Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway spoke with several politicians in the Letcher County Courthouse on Feb. 23 during his trip to eastern Kentucky this week. Conway will make stops in Breathitt, Floyd, Harlan, Knott and Perry counties.
Conway, a Democrat, is running against Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo for U.S. Senator in the 2010 May Primary Election.
Conway, who resides in Louisville with his wife, Elizabeth, and seven-monthold daughter, Eva Louise, said since he has filed his papers in January to run for the U.S. Senate he has traveled around the state listening to what people want in a Senator. He says Kentuckians want their next Senator to be focused on job creation.
reporter Sally Barto asked Conway the following questions during his visit to Letcher County on Tuesday:
Q: If elected as U.S. Senator, what can you do for eastern Kentucky that has never been done before?
A: Even though obviously I am not from eastern Kentucky, I am no stranger to the area. I worked for six years for an eastern Kentucky governor. I was legal council and deputy secretary of cabinet to Gov. (Paul) Patton. I understand there are really three areas where you can make a diff erence to eastern Kentucky.
Number one is transportation. We have a lot of our federal highway dollars go up to Washington and we don’t get as many dollars back as we ought to, to federal highways. So what you need is a United States Senator that although he may not be from this region understands the needs of the region, understands transportation is a huge, huge part of the needs of this region. When you start talking about Letcher and Harlan counties in particular, probably two of the hardest to reach counties that are around. You need better roads. You need fourlane roads. You need roads with guardrails. Transportation is a huge issue.
Number two. You need a United States Senator who thinks about energy issues and coal issues and takes this state on the offense rather than sitting back and remaining defensive. Coal is going to be an important part of our energy future. I mean there is no way around it. Coal is going to be an important part of our generation for the next 30 to 50 years. We just have to mine it responsibly. We need to make certain people in Washington understand that Kentucky coal is going to be an important, important part of our energy future. And that is something that people in the rest of the state need to understand as well.
Thirdly, I am passionate about the issue of education. We have invested so much in higher education. We’ve invested in elementary and secondary education. We need to invest in early childhood education. We have too many dropouts in this state. Part of it is because the kid that can’t read at seven is likely to drop out at 16. I really want to focus on early childhood education. I want to focus on early childhood education in this part of the state. And you have a lot of nontraditional students in eastern Kentucky that would like to further their education right here in eastern Kentucky and it’s hard to do. And I think you need a United States Senator that is focused on that issue as well.
Q: Do you think there is a direct link between poverty and education?
A: The difference between having a postsecondary degree and not having a postsecondary degree over your lifetime is at least a million dollars’ worth of earning power. Most kids don’t think about that so you need a comprehensive approach. You need to educate kids better at the early stages and set them on a path to lifelong learning. We need to find the kids that are at risk that aren’t in a parent-rich environment. We need a top-to-bottom review of Head Start in this country. Kids that are falling behind, falling through the cracks, we need to figure out how to set them on a path to lifelong learning. We need to get at ninth graders and tell them look, you are not just going to graduate from high school, you are going to graduate from college. To our juniors and seniors that want to get a trade degree or a postsecondary degree, we need to make certain we do a better job at letting them know all of the assistance that’s out there and how they can afford to further their education.
There is a link to poverty. The more I have studied this issue the more I have come to realize you cannot separate, you cannot delink job creation and economic development from education. If an employer wants to locate in eastern Kentucky, one of the first questions they are going to ask is how can I ship things in and out? What is the transportation system like? And then secondly, what is the workforce like and if the workforce doesn’t meet my needs, do you have schools available? Do you have community and technical-based education that can train the workforce? My question is are we doing a good enough job to do that and I think we can do better. I think for the future of eastern Kentucky we can do better.
Q: What is your stand on the drug problem in eastern Kentucky?
A: It’s got to be tackled from many diff erent angles. As Attorney General I have done a lot in this area. I promised to focus on it when I ran for Attorney General and I think I have focused on it. We created a statewide prescription pill taskforce When I became Attorney General I realized we have diminishing resources in Frankfort and the only way we were going to accomplish our job is to partner better with local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, with Operation UNITE with Hal Rogers’s operation, with DEA and we have done that. In fact, the office of the Attorney General participated in the state’s largest drug bust last fall where we rounded up 519 individuals, most of them on state charges. What we really did was tried to slow down that prescription pill pipeline that was coming in from Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states. We were involved with Operation Flamingo Road. We were part of that year-and-ahalf investigation.
We were involved in a major bust involving people stealing prescription pads and writing Oxy- Contin and other prescriptions. My prescription pill taskforce is doing all that we can do. But there are other things we can do. The KASPER system needs to work better. The KASPER system is generally state of the art. Within about eight hours the prescriptions are loaded on the KASPER system. We need to do a better job of mining the data. We ask for a KASPER report on a target, but I don’t think we are doing a good enough job in Frankfort of mining the data and seeing where are the outliners. You are going to have some oncologists, oral surgeons that might be legitimate, but you’ve got a lot of doctors overprescribing, too. We need to do a better job of mining the KASPER data and sharing it with law enforcement. So that’s an area we can really make a difference.
