Thursday, October 14, 2004

Westwood and Groob square off tonight


Debate caps hot Senate race

By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - State senate candidates Jack Westwood and Kathy Groob have plenty to talk about at tonight's debate at Holmes High School.

DEBATE
When: 7 p.m. tonightWhere: Holmes High School, 25th and Madison. Event is free and open to the public. Audience can submit questions.
What: Kenton County 23rd Senate District debate.
Who: Republican Sen. Jack Westwood and Democrat Kathy Groob.
Sponsors: Covington Business Council, Covington Neighborhood Collaborative, Friends of Covington, OASIS, NAACP, Insight Communications, Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky, The Kentucky Enquirer, Kentucky Post.
Negative ads, partisan claims, ethics complaints and battles over job performance are among the flashpoints expected to come up during the hour-long debate.

Groob, a Fort Mitchell Democrat, has claimed that on behalf of Westwood, the Kentucky Republican Party has mailed thousands of campaign pieces that misrepresent one of her positions.

The ad claims that Groob's stance on medical malpractice reform is motivated by the $30,000 in campaign contributions she has received from trial attorneys and is "driving good local doctors out of Kentucky."

But citing data from the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board, Groob's campaign has shown that the number of licensed physicians in Kenton County and the state has increased over the last year.

The ad, Groob said, is designed to create a diversion in the health care crisis.

That crisis has occurred with the Republicans holding the state Senate, she said.

Groob wants a crackdown on frivolous lawsuits and favors mediation and a state review board to settle disputes involving doctors and patients. Westwood supports a constitutional amendment that would, if passed by voters, cap the amount of money juries can award to patients who sue for medical malpractice.

Tonight, Groob is expected to go on the offensive over the state health care crisis in Frankfort. Gov. Ernie Fletcher outraged state employees, including public school teachers, with a plan to raise health care costs. He has called a special legislative session to deal with the problem.

Groob has called for Westwood to donate his legislative salary to Kentucky's teachers. Special sessions cost taxpayers as much as $55,000 a day.

"Jack Westwood continues to put his personal interests ahead of Kentucky's teachers," Groob said. "This special session was called because the governor was trying to fix the state health insurance crisis on the backs of teachers and students.

"We need new leadership in Frankfort to solve the health care crisis in this state," she said.

Westwood campaign manager Scott Sedmak said Groob's comments are disingenuous because as a member of Fort Mitchell Council, she voted earlier this year for a council pay raise of 250 percent.

"Jack Westwood is in Frankfort doing the people's business," Sedmak said. "She's only making an issue out of everything Jack does because she is losing."

Kentucky Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said Westwood has done a "fantastic job for Northern Kentucky" as a two-term member of the General Assembly.

Internal GOP polling shows that Westwood has not lost any ground because of the health care situation, but he did not release detailed information on the poll.

Williams said Westwood would be boosