Culture war issue front and center in latest governor’s ads

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected].

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In an ad released Monday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear works to distance himself from a claim by his opponent, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, that Beshear supports gender reassignment surgery for children. 

The ad, and an ad from a Political Action Committee, known as a PAC, supporting Cameron, show that national culture war topics are likely to be a vital part of the Kentucky governor’s race. 

“These attacks on me by Daniel Cameron are not true,” Beshear says in the ad. “I’ve never supported gender reassignment surgery for kids, and those surgeries don’t happen here in Kentucky.” 

Cameron’s campaign makes that claim based on Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 150, an omnibus bill that bans gender-affirming care for children, prohibits schools from teaching sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms, forces transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender assigned at birth and allows teachers to deadname transgender students. 

Beshear vetoed the bill in the spring before the Republican-led legislature overrode his veto. 

“Andy Beshear has always been clear that he does not support gender reassignment surgery for minors – which doesn’t happen in Kentucky,” said Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers. “Daniel Cameron and his allies are pushing a blatantly false attack because they know they can’t win talking about Cameron’s record, which includes supporting cuts to teacher pensions and backing schemes to divert money out of our public schools.”

One of the PACs supporting Cameron, Kentucky Values, which is affiliated with the Republican Governors Association, placed $292,000 in ad spend in June that was mainly used on the ad to attack Beshear. They’ve spent more than $2 million overall. 

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“Whether it’s making it easier for children to get abortions, allowing schools to refer children to psychological treatment, or allowing school employees to help children change genders, Beshear has supported all of these radical policies,” said Courtney Alexander, National Press secretary for the Republican Governors Association. “Andy Beshear puts liberal politics over parents.”

Last week, Cameron named state Sen. Robby Mills (R-Henderson) as his running mate. 

Mills, known for introducing a bill to ban transgender women in women’s sports during the 2022 legislative session, drew ire from the group Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky over comments where he referred to gender-affirming care as “experimental.” 

“Senator Mills should clearly state his position on how to treat trans youth,” said Rebecca Blankenship, executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky. “He has a history of misrepresentation of the history and science supporting gender-affirming care.” 

Blankenship said the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care show that major medical associations, including the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the Endocrine Society, back gender-affirming care for teens and adults.

Cameron, speaking after U.S. District Judge David Hale reversed an earlier decision blocking the ban on gender-affirming care, also called gender-affirming care drugs experimental.  

“I’m grateful to the district court for doing what the law requires, which is protecting Kentucky kids from the irreversible harms that these experimental drug treatments would cause,” Cameron said. 

Blankenship said in an interview on KET that the organization doesn’t support gender reassignment surgery for children, however, and those surgeries are not happening in Kentucky. 

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“Are gender or sex change operations happening to minors in Kentucky right now,” Host Renee Shaw asked Blankenship. 

“No, Ma’am, quite the opposite,” Blankenship said. “And every LGBT organization in the commonwealth said we were absolutely fine with banning those sorts of surgeries for minors.” 

Further, Blankenship said that proponents of this kind of legislation — to block gender-affirming care for minors — have to lie about the treatments kids are receiving. 

“They do not believe in gender identity at all,” Blankenship said. “They don’t think that somebody that’s suffering from gender dysphoria should receive any appropriate treatment.” 

Transgender care will likely remain a central talking point from Cameron’s campaign through the election cycle and the PACs supporting him are likely to spend big. 

Spending from both camps has already hit nearly $7 million in the general election, according to Medium Buying. 

Beshear’s campaign has spent $2.49 million, and the Defending Bluegrass Values PAC, affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association, has spent $2.07 million. 

The two PACs supporting Cameron have also spent big so far this year. Kentucky Values has spent $1.97 million, and Bluegrass Freedom Action has spent $380,000 overall. 

Gubernatorial spending overall has nearly tripled since the 2019 race between former Gov. Matt Bevin and Andy Beshear. In July of 2019, spending from both Democrats and Republicans hit $9.0 million. In 2023, that number is already $26.9 million, according to AdImpact

Further in 2019, Republican advertisers outspent Democrats nearly four to one. In 2023, Democrats have outspent Republicans two to one. The top two Democratic spenders are Beshear and Defending Bluegrass Values, and they’ve forked out $8.7 million of the total $13 million spent so far in the general election.

For Republicans, the top spender is Kentucky Values with $3 million in spending.

A director of an outside PAC backing AG Cameron resigns after racial slur

One of the directors for a political action committee that supports Cameron in his bid for governor, but isn’t officially affiliated with his campaign, resigned after a video shows him using a racial slur, according to a Politico report. 

Anton Castaneda resigned from his post as one of the directors for Bluegrass Freedom Action — a PAC backing General Cameron but not connected to his campaign — after a video surfaced of him using the slur in a report in Politico. 

“We were made aware of the video earlier this week by the individual in question who then preemptively resigned from their role effective immediately,” said Aaron Whitehead, a consultant to Bluegrass Freedom Action and founder of Resolve Campaigns. “They recognized that our organization has a zero-tolerance policy for that type of behavior and made the right decision to step away from their duties.” 

Castaneda is listed as one of three directors of Bluegrass Freedom Action, according to its business filing with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office, which also shows the group listing its address in Newport.

Further, the PAC gave over $16,000 to Castaneda’s company, Mountaintop Advisors, in April, according to reports from the Kentucky Registry for Election Finance. 

Bluegrass Freedom Action is heavily financed by the Concord Group — a “dark money” group formerly known as the Judicial Crisis Network. 

A dark money group is a 501 (c)(4), or a social welfare organization, that allows them not to report who donates money.

According to its 60-day post-primary report filed with the Kentucky Registry for Election Finance, Concord donated $750,000 to Bluegrass Freedom Action on June 27, 2023, and has given $3 million overall since January 2023. 

The PAC spent $380,000 on ads for the week of July 11- 17. 

The issue of race is also taking a role in this governor’s election, with Cameron being the first Black candidate nominated from either major political party for Kentucky’s highest office. 

Recently, Cameron backed out of Eric Deters’ Freedom Fest after Rep. Thomas Massie called out Deters over racial slurs. Cameron didn’t condemn the remarks but later told a reporter for USA Today that Black conservatives are held to a double-standards and are treated differently by media outlets regarding race.

“I often get asked to denounce every racist comment or behavior,” Cameron said in the article. 

Cameron’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

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