Kentucky’s income tax,” Cameron said. “Being in this region, you understand how important it is, if you are an employer or an employee that’s getting up every morning and going to work, to get more money in your paycheck. I will make sure that that happens.”

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) shake hands before debating issues in the gubernatorial election. For coverage of Thursday’s debate, visit
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) shake hands before debating issues in the gubernatorial election. For coverage of Thursday’s debate, visit

Regional issues

The debate, moderated by anchor at Paducah news television station WPSD Todd Faulkner, focused on energy as well as other issues important to Western Kentucky.

The U.S. Department of Energy Paducah Site, formerly the Gaseous Diffusion Plant that enriched uranium for several decades, is in the process of getting decommissioned. What will replace it is on the minds of many Paducah residents.

Both candidates proposed an “all of the above” energy policy, although Cameron went on the offensive on fossil fuels by working to link Beshear to the Biden administration and claiming Beshear will cripple the coal industry by not speaking out against politicians looking to de-carbonize America’s energy mix to stem the effects of climate change.

He also endorsed nuclear energy, in which area legislators have expressed a deep interest.

“If Andy Beshear and Joe Biden have their way, there won’t be a fossil fuels industry here in Kentucky,” Cameron said. “We need to maintain energy independence by opening nuclear facilities and by doubling down on coal. This governor will not do that because he is beholden to the far left of his party. He cannot speak out in a way and manner that advocates wholeheartedly for coal because of his party. I will push back against Joe Biden.”

Cameron mentioned that the shipping industry in Paducah, which often moves coal, would be harmed by the phasing out of the fossil fuel.

Beshear specifically called out the federal government for “not treating this region right” when it pulled out of uranium enrichment operations there. He made mention of a “very big” project that could be coming to McCracken County soon.

“We’re working on a very big project right now that we believe would right that wrong. While it has a number of steps that still have to be taken, it is in the works and it’s going to be big for this community,” Beshear said.

The governor also bragged that he has the support of Paducah Mayor George Parker Bray in his bid for re-election.

Cameron said he’s wholly committed to developing the region. He put his money where his mouth is, he said, when he selected Western Kentucky native Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, as his running mate.

“I think you’ve had a governor who’s been focused on the Golden Triangle, but hasn’t had your best interests at heart,” Cameron said. “That’s why I made a commitment to choose somebody from West Kentucky to be my running mate, and that’s Robbie Mills who has this area at the top of mind. When I’m the governor and he is Lieutenant Governor, you can be assured that we will do everything possible to attract more business and industry to this area.”

Both candidates said they’d support riverfront development in downtown Paducah, a major focus of local government there.

On population decline, which some of the greater Purchase Region in Western Kentucky is experiencing, Cameron said that Beshear’s record on schools and crime hasn’t helped. He cited COVID-19 school lockdown policies and Beshear’s commutation of certain non-violent offenders.

Beshear mocked Cameron’s answer.

“The question was about solutions for population growth, and what we got again was vision versus division ... You cannot say ‘well, elect me and somehow it will get done,’” Beshear said.

He mentioned a proposed talent retention and attraction program as one that could stem losses and the large industrial tract of land in McCracken County as one worth advertising.