A Post-Primary Interview With Jack Conway

Now that Rand Paul has officially become the de facto face of the 2010 Kentucky Senate Death Match, we decided to ask his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a few questions about the race that’s got everybody from LA to New York and beyond abuzz.

LEO: Congratulations on a hard fought victory.

Jack Conway: Thank you. It was a real landslide, wasn’t it? (Laughs)

LEO: What does the campaign have you doing now?

Conway: Making a lot of phone calls, actually. I only got a couple hours of sleep Tuesday night. You can imagine my surprise when I woke up watching cable news Wednesday morning, and this whole furor over Paul’s remarks has me doing a lot of media requests.

LEO: Since Tuesday’s primary, Paul has grabbed media headlines for anti-government sentiments concerning both a tacit endorsement of racial discrimination and, just this morning, criticism of the Obama administration for its stance toward BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It seems that even at this early stage, the debate is already being framed along ideological lines re: the role of government and the role of the private sector. What do you think government’s role should be in 21st century American society?

Conway: Government’s role should be to provide opportunities for those who need them most. As we come out of a financial crisis, the federal government needs to make certain we have more accountability in Wall Street, and more accountability for international giants like BP. What’s troubling to me is that Paul holds views so far out of the mainstream, he takes some very extreme positions. I mean, I thought we settled this issue of segregation nearly half a century ago. To say that you don’t agree, to say that a business shouldn’t be required to serve someone based on their skin color, it’s pretty out of touch with reality. Don’t forget that, in 1964, a local district judge wouldn’t apply the civil rights act in Alabama, so the supreme had to come in and end discrimination at lunch counters. That was government intervening and doing the right thing.

He even said this week that he has a problem with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Think of what that message is saying to disabled veterans coming back from wars. That’s essentially callous. He also gets into strange positions regarding OSHA safety standards, work place safety standards. Don’t workers have the right to be protected by the government if something happens on the job?
What he said this morning on “Good Morning America,” I couldn’t believe it. Something like, ‘the Obama administration needs to gets its boot off the neck of BP,’ right? Something like that? Well, I think BP needs to get its boot off the neck of the fisherman in the gulf region.

He’s just so callous. Saying that ‘Sometimes accidents just happen?’ Unbelievable. You know what, there are families in Western Kentucky and West Virginia that are grieving over those (mining) accidents. When something like that happens, government needs to take measures to ensure that it never happens again.

His out-of-the-mainstream philosophy seems to put the corporations first, and we do not need another Big Business senator in Washington. He seems to want to be the prince of this national philosophy, and what I want to be is a senator the commonwealth of Kentucky standing up for Kentucky families.

LEO: Are you concerned that this automatically paints you as a defender of government in what has been described as an anti-government climate?

Conway: No. I’m not defending government, exactly. Government has to step in and ensure prudent regulation of Wall Street, of energy companies, when things go wrong. This worldview he has that government should never in any way touch business is unrealistic. We left the firms on Wall Street alone and look what happened.

I consider myself a pro-business Democrat. If you look on my website, I’ve got five specific ways I’d go about fixing the economy. Reducing the federal debt, closing down offshore tax havens, prosecuting Medicaid fraud, supporting a bipartisan debt commission, and others. And I believe in fiscal responsibility, in not spending more than we can afford to. I just know Kentucky can’t afford Rand Paul.
What we have to recognize in 2010 is that government has a legitimate role to play, but this idea that government should never have any role to play whatsoever is very much outside of the mainstream.

LEO: So far, Paul has garnered a kind of a top-billing status across a wide array of media, wherein you’re usually referred to as “Paul’s opponent” toward the end of any given article or blog post. How do you think Paul’s high media visibility has impacted this race, and how does your campaign plan to react to it?

Conway: He obviously has high media visibility, but for all the wrong reasons. Honestly, I’m not really concerned about it. What the national media did was fail to recognize that we got more votes than Paul, and that Daniel Mongiardo got more votes than Paul. This is gonna be a five-and-a-half-month-long campaign. The people of this state are starting to get to know me, and the people of the United States will hopefully get to know me little better, too. Without a doubt, this will be one of the closely watched races in the entire country, and I’m confident we can win.

LEO: What is your impression of that Rasmussen poll which shows Paul up by 25 points?

Conway: I think it means absolutely nothing.

First, the Rasmussen outfit is generally regarded as a Republican polling outfit. Secondly, it was conducted on the night when all the national media had descended on Kentucky, I think, and all the national cable shows covered Paul and not us. Thirdly, that poll doesn’t take into account the negative comments he’s made since the poll was conducted. So no, I don’t think it’s a credible poll.

Right now, Rand Paul is running around like a bantam rooster, a country term for a small biting rooster. (Laughs)  Look it up. I’ll go ahead and take the underdog status. I’m not looking to be the prince of some national movement, but to be the best US senator from Kentucky I can be.

LEO: What kind of interest has the national democratic leadership expressed in your campaign?

Conway: I haven’t really talked to anybody in the national Democratic party between November and this week. Obviously with my win and the attention Paul has brought to the race, the national party is interested, of course. But I haven’t had any discussion with them yet.

LEO: Speaking of the DNC, Chairman Tim Kaine has called the Tea party “corrosive and divisive.” The Tea Party also gave Paul a landslide primary victory over Trey Grayson, so their electoral might in Kentucky is tangible, if not entirely understood at this point. What kind of impact do you think they’ll have in the general, and how do you plan to address those voters’ concerns?

Conway: The tea party is an expression of the frustration and the anger and the anxiety related to the economy. It’s not just the economy, but also the way things are done in Washington, with constant filibusters and the failure of politicians to reach across party lines. I have a reputation of reaching across party lines and getting things done. I think my record will help me reach out to them, and I want them to know that I’m in this race because I’m frustrated as well.

They have a lot of passion, but the question for the tea party movement is, what do we use that passion for? Do we use it in a constructive fashion or in a destructive fashion? How can we use government to help make things better, instead of destroying things that need fixing?

LEO: During the primary, you compared some of Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo’s views with those espoused by Paul and the tea party movement. What’s your plan to reach out to those Mongiardo voters, and how much is that out-reach dependent upon The Mongiardo Machine’s full support of your campaign?

Conway: Daniel and I had a very cordial conversation Tuesday night. Members of our staff have met this week. He wanted a few days of outdoor recreation, and we’ll be meeting for another talk next week. I expect we’ll be one strong, unified family as we head in to the general election.

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