Kentucky Primary 2019: Geoff Young, The Perennial Candidate
Geoff Young, a retired engineer and perennial candidate for elected office in Kentucky, claims he is the most progressive candidate in this year's race for governor.
Young advocates for legalizing marijuana, defending abortion rights, increasing taxes on the wealthy and strengthening unions.
But the issue Young most frequently raises is his claim that the Kentucky Democratic Party has rigged primary elections against him. He has filed lawsuits against both the party and a slew of the state's top Democratic figures.
Young has never made it past a primary election. In 2018, 2016 and 2014 he ran for the 6th Congressional district, in 2017 he ran for U.S. Senate and in 2015 he ran for governor.
Young sat for an hour-long interview with WFPL reporters in March. You can listen to his full interview below, or read and listen to highlights on some of the big issues facing Kentucky today. Transcripts have been condensed for clarity.
Question: Kentucky's got a $37 billion unfunded pension liability. Governor Bevin has proposed dealing with it by reducing pension benefits for future state workers and putting record amounts of money into the pension systems. Do you support that model? Or what do you think should happen?
Answer: “Well, I think virtually all of Kentucky's budget problems can be solved through two methods. First, is to tax the rich. Kentucky is one of the worst states when it comes to taxing poor and working people higher on a percentage basis than the very rich. I'm a Bernie Sanders Democrat. And I strongly supported Bernie in 2016 for president. And states that have tried that, for example, Minnesota, found that by raising the average tax rate on the top 5 percent wealthiest people solved most of their budget problems. I mean, Minnesota is not perfect, but they solved their their budget crisis that way.”
Question: I know that some of the critics of that model say there's still structural problems with the pension systems; that something needs to be done about benefits. Do you buy that? Or do you think that the state can go forward under the current model?
Answer: “It has to be funded, that's the main crisis. It's essentially running out of money. And so larger scale solutions are what's needed. I support comprehensive tax reform, which would make the rich pay their fair share. Now the other method of raising revenue, the Young and French campaign is proposing to legalize all forms of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes. That really helped the state budget of Colorado and several other states that have done that.”
Question: What about casino gambling or expanded sports betting?
Answer: "One, our Constitution is outdated. And two, I’m leery of the side effects of casinos, in terms of organized crime. So if it can be done with enough safeguards and checks in place to keep organized crime out, I would support legalizing more forms of gambling. I have a kind of a libertarian streak on certain issues, and that's one of them. If people want to risk their money, that's that's their business.
“I don't think that legalizing gambling is going to contribute a whole lot to the budget of the Commonwealth. So it's not a top issue for me. Legalizing marijuana and especially comprehensive tax reform are much more important in solving our budget problems.”
Question: Would you keep Kentucky's Medicaid expansion or continue Governor Bevin’s proposal to roll back the expansion?
Answer: “Well, definitely overturn Governor Bevin’s proposal or plan. It's immoral to kick people off of health insurance. And Governor Bevin is a very immoral person.
“So, as a progressive Democrat — the most progressive slate running this year, out of all eight candidates — I would support, on a national level, improved, expanded Medicare for all, and try to do as much as we can on the state level to approach that model.”
Question: What's your stance on abortion issues? Would you continue to defend the abortion laws that pass out of the legislature this year? Would you, as Governor Bevin’s doing, defend those laws in court?
Answer: “I think those laws should be overturned. I'm a strong supporter of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 — Roe vs. Wade. I think that was an excellent decision and made it possible to actually solve the abortion issue for good. What happened, however, was that soon after that decision, a movement arose — a political movement, consisting of Republicans and the right to life movement, that politicized the issue; that made it partisan, and demands that all abortions after conception be made illegal. That is an unworthy goal.
“As a Democrat, I have been accused for 46 years, as all other Democrats have been accused of being baby killers. And I'm sick and tired of it. Planned Parenthood and the Democratic party are the true pro-life Americans. We are proposing policies that will reduce the abortion rate over time, such as Western Europe has, and the United States has these laws too. But the right to life movement is coming in and trying to undermine Roe vs. Wade; overturn it, if they can; bring us back to the bad old days when women were dying in unsafe procedures.”
Question: How do you propose addressing the state's opioid epidemic?
Answer: “Well, treatment is critical. Addictive drugs are an extreme danger to the individual and to our whole society. But legalizing marijuana can help counteract that, and providing more treatment and less imprisonment. Move it away from a criminal justice model, and toward a medical model, or health model of reducing or minimizing harm and treating addiction in ways that work in other countries.”
Question: What’s your stance on needle exchanges?
Answer: “They seem beneficial."
School Choice And Charter Schools
Question: Broadly, what is your position on school choice?
Answer: “I'm a strong supporter of the public school system. Like all other systems, it can be improved. But the way to improve it is not to undermine it by taking away its funding, and essentially giving it to private corporations. It might be possible to imagine a voucher system that did not damage the public school system, but I haven't heard that proposed. The Republicans in the General Assembly are proposing laws that would cripple the public school system and they're doing it for purely political reasons. And it's it's not good for the children of Kentucky.”
Question: What priority would your administration place on mitigating the impacts of man-made climate change? And what will you do about it?
Answer: “A lot of my professional career was in Frankfort in the state energy office. The mission of that office is to improve energy efficiency in all sectors of Kentucky’s economy.
“I found the coal industry lobbyists to be literally impossible to work. The power of the coal lobby has to be broken. And the way to do it is by ignoring them. What we do need to do is improve efficiency bringing renewable energy sources like solar energy. It's not regulations that are putting miners out of work. It's the free market. If there’s a war on coal, it’s being waged by Adam Smith.”
Question: But we’ve come a long way with energy efficiency. That’s never going to get us out of extracting carbon or putting it in our atmosphere.
Answer: "Well, that’s where renewables come in."
Question: And as governor, how would you work toward a renewable energy future in Kentucky?
Answer: "California has done much better than Kentucky at creating the institutional incentives and the structures that will keep improving energy efficiency beyond how far we've come so far. Efficiency is the cheapest energy source, so to speak. That should be used first."
Question: How would you manage this energy transition in a way that benefits disadvantaged communities, many are in Eastern Kentucky?
Answer: “I would appoint commissioners to the Public Service Commission, the PSC, who understand how cost effective energy efficiency is, and who also understand the need to make it available to everyone, even our poorest citizens.”
Question: What about the economy in these areas that are suffering right now from the lack of opportunities that exist in coal?
Answer: “Well, the SOAR project, I think, has the right idea. They're trying to diversify the economy of Eastern Kentucky and I would support that... Although the task may be difficult, the economic diversification is the way to go.”
About this series: WFPL invited all eight Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates to sit down for an hour-long interview with a panel of our reporters on a variety of policy issues. Five responded in some way. We’ll be rolling out profiles of those five candidates in the coming days, along with a profile of Gov. Matt Bevin; while he wouldn’t sit for an interview, in his first term as governor he’s established a policy record from which voters can draw. You can read other profiles as they’re published here.