Candidates for the Kentucky House of Representatives 3rd District (part of McCracken County) squared off in a forum hosted by the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday. Candidates outlined their positions on the Affordable Care Act, the pension system, regulations on business and more.
In opening remarks, incumbent Democratic Rep. Gerald Watkins touted his record on jobs and education opportunities - adding that "education is the most critical element for a community to grow." Republican challenger and small business owner Joni Hogancamp said she was not a politician, but felt she has the skill set to help 'turn the state around' and provide opportunities for future generations.
Affordable Care Act:
Hogancamp: While serving on the board for St. Nicholas Family Clinic, she saw firsthand what she calls the 'disaster' of the ACA with an increase in Medicaid. She said businesses are pulling out of the insurance field because they can't afford it. She wants to bring in more insurance companies to Kentucky, which she said will drive the rates down and offer more services.
Watkins: Would not have voted for the ACA, but says Kynect was a 'big success' for signing people onto insurance who didn't have it before. He said the ACA needs to be scrapped, but likes the 'no pre-existing conditions' clause and the ability for children to stay on their parents plans until 26 (suggested those be passed separately). Noting some benefits, he said the cost is prohibitive and supports cross-state competition for insurance companies.
Watkins: Kentucky's poorly funded pension system has been a problem for a long time. He said he has helped put $1.2 billion into the pension system with another $125 million in the permanent fund once a performance audit is complete. He anticipates additional revenue but opposes cuts to higher education.
Hogancamp: Agreed that the pension problem 'didn't happen overnight.' Applauds Governor Matt Bevin and the state senate for working on a solution. She said while unfortunate, painful cuts need to be made to come up with the money.
Local Option Sales Tax:
Hogancamp: Against raising taxes and would look into who these taxes affect, questioning the potential burden on tourists. She said the money could be used to renovate City Hall.
Watkins: Voted "yes" for LOST, said it allows people to determine for themselves what projects they want to support. He said the most needed project is a 'first class sports complex' for softball, baseball and soccer and an Olympics-sized swimming pool for competition. "People don't want to come to Paducah to compete that's millions of dollars in revenue," he said, adding that Elizabethtown is an example of a growing community in large part to their sports complex.
Republican Majority in House?
Watkins said the Democratically-led house has been more supportive of Chamber of Commerce initiatives (like LIFT and the smoking ban). Said there needs to be a check in balance and that the house is already conservative without having an 'extreme agenda.' He said he voted for President Ronald Reagan twice and that the Republican Party today is not the party of Reagan.
Hogancamp: Said she uses the hashtag #NewMajority because the House has been Democratic for 95 years and it's time for change. She said too many bills get passed in the Senate and drop in the House (like lifting the nuclear moratorium).
Hogancamp: Said IDs are already needed for military bases and IDs for voting is important. Will look into this more, she said.
Watkins: Said it was 'ridiculous' for the Governor to veto this legislation and that an upgrade to the 21st century is needed.
Red Tape Reduction:
Watkins: Praised Reagan for cutting regulations while in office. Suggested a cost-benefit analysis before regulations can be implemented. Favors cutting unnecessary regulations, including rolling back the EPA. He said he 'blasted' the EPA for 'destroying' the coal industry in Kentucky.
Hogancamp: Said "we are greatly over regulated" and added that the EPA "is killing the coal industry." Also, criticized the Clean Waters Act for affecting farmers. She said it's a problem when the government can dictate the water that runs off of farmland. She said overreach is huge and that the decline of the coal industry affects Paducah's barge industry.
Hogancamp: Leary of taking on new tax. Worried this would affect tourism. Would question the specifics of such a tax before considering whether or not to pass it.
Watkins: Opposes the tax on the state level. Said it would have an averse effect on the people. Supports LIFT (local investments for transformation).
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
Watkins: Doesn't like either candidate. Said he may skip voting for president and vote down ticket instead. Said he runs 'an independent campaign' and works across the aisle.
Hogancamp: Not wild about either candidate. Said she admires that Trump is a business owner and understands the realities of running a business (where there may be years without revenue gain or years of losing money). She added that his communications skills 'are certainly lacking.'
In closing remarks, Watkins touted his record supporting Chamber initiatives. Hogancamp said she would work with the Governor and Senate as opposed to 'throwing up roadblocks or lawsuits.'