Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft campaigned in Newport Monday morning, just five weeks before the May 16 primary and as the state grapples with a culture conflict due to recently passed legislation banning gender-affirming care for children.
The conflict is something that some are saying is explicitly used for political gain in a gubernatorial election year, with 12 Republicans vying to unseat Democrat Andy Beshear.
The crowded GOP field also includes Attorney General Daniel Cameron, State Auditor Mike Harmon, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck as the front runners in the race. Former NKY attorney Eric Deters and Independence resident David Cooper also are in the race.
Craft, a former United Nations Ambassador, appeared with former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied for fifth place during an NCAA swim meet with transgender woman Lia Thomas. Thomas, a former boys swimmer, placed above girls that Gaines argued worked their whole life to be usurped by a “man” competing in girls’ sports.
Gaines has gained notoriety for being outspoken in favor of banning transgender women from women’s sports, often appearing on conservative news networks and supporting legislation to ban transgender women from women’s sports.
“I can wholeheartedly attest to the extreme discomfort in the locker room when you turn around, and there’s a six-foot-four male dropping his pants, fully equipped with and exposing male genitalia and watching other girls undress,” Gaines said.
Gaines’ appearance on the campaign trail comes as Kentucky recently passed legislation banning transgender girls from using girls’ restrooms, discussing gender in classrooms, allowing teachers to deadname transgender children, and prohibiting gender-affirming healthcare.
Kentucky’s newly enacted law — with the classroom portions taking effect immediately and the healthcare portion early this summer — follows suit to other states around the country amidst what some call “culture wars.”
During the 2022 legislative session, Gaines appeared with Sen. Robby Mills (R-Henderson) to support legislation that bans transgender women in women’s sports — despite pleas from young transgender teens that the bill would prohibit them from participating in sports.
“I think it’s great that we have people who are willing to acknowledge that women deserve equal opportunity because by allowing biological men to infiltrate our sports and into our spaces, we’re not being protected,” Gaines said.
After giving a speech last week at San Francisco State University, Gaines was allegedly assaulted, which caused PenAmerica — a nonprofit organization that supports literature and open expression — to speak out.
“What happened at SFSU was a disaster,” said Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager in free expression and education, in a statement. “Physical intimidation or violence is never an acceptable response to speech, no matter how hateful or controversial that speech may be.”
Craft, whose running mate — Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) — sponsored the newly enacted transgender law, spoke in favor of the legislation after Monday’s event.
“What I’m really concerned about as a mother and grandmother, I can’t imagine one of my granddaughters being in the girls’ bathroom in school and having a junior high or high school male coming into their bathroom or into their locker room,” Craft said.
Further, Craft spoke out against Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of the bill before the Republican-dominated legislature overrode it.
“I believe Senate Bill 150 tears away the freedom of parents to make important and difficult medical decisions for their kids,” Beshear said ahead of his veto.
Northern Kentucky Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport) said the legislation is a political move in a gubernatorial election year as Republicans try to oust Beshear from the governor’s office.
“I think the push for this is coming from a purely political vantage point,” Roberts said. “It’s a calculated messaging strategy on the majority party side that they think is going to help them win elections this year and the constitutional seats that are up for election, and that will be part of their messaging.”
Roberts further argued that the “anti-trans” message is the one that will replace the abortion message — after the fall of Roe v. Wade in 2022 triggered a law that banned the procedure in Kentucky.
“They needed the latest shiny penny thing that they could try and rally voters around, and tragically that seems to be them targeting some of the most vulnerable children in our community,” Roberts said.
Craft is hitting the campaign trail hard ahead of the primary. Her campaign and the pro-Craft Commonwealth PAC have spent nearly $4 million on tv ads ahead of the GOP primary. Most ads attack AG Daniel Cameron, who is considered the frontrunner, according to a January Mason-Dixon poll — the latest public poll.
Written by Mark Payne. Cross-posted from Link NKY.