We need to continue to support drug courts. We need to continue to support treatment. I have tried to be forthcoming in saying that we just can’t lock up every nonviolent drug off ender. We’ve got to look at treatment options. We’ve got to look at diversion. We’ve got to look at the demand that is fueling our problem. And then we have to ask the pharmaceutical companies to be responsible. It’s going to be a coordinated approach.
We now have a tough Internet pharmacy law that you have to have a face-to-face meeting with a physician and a documented prescription in order to order from a Internet pharmacy. We have tried to crack down on that. We now have tougher national standards on Internet pharmacies. I helped lobby for some of those changes after I became Attorney General. So I have focused on this issue quite a bit from day one. We are working it hard and we need to continue to do all that we can do.
Q: Where do you and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo diff er?
Results. And I mean that sincerely. I think when people sit down and take a look at our records, I have cut the budget in my office 26 percent yet since I became Attorney General. I created a statewide prescription pill task force, we participated in Operation Flamingo Road. I created a cypercrimes unit. I took a third of our investigators and put them in a cypercrimes unit. We have gone across the state. We have trained local law enforcement on how to deal with digital computer forensic evidence. I have been in front of 24,000 kids in cyber safety seminars all across this state. My new cybercrimes unit has taken 40,000 child porn images off the Internet. We are busting cases and we are investigating cases that have never before been investigated in the state of Kentucky. We passed new cybercrimes legislation and I did it with the help of Republicans. I got it passed unanimously through the state Senate. You only do that by being bipartisan, by reaching across the aisle and trying to get things done and that is the type of U.S. Senator that I will be. We have done a lot in the area of cyber safety and cybercrimes.
In Medicaid fraud, Medicaid fraud collection is up 600 percent since I became Attorney General. We’ve returned about $100 million to the general fund in Medicaid fraud that we have collected.
Elder abuse prosecutions are up over 300 percent. I have been the most aggressive Attorney General we have ever had in going after price gauging in the area of consumer protection. So when you look at someone who has had their budget cut by more than a quarter yet we still have done all of this and you compare what Dan Mongiardo has done as Lieutenant Governor or even as State senator, what did he get passed? What has he done as Lieutenant Governor? I don’t think there is any comparison.
And we’re in a situation now where the people of this state think that Washington is not working for them. We’re bailing out big banks and giving bonuses to executives in New York City, but no one is really taking care of workers and people that need a job in places like Letcher County. You need someone to go up there that is focused on results who can reach across the aisle and wants to do what is best for the people of Kentucky. I think once the voters have an opportunity to take a look at this race and what I like to say about your politicians is they often say on those T.V. commercials that with the stock market past performance is not an indicator of future performance.
Well, it’s just the opposite with your politicians. I think past performance is an indicator of future performance and I think in this particular race I think it is a big difference between myself and Dan Mongiardo.
Q: How is your office is investigating Topix.com?
A: Last week the Attorney General of Connecticut and myself took the lead on this issue and we contacted and sent a letter to the CEO of Topix in California. Topix has that section of forms and polls which is essentially a community bulletin board. We received numerous complaints from Letcher County. Your board of education contacted my office. We got a lot of complaints from Pike County, complaints from Shelby County educators. The sheriff of Barren County called me personally to say my kids and my nephew and niece are being badmouthed and defamed on Topix.
So my investigators got into it a little bit and Topix has as its terms of service that if you want to flag something as inappropriate post or defamatory you can flag it, but they weren’t taking it down. But then lo and behold, they had this special priority fee for $19.99 to get down something when someone is defaming you. Well, that is ridiculous. It borders on extortion. And so I didn’t want to stand for it and I won’t stand for it. The Attorney General of Connecticut and I have contacted the CEO. They better come up with a solution and a solution fast.
This is an area where I have some expertise. I served on the National Association of Attorneys General Technology Taskforce and we worked out an historical agreement with MySpace and Facebook because they were letting kids on their website. They didn’t have parent safety tips. They didn’t have all of these things that they needed that they now have because the Attorneys General got together as a group and said we are concerned about this. When the Attorneys General bond together and say we are concerned about something whether it might be drugs, MySpace or alcohol, we tend to get their attention.
If Topix does not change this and change it soon, we’re going to number one, get a bunch of Attorneys General together to really get after them and put the heat on them. Number two, I intend to look at suing them under the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act for possible civil penalties for conduct that is happening on the website. That is what I intend to do. I am not going to let up on this. I think it is absolutely unconscionable that people who have done nothing are getting rumored and defamed on that particular site. My first priority is to make sure that the people who have had this done to them get a remedy and that this does not happen again.
My investigators went on and flagged and nothing happened and then they paid the $19.99 just to see how quickly they responded and even then they didn’t respond in certain instances. It wasn’t very effective.