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Gambling debate in Ky. devolves into mudslinging

by Associated Press


Posted on February 1, 2012 at 12:31 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 1 at 12:31 AM

(WHAS11) -- The animosity between Governor Steve Beshear and Senate President David Williams erupted Tuesday at the Capitol with each accusing the other of intimidation tactics in the battle over whether to expand gambling in Kentucky.

"I think it’s very clear that that’s the case,” Beshear said.

“He’s the one that looks like the bully,” Williams retorted.

The gambling debate between the 2011 rivals in the gubernatorial race came to a head even before any legislation is introduced.

The new war of words erupted after a Frankfort minister, Hershael York, pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church, threatened to file an ethics complaint against Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown).  Thayer has crossed party lines to partner with Beshear on the gambling issue.

Thayer's ties to the equine industry constitute a conflict of interest if Thayer, as expected, introduces a constitutional amendment to expand gambling in Kentucky, York said.

Though no language or details of the amendment have been revealed, Beshear has said that expanded gambling is needed to help Kentucky's racetracks.

York made his ethics charge in Monday's Lexington Herald-Leader.

"I thought that that was a cheap shot that was taken this morning in the newspapers about Sen. Thayer," Beshear said.
 “He’s a fellow of integrity, and he is doing what he thinks is right in sponsoring this amendment to let people vote on it.”

The governor suggested a connection between York's comments and the Senate President, who occasionally attends York's church.

"I think its certainly further evidence of intimidation by Sen. Williams and others who are against this amendment," Beshear said.

"It was a false accusation that the governor made," Williams later responded, "And, what he's trying to do is intimidate me.  He's trying to intimidate my opposition to the expansion of gambling."

York said Williams had nothing to do with his ethics comments.

"For the governor to assume something without knowing the facts or even bothering to call me and ask, is frankly a little disconcerting," York said, "and sort of just shows the shady nature of this entire amendment."

"I'm disappointed that it's already dissolved into personal attacks," Thayer said during an interview in his Senate Annex office, "but, I guess that's politics today.  I was elected to lead not to follow."

Thayer produced an opinion he sought from the state ethics commission which says that Thayer is allowed to sponsor a gambling bill despite his unnamed clients.

Though they are on opposite sides of the gambling issue, Williams says he believes that Thayer's equine industry connections are not an ethics concern.

His ire is instead aimed at the governor.

"He's an angry man when he talks about me," Williams said.  "And, he just needs to get over his anger and do his job."

"I'm still hopeful that after the hurt wears off, maybe, that he will be more accommodating in terms of being able to work with me," Beshear said.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Gov. Steve Beshear is accusing Senate President David Williams of "intimidations and threats" against pro-gambling lawmakers in an attempt to stymie efforts to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that could legalize casinos in Ky.

Williams fired back Tuesday that the governor "has been untruthful."

The two longtime political foes who faced each other in last year's gubernatorial election have been on opposite sides of the gambling debate for years. Beshear, a second-term Democrat, is pressing for casinos in the state. Williams, a Republican, opposes such a move.

The exchange is the latest evidence that they haven't budged from their positions on gambling in Kentucky, a state with a tradition of wagering on horse races but with a constitutional ban on casinos.

Click on the video player above for more with WHAS11 political editor Joe Arnold.