7th District Senate candidates disagree on pandemic, other issues
Gov. Andy Beshear’s handling of the pandemic is among the issues splitting the three candidates for the state Senate in the district that includes Woodford County. Independent Ken Carroll, Democrat Joe Graviss and Republican Adrienne Southworth disagree on how well the governor responded to the novel coronavirus and what measures were justified. They also differ on education. Carroll is the son of Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, a former governor who has held the seat since 2005 and is retiring at age 89. He encouraged and endorsed Graviss to run before his son filed for the seat, shortly before the June 2 filing deadline. District 7 also includes Anderson, Franklin, Gallatin and Owen counties. Carroll, 65, has lived in Frankfort since 1972, when his father was lieutenant governor. Carroll has over 20 years of experience in state government and says he wants to create policies that will bring prosperity in Kentucky. He says he wants to avoid partisanship, and candidates in political parties will be influenced by the party’s leadership. He says that while he was once a registered Democrat, he now identifies as conservative. In an interview with The State Journal, Carroll said he would caucus with Republicans who control the Senate. Graviss, 50, is a Versailles resident who owned and operated nine McDonald’s restaurants before selling them a few years ago. He is state representative for District 56, which includes Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties. He identifies as a pro-business Democrat and is the only Democrat running for the Senate who is endorsed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Graviss said he’s running to support public education, make health care affordable, and pay pensions through a bipartisan approach. Southworth, 32, lives in Lawrenceburg and was deputy chief of staff for Jenean Hampton when she was lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Matt Bevin in 2015-19. Southworth won the Republican primary with 31 percent of the vote, defeating four other candidates. Southworth, who espouses some libertarian views, says she’s a conservative running to fund classrooms, defend the Second Amendment and finance state pensions. Southworth criticized Beshear’s response to the coronavirus, saying “It has turned into all politics.” She said that his extension of mask mandates by executive order might not be constitutional, and claimed that Beshear’s mask mandate wasn’t responsible for reductions in Kentucky’s COVID-19 cases. “It’s obviously politics and not science when he’s looking at the case numbers to decide whether people are wearing masks,” she said. Public-health experts say mask wearing and social distancing are the two most important measures to stop spread of the virus. Southworth said Beshear broke with testing guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August, when the CDC changed the guidelines to say that asymptomatic people who had come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus did not necessarily need a test. Beshear, citing his own experts, continued to call for exposed asymptomatic people to be tested, and in September the CDC reverted to the previous guidelines. Southworth said she would not support the mask mandate or closing businesses that don’t enforce it, stressing the need for citizens to be responsible for their own health, rather than the government. “So I think it’s cool people have the idea of ‘we need to take responsibility,’ however, where you need to draw the line is who’s taking that responsibility,” she said. “I shouldn’t need somebody to tell me I have to wash my hands. What I should do is be responsible to wash my hands.” Graviss thinks otherwise. “I think Governor Beshear has done an amazing job,” he said, considering the huge problems the pandemic created. “I mean, the guy was in office for what, three months? And then we have a global pandemic. We have things happen that nobody has ever had happen before. He is literally building a plane while he’s flying it with one hand tied behind his back while idiots are out on the grounds hanging him in effigy.” Graviss also supports the mask mandate. “It’s a great idea,” he said. “Masks are proven to make a difference, and I believe it.” He said wearing a mask is easier than the hardships faced by Americans during the Great Depression or World War II. Carroll, the son of a governor, showed sympathy for Beshear’s circumstances but had some criticisms. “I will be the first to say that’s a very, very difficult role to be in, whether it’s Governor Beshear or any other governor,” he said, adding later, “No matter what you do, you’re probably going to be viewed by many as having done something wrong.” Carroll said he didn’t like how state police carried out the order against mass gatherings. He noted a case on Easter Sunday where police wrote down license-plate numbers of cars in parking lots of seven churches that held services despite Beshear’s order against mass gatherings and placed notices on the cars telling congregants to self-quarantine. “I think that was way out of line,” Carroll said. ”It was very scary. . . . We like our freedoms and like our privacy and I think that was totally unnecessary.” Carroll also said he saw a lack of consistency in which businesses were allowed to operate while most were closed. He said the government was “less restrictive on larger businesses and more restrictive on smaller businesses.” Government mandates had not specifically limited small businesses from operating, but groceries and big-box stores fell under the definition of “essential business.” Another topic that divides the candidates is education reform and funding. Carroll said that while he would support public education, the system would be improved by competing with charter and private schools. “You know I’m a product of public education, my kids are. And I’m not going to tell you today ‘Oh, I’ll support charter schools.’ Well what I will tell you is this: we need competition in the education world, if you will,” he said. “We all know, just like athletic competitions or athletic teams, you get better by . . . competing with others and measuring where you are and your level of success, skill and knowledge of what you do. So the same thing I think goes for education.” Southworth said she wants to loosen the requirements for a school district to become a District of Innovation, and would support school choice. “You have a kid that is really struggling, but the next-door school district has a teacher or a program or something that would be more helpful,” she said. “There should be a lot more opportunity for children to be able if their parents find a better opportunity for them. . . . We shouldn’t have to just be stuck with zip codes.” Southworth also said she would support education savings accounts that would operate similarly to health savings accounts, allowing money to be taken from taxable income in order to pay tuition fees for schools. Graviss said he had no plans for education reform but wants more funding for the public-school system. “I am happy to work with my education colleagues, with my teachers, my administrators and staff of all of the schools and come up with what’s the best plan for the most,” he said. Supporting public education is a major topic in Graviss’ ads, along with supporting affordable health care and bipartisanship. He’s been able to run numerous television ads thanks to the significant amount of funds his campaign had raised $238,578, including $2,000 from the political action committee of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. Southworth’s campaign had raised $51,828, including $1,000 from the PAC of U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-4th District. She has relied on advertising that makes a point of her support for the Second Amendment, “funding classrooms” and paying pensions. Carroll’s campaign has raised the least, totaling $8,625. The reports were taken from the state Registry of Election Finance’s website Oct. 23.