Jack Conway, in his run for governor, is seeking to advance to a higher office for the third time in his career. The 45 year old Louisville native has been involved in politics for much of his adult life.
Conway has a political past. At age 25 he joined Paul Patton's gubernatorial campaign and served in the Patton administration. The two term state attorney general also made unsuccessful runs for Congress in 2003 and the U.S. Senate in 2010. Now, he has his eye on the governor's mansion.
His opponent in the primary, Lexington retired state engineer Geoff Young has accused Conway and other high ranking democrats of illegally rigging the election in favor of the AG. Conway refutes that allegation entirely. "His name's on the ballot and we'll see what happens on Tuesday," said Conway. "I've put together a very credible campaign that has the support of just about everyone in the Democratic Party. It's a free country, Mr. Young's free to do what he wants to do."
Conway says he feels he's generally known and recognized for doing a good job, and he says that doesn't give anyone the right to complain they're not faring well against his campaign.
Last week, Conway attended the second Shaping Our Appalachian Region summit in Pikeville. The wide reaching initiative is aimed at moving eastern Kentucky's economy forward. While some area residents wonder if SOAR will produce needed results, Conway believes it can do just that. "The answer is yes it will work, it's just going to take time," he said. "But, I think it is a very worthwhile initiative and it's one that I will continue when I'm elected governor."
Conway says the most pressing issue across the Commonwealth is providing better wages through job skills improvements. The expansion of broadband telecommunications service is tied into that effort. Conway believes the eastern Kentucky region is suffering because of a lack of sufficient internet access. "That means some kid in eastern Kentucky can't take an advanced placement class," he said. "Of that means, if I'm governor next year trying to lure jobs to the rural parts of the state, they're not coming if those businesses can't connect to high speed internet, take orders on line, and participate in the electronic commerce of the 21st century."
Conway says Kentucky currently ranks 47th nationally in broadband access and 50th in broadband speed.
Another major issue for many Kentucky communities is the ongoing battle against drug abuse. The state's chief prosecutor says getting ahead of the next drug of choice is an ongoing challenge. "Now Kentucky has one of the most flexible regulatory schemes, which allows us in an administrative way, to reclassify synthetic drugs," explained Conway. "So we're able, very quickly, if we see a new synthetic drug to make it illegal. So, there are ways to be on top of it, but it order to ever really be in front of it, we're going to have to focus on education and treatment."
And Conway says the state still finds itself with one tenth of the number of treatment beds needed to meet the demand.
Kentucky's participation in the federal Affordable Care Act has generated much debate. When it comes to Medicaid coverage for low income citizens, Conway believes it would be difficult to scale back. "I don't think anyone can say for certain what the budget's gonna look like in 2021," Conway said. "And to scream that we can't afford it and say you just want to kick a half million people off of health insurance in 2015 because you don't know what we can or can't afford in 2021, that to me, sounds callous."
Conway was thrust into the limelight on the gay marriage issue last spring when his office did not appeal a lower court's overturning of Kentucky's ban. The nation's highest court is expected to rule on the matter this summer. Conway says he's not convinced that a final decision will put an end to the discussion. "I don't know if it will end the debate, but I highly suspect that the Supreme Court will take the same position that I did and say that there is a fundamental right to marriage equality," said Conway.
The debate about who will carry the democratic banner into this fall's governor's race will be settled once and for all when voters go to the polls on Tuesday.