In their next-to-last debate before the Nov. 7 election, Gov. Andy Beshear defended his response to the Covid-19 pandemic against criticism from Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Appearing for an hour on KET, the candidates also debated each other’s positions on abortion, and Cameron made a false claim about the founder of Planned Parenthood.
Moderator Renee Shaw opened the “Kentucky Tonight” forum by asking Cameron how he would have handled the pandemic that hit the state in March 2020. He said he would have “done like other red-state governors” and tried to get businesses “open as quickly as possible.”
Asked if he would have shut down schools at any point, he did not say, but said “I wouldn’t have infringed on your constitutional rights.” That was a reference to court decisions, some successfully sought by Cameron, that said a few of Beshear’s state-of-emergency restrictions went too far.
Beshear was asked if he had any misgivings about the strength and duration of his restrictions, specifically the application on Easter Sunday of his ban on mass indoor gatherings.
He did not address that specific point, but said, “This is about leadership. I showed people during the pandemic I was willing to make the hard decisions, even if it cost me. I put politics out the window, and I made the best decisions I could to save as many lives as possible.”
Asked if he would do it all over again the same way, Beshear didn’t answer directly, but said “I believe we made the best decision we did with the information we had,” and said he was the first governor to prioritize teachers for immunizations when vaccines for Covid-19 became available.
Cameron claimed that Beshear “said he had no regrets,” and said he would not admit regret “because of pride.”
Noting repeatedly that Beshear closed schools, Cameron said “Your kids are behind because of this short-sighted decision,” and noted his “catch-up plan” to help them.
Beshear, asked if he has a strategy for that, said he does, but tried to spread blame to the Republican-controlled legislature: “This is something that was happening before the pandemic, primarly because of not enough educators,” due to low pay causing teacher shortages.
He also shifted blame when asked if he would take responsibility for the huge backlog in unemployment claims during the pandemic. He noted the downsizing of the agency under his GOP predecessor and said “If we’d had the resources that were there in the last administraton we could have done much better.”
Cameron has said that if the legislature sent him a bill to put rape and incest exceptions into the state’s abortion ban, he would sign it. Asked to say “yes or no” if he personally favors such exceptions, he repeatedly declined to answer, and made a false claim about the founder of Planned Parenthood.
Cameron, an African American, noted the organization’s strong support of Beshear, and said its founder, Margaret Sanger, favored the extermination of his race. This claim has been made and debunked several times, but Cameron said Sanger “said I didn’t deserve to live.”
Sanger believed in eugenics, which taught white superiority, but in 1939 started a project to expand birth-control services for African Americans in the South. In a letter, she told a director of the program that it should hire African American doctors and ministers to gain trust in Black communities because “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population ...”
That was “inartfully written” but was “frequently taken out of context to suggest Sanger was seeking to exterminate blacks,” The Washington Post reported in 2015. The Reuters news service said in a fact check last year, “Sanger’s concern was to avoid a suspicion that the program’s objective was to stop Black people having babies, which having white people in charge could create.”
Sanger’s full quote was, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
During the debate on abortion, Shaw noted that Cameron and 18 other attorneys general signed a letter in June opposing a proposed federal privacy rule that would keep state officials from getting information on any reproductive health-care services that in-state residents obtained outside the state, and asked if he wants to criminalize women seeking abortions.
“Absolutely not,” Cameron replied, returning to the attack: “Andy Beshear is trying to gaslight you tonight. ... He wants no limits on abortion.” Not so, Beshear said.
Asked if a woman be allowed to terminate a pregnancy at any point, Beshear said his long-held position is that “I am in favor of reasonable restrictions on abortion, especially late-term abortions. ... He signed a letter saying that he should be able to come after your medical record if you go out of state for care.”
On another hot-button social issue, Beshear was asked about an early campaign commercial in which he said that transgender surgeries are not performed on minors in Kentucky. A letter from UK HealthCare, written in March but not released by state Rep. James Tipton (R-Taylorsville) until August, said UK had “a small number of non-genital gender reassignment surgeries on minors, such as mastectomies for older adolescents.”
Shaw asked Beshear if he knew that when he made the ad. He said, “No, I didn’t know.”
Numerous pro-Cameron commercials have used the ad and the letter to argue that Beshear was lying. Immediately after Beshear answered, Cameron claimed, “The governor just told you a lie,” because Beshear vetoed this year’s Senate Bill 150, which banned transition surgeries for minors after the legislature overrode the veto.
Beshear said the bill “had a lot more in it” than the ban, but “Our parents should be able to make complicated medical decisions, rather than the government. ... This was all passed just for political points.”
The candidates’ final debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on Lexington’s WKYT-TV and on sister Gray Television stations in Evansville, Ind., and Bowling Green.
Written by Al Cross. Cross-posted from Kentucky Health News.