Thursday, April 10, 2003

Ky. Democratic candidates gather to hash out issues in forum at NKU

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - About 150 people attended the first of two gubernatorial candidate forums Wednesday night at Northern Kentucky University.

Democrats Bruce Lunsford, Jody Richards and lieutenant-governor candidate Charlie Owen squared off in a 90-minute forum, answering questions about education, casino gambling and infrastructure.

Republican candidates for governor will appear tonight at a Candidates Forum at Regents Hall at Northern Kentucky University. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free to the public.

Scheduled to appear are Lexington Congressman Ernie Fletcher, state Rep. Steve Nunn, state Sen. Virgil Moore and Jefferson County Judge-executive Rebecca Jackson.

The Republican gubernatorial forum is 7:30 tonight at NKU's Regents Hall.

Each candidate was given eight minutes to speak to open the forum. They then answered three questions each from the university about education, followed by questions from the audience.

Lunsford, a native of Piner and graduate of Simon Kenton High School, tried to distance himself from the other candidates.

"We've made it real clear that we have separated ourselves from the special-interest groups that they have become cozy with," said Lunsford, who referred to his opponents as "career politicians."

"We need to use clear common sense and government will get better."

Lunsford blamed the "unholy alliance" between politicians and special-interest groups for the lack of funding in education.

"Kentucky is balancing the budget on the backs of college students," he said.

Richards, state representative for the 20th District, said he is the only candidate to provide details on the issues Kentuckians are concerned about.

"I'm the only one to propose specifics on economic development and a very detailed education program," he said.

Richards said his education plan would benefit NKU, which receives the least state funding of all Kentucky universities.

"Under my program, there would be more money in the system by growing the economy, more money in base funding of the universities, and reward money for enrollment and retention," Richards said.

Owen attended the forum in place of his running mate, Attorney General Ben Chandler. Owen said Chandler was campaigning in Madisonville.

"The Chandler/Owen administration will be a pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs administration," Owen said. "Ben and I bring private-sector experience and will manage with productivity and purpose."

Owen referred to himself as the "best bridge between the working family and management."

All of the candidates agreed that the issue of casino gambling needs to be put before the voters.

They also expressed support for NKU's proposed special-events center, for which the university has been trying for years to win state funding.

"I was very pleased to hear their support regarding the underfunding of our school, as well as the special-events center," said NKU President James Votruba.

"One of them mentioned that we have to go to another state to hold our graduation ceremony. I was glad to hear them recognize that."

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