Republican Candidates for Attorney General, Primary Election

By John Gregory | 4/16/19 8:30 AM

Candidates competing in the Republican Party primary for the state Attorney General appeared on Monday’s edition of KET’s Kentucky Tonight.

Host Renee Shaw spoke with Daniel Cameron and Wil Schroder about crime and drugs, election issues, defending state laws, consumer protection, and more.

This was the fourth in a series of discussions with candidates in contested races for statewide constitutional offices this election season.

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The Candidates
Daniel Cameron grew up in Hardin County and studied political science and law at the University of Louisville. He served as law clerk for U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove and as legal counsel to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, where he worked on federal judiciary, law enforcement, criminal justice, and other issues. Cameron is now an attorney in Louisville.

Wil Schroder was elected to the state Senate in 2014, representing Bracken, Campbell, and Pendleton counties. Prior to that he was Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Campbell County for five years. Schroder studied English education at the University of Kentucky and law at Northern Kentucky University. He lives in Wilder and is a public finance lawyer in Covington.

The winner of the Republican primary will face former Attorney General and former state Rep. Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg, who is unopposed on the Democratic ticket.

The Job of Attorney General
Cameron contends the office under current Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, is too focused on bringing lawsuits against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin or legislation passed by the General Assembly. He says he would bring a new vision to the job that makes fighting the drug epidemic around the state his top priority. As part of that, he would relocate one of the assistant attorneys general.

“This office needs to primarily be about the chief law enforcement concerns of the commonwealth,” says Cameron. “How you ultimately do that is to move someone outside of the Attorney General’s office in Frankfort to make sure that the remaining 120 counties… know that this office is working for them.”

Cameron says he would advocate for higher budgets for local prosecutors and the Kentucky State Police crime lab, and he would enforce laws “without fear or favor,” even if that means taking on a sitting governor.

Kentucky has not had a Republican Attorney General in seven decades, and Schroder says this election presents a good opportunity to change that. He says the office should forge stronger ties with county and commonwealth’s attorneys around the state. As a former prosecutor he says he understands the challenges facing law enforcement. Schroder says his legislative experience positions him to be an effective voice for police and prosecutors on policy and budget issues.

“I have 27 of my Senate Republican colleagues supporting me in this race, I have great relationships in the House [of Representatives],” says Schroder. “I’m going to have the ability to… visit the General Assembly and make requests and advocate on behalf of boots on the ground.”

But Schroder warns that the next state budget will be extremely tight, so he says he can’t promise more money for prosecutors.

Constitutional Questions
The 2019 General Assembly passed a series of pro-life measures meant to limit abortions in the commonwealth. Beshear warned lawmakers about the constitutionality of that legislation, and a federal judge has already blocked two of those bills.

Both Schroder and Cameron say as Attorney General they would defend the new restrictions.

“The responsibility of the Attorney General is to uphold and enforce the laws that are passed by the General Assembly and that are signed by the governor,” says Cameron. “That is what I will do, regardless of what the policy issue is.”

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a state law passed in 2017 that requires doctors to show women an ultrasound of their fetus before performing an abortion. The Bevin Administration appealed a lower court ruling after Beshear declined defend the law. President Donald Trump appointed the appeals court judge who ruled in the case.

Cameron and Schroder argue that changes to the federal judiciary during the Trump Administration will lead to new constitutional interpretations. That’s why it’s important to fight for Kentucky’s abortion laws, they say, despite the costs of litigation.

“It’s justified because judges change, the make-up of courts change, and we see decisions change,” says Schroder. “Kentucky needs a pro-life Attorney General, no doubt about it. I will be that Kentucky pro-life Attorney General.”

The Republicans also oppose Beshear’s decision to challenge public pension reform legislation passed by state lawmakers last year. Beshear argued the bill violated the Kentucky Constitution. In a unanimous ruling issued last December, the state Supreme Court overturned the law based on the procedure lawmakers used to introduce and pass the bill in a matter of hours.

Schroder says the court should have ruled on the substance of the bill, not the process. Cameron says it was inappropriate for Beshear to use taxpayer dollars to challenge the law when any number of outside groups could have brought the case instead.

Criminal Justice Concerns
The drug crisis is a huge issue for the commonwealth, according to the Republicans. Cameron says he developed relationships with state and federal drug enforcement agencies during his time in Washington, and he will draw on those contacts as Attorney General. He says drug users need ways to break the cycle of addiction, and that churches and nonprofit organizations are best suited to provide those opportunities.

As a former prosecutor, Schroder says he has experience convicting drug traffickers, and as a lawmaker, he’s advocated for tougher drug laws and more substance abuse treatment options for those with an addiction.

“It used to be that we treated [all drug offenders] the same,” Schroder says. “Now we understand the addiction component and we treat traffickers and addicts differently, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Schroder says he would also hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for misleading doctors and patients about the addiction risks posed by prescription medicines.

Both men say they support President Trump’s efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border as a way to combat the drug trade and illegal immigration, and ensure the safety of Kentucky families. And they oppose efforts to decriminalize recreational marijuana use.

“Anyone who is running to be Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer of the commonwealth of Kentucky… I don’t think can take the position that they would be in favor of decriminalizing marijuana,” says Cameron. “We are already fighting a very tough drug epidemic here… I would be worried about adding another drug to that effort.”

On relations between law enforcement and minority communities, Cameron says he would support groups that are concerned about policing. Schroder says he wants a fair and consistent response to how police interact with individuals of color.

Finally, the candidates complimented Beshear’s work to combat human trafficking and say they will build on those efforts.

Consumer Protection, Voting, and Other Issues
Schroder says he would balance the rights of consumers with the needs of companies to know they won’t face frivolous lawsuits from the Attorney General. He says those companies should realize that the state wants them to locate and do business here.

As a private litigator, Cameron says he has experience helping clients navigate the Consumer Protection Act, the Fair Debt Collection Act, and other laws that deal with consumer rights. As Attorney General he says he would review each case to determine which claims are worthy of action.

Both candidates say they would work with the Kentucky Secretary of State to ensure the integrity of voting systems and election outcomes in the commonwealth. Schroder says an important step in that process is to ensure that voter rolls are accurate.

The Republicans also say it’s up to the legislature to decide whether felons who have completed their sentences can have their voting rights restored. Schroder says there should be limits on who can get their rights back, while Cameron says there should be a waiting period before rights are restored for qualifying individuals.

Finally the candidates approve of a bill passed by the General Assembly earlier this year that gives the state finance secretary the right to approve contracts sought by an Attorney General for outside legal services. They say the state has a procurement process that must be followed, even by the Attorney General.

Kentucky Tonight‘s election preview programs continue on Monday, May 6, at 8 p.m. with the Republican candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.