The candidates hoping to fill the vacancy in the 89th District’s House of Representatives seat in a special election on Feb. 27 spoke during a debate on Monday night. Democratic candidate Kelly Smith of Richmond and Republican candidate Robert Goforth of East Bernstadt addressed questions regarding the state’s education issues.

EAST BERNSTADT — A special election next week to fill the vacant seat in the 89th House of Representatives district brought the two candidates vying for that spot to a debate on Monday night.

Sponsored by the Laurel County branch of the Kentucky Education Association, candidates Kelly Smith and Robert Goforth gave their views on issues related to the state’s educational topics during a public session at the East Bernstadt Volunteer Fire Department.

Smith and Goforth are the candidates seeking to fill the seat vacated by former Representative, Marie Rader, who resigned due to health reasons. Smith, a Democrat from Richmond, and Goforth, a Republican from Laurel County, are the two candidates facing off in the special election next week.

This special election will involve only the 89th District precincts in Laurel County of Maplesville, London #6 and #7, East Bernstadt #1 and #2, Viva, Oakley, Crossroads and Pittsburg. All of Jackson County and parts of Madison County are also included in the 89th District.

This special election should not be confused with the primary and general elections in which both Smith and Goforth will also be listed, both are seeking a four-year term during those voting processes.

Despite being from opposing political parties, the two candidates agreed on most topics concerning the state’s educational dilemma.

Smith and Goforth both support public schools over charter schools, although Goforth had to be updated on the roles of the site based decision making councils at public schools. But once given a brief overview of the six-member panel that makes decisions at individual schools, he expressed his full support.

“I don’t see why anyone would want to take that away,” Goforth responded. “The teachers and parents know better than anyone what they need.”

Smith agreed, stating, “Parent involvement is the key in the school and student success. Taking out the site based councils is a terrible idea.”

Smith also said she wasn’t seeking office to become a career politician and even said there should be term limits for legislators.

“We’re not going to change Frankfort if the same people there are career politicians,” she said. “I’m running because I want to help people and to inspire others to get involved. We need more educators in Frankfort.”

Goforth added that “anyone concerned should run” adding that “one person can make a change.” He said one means of that change is to continue substance abuse education programs in the schools - which he does through the Project DARIS program, one he founded in memory of a friend who struggled with drug addiction and eventually died.

“I’ve seen the effects of substance abuse and I want to help shape and change lives,” he said. “I want to go to Frankfort and support more funding for continuous education on substance abuse. Red Ribbon Week once a year is just not enough.”

Both Goforth and Smith expressed frustration with the continuing cuts to educational programs in Kentucky, as well as the teacher pension and state retirement deficit.

“The state budget has been cut 19 times in the past several years,” Smith said. “I’m frustrated over the cuts to education from K through 12 and continuing education, then the pensions of our teachers. Our government needs to find ways to fund those.”

But both also oppose current pension programs being done as a 401K program, with Goforth adamantly stating he would not support the current proposal to do that. Smith added that the complexity of the pension funding problem is not truly being shown to the public, because there are different systems. She cited the pension plan for a classified school employee was different than a certified employee.

“I would say no to a 401K plan. A 401K does not save the state money, it only takes away the pension for teachers,” she said.

“I’m not for switching to a 401K,” Goforth said. “Other states have tried it and it increasingly destabilized the existing ones. I’m for keeping a defined benefit plan.” He also stated he wasn’t a fan of switching to a 401A plan. “You have no say-so in a 401A in how your dollars are being invested. They decide for you.”

Both also oppose more cuts to school family resource and youth service center budgets, which just recently took another 17 percent budget cut. Goforth said the services provided through these programs are essential, while Smith said those who continuously cut these programs are “short sighted” and oblivious to the services they provide thousands of students.

When an audience member brought up prayers in school, Goforth advocated prayer in public schools, while Smith said she wasn’t in favor of it, saying that prayer is subjective due to the differences of religious beliefs among the students.

Both candidates expressed their interest in serving their constituents if elected, pledging to support the values of the communities they serve and both wanting to make a difference in the lives of Kentuckians as a whole.

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