While the two candidates started the debate by stating their mutual friendship, clear differences emerged between the Democrat and Republican running for the vacated senate seat of Dan Kelly.
The hour-and-a-half debate was hosted by PLG-TV 13 and featured questions from a panel of area newspaper editors for Bardstown Democrat Jodie Haydon and Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon.
Haydon served in the state House of Representatives 1997-2004. Higdon is in his fourth term as House District 24 representative. Both were selected unanimously by their party’s executive committee to run for the Senate seat.
Whether to allow video lottery terminal (VLT) machines at racetracks in Kentucky served as the debate’s primary issue and displayed the two candidates approaches to governing.
A bill to allow racetracks to build VLTs backed by Gov. Steve Beshear passed the Kentucky house this year but now was voted down by the Republican-heavy Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
Haydon strongly favored VLT machines at the track, saying the state needed to pursue all sources of revenue available. In particularly, he said the money from the machines could be used to fund education in Kentucky.
“That’s the only money we can get our hands on in the foreseeable future to help our students, our fellow citizens and our educators,” Haydon said.
Higdon voted against the governor’s VLT bill and said the bill was not a good deal for the people of Kentucky. He said he feared that by allowing VLTs at racetracks, they would eventually spread all over the state.
“Kentucky doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem,” Higdon said.
These ideas, Haydon advocating for new sources of revenue and Higdon insisting the main fault lay with government spending, formed the core of the candidates ‘themes.
One of the more emotional highpoints of the debate came early with a question about the funding of post-secondary vocational schools in Kentucky.
Both candidates stressed the importance of such schools, but Higdon claimed the problem with funding such institutions is the way education is administered across three departments of state government. He promised that as senator, he would work to make sure that money gets distributed properly.
This prompted Haydon to attack his opponent as being unable to face up to the senate leadership and deliver on that promise.
“Jimmy, you can’t help us. All you will do is go up there and be a lapdog,” Haydon said.
Higdon remained calm after the remark, but defended his independence.
“I have stood up to the president of the senate, the governor and others in the general assembly. I answer to no one but my constituents,” Higdon said.
Both candidates criticized the Kentucky state government budget of containing wasteful spending and stressed the need to find savings. The debate panel asked each candidate what in particular they would to that effect, VLTs aside.
Haydon criticized the legislature for spending money on modernizing offices for congressmen and said the Kentucky tax code needed reform to collect revenue more effectively.
“The tax code was great in its time, but it doesn’t reflect our current marketplace,” Haydon said.
Higdon cautioned that it would be difficult to reform taxes without raising them. Instead, he insisted that he would like all branches of government to take a hard look at their finances for possible wasteful spending.
In particular, Hidgon pointed to the fact that departments are not allowed to carry over surplus budget allotments from year to year, forcing them to spend money frivolously.
However, despite these opinions, neither candidate expressed support for a plan proposed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce that would charge state employees a premium of $50 per month for health insurance.
Higdon added if elected, he would be a member of the majority, and therefore more able to act on any inefficiencies in government that are found.
Haydon, however, noted the state had already done a decent job of trimming the budget and warned more cuts could reduce Kentucky to a “third-world country.”
“We have to go for the revenue wherever it is … and it’s at the racetrack,” Haydon said, echoing his earlier remarks.
The candidates closed the evening by thanking their supporters and appealing directly to voters.
“I will stand for you,” Haydon said.
Higdon pointed out that his Democratic opponent will likely outspend him two-to-one and stressed his social values.
“I am pro-life and pro-family,” Higdon said.
For a complete video of the debate, visit PLG-TV 13’s Web site, www.plgtv.com.
The candidates will meet again for a second debate 7-8 p.m. Dec. 2 which will be broadcast on TV and streamed live from PLG-TV 13’s Web site.