The town hall forum took place at the Middlesboro Civic Center and a bevy of local politicians and constituents made a show of support for Fletcher.
Following a lunch courtesy of Binghamtown Baptist Church, Fletcher took the podium to address the issues that drive this race: Casino gambling, tourism, energy alternatives, and ethics in general.
Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock introduced the governor to those in attendance with preemptive assurance that Governor Fletcher offers competition to the other gubernatorial candidate, although Fletcher falls short in the polls, “We’re in this race, but we’ve got to push a little bit extra,” Brock stated.
Those in attendance received a handout that detailed Governor Fletcher’s commitment to Bell County. The document stated that Bell County received over $116 million during the Fletcher administration, money spent on education, transportation, utilities and infrastructure, community and economic development, parks and recreation, environmental protection and justice and public safety.
Governor Fletcher spoke about the improvements his administration made on the economy and education. “We’ve diversified the economy. We’ve put money in agriculture, money in tourism, as you know, money in our parks, money in our roads; but we’ve also invested in our greatest resource: Our people, our students,” the governor said.
Fletcher asserted that tourism is a key to Kentucky’s economy and remarked of the natural beauty of the tri-state area, “This is one of the most beautiful parts of the United States. The Gap is not too far from here, where most of our forefathers came through and settled this part of the country,” Fletcher stated. “There’s nothing any prettier than what we’ve got right here.” Fletcher promised that roads would be constructed to allow for tourism to grow, and went on to say that tourism areas would be developed and then marketed to create a sustainable income for Kentucky via the promotion of adventure tourism.
Governor Fletcher promises Eastern Kentucky a coal-to-liquid fuel plant. “We ship out 73 percent of our coal and don’t do anything to raise the value of it, don’t do anything to create more jobs with it once we get it out of the ground,” Fletcher said. “Well, we’re going to do that now. We’re going to make sure we convert it to gas and liquid fuels. We’re going to make sure we do it in a way that will increase jobs and high skill jobs. We’ve got a coal academy, we’re going to put an energy academy here in the eastern part of the state.”
The governor switched gears from the economy to conversation on ethics and received applause during the forum for stating that the Ten Commandments should be posted in schools.
On the hot-button issue of casino gambling, Governor Fletcher presented the case of a gambling addict and blasted the idea of casino gambling in Kentucky. He accused his opponent, Steve Beshear, of wanting to place casinos in border towns, including Bell County.
“We don’t want to tell our kids that gambling is good, or our grandkids that gambling is good. And that’s what you’re saying if you’re saying that bringing it in is going to solve our education or healthcare costs,” Fletcher stated. “At Steve Beshear’s casinos,” Fletcher continued, “He’d have to put those all over and saturate this state to get what he’s talking about [$500 million]. Folks, it doesn’t work. Oh it will bring payday lenders and pawn shops.”
Beshear has said that he expects “no more than a dozen” casinos to be erected in Kentucky, and continues to assert, “Most of them would probably be near race tracks.”
Bell County Fiscal Court and the Middlesboro City Council took a stand on the casino gambling issue when Democratic candidate Steve Beshear began to advocate it as a way to bring tax dollars into the state. Judge Brock and the Fiscal Court voted to oppose the expansion of gambling at off-track betting parlors established without local approval by a majority of the voters. During his visit to Middlesboro in August, Steve Beshear stated, “That’s what we’re advocating: Allowing people the right to vote on casino gambling. If they don’t want it in their community, that’s okay. But if they do, they should be able to say so.”
With election day less than two-weeks away, voters can expect a barrage of campaign efforts on either side of this heated gubernatorial race between Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Steve Beshear. Beshear’s “Let’s Work Together” campaign rally makes its way to Southern Kentucky this evening. Beshear will speak at 5:30 p.m. at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset. Fletcher’s “No Casinos Tour” began in Pikeville and continues on throughout the state.
Brandy M. Calvert is a Staff Writer for the Daily News. Contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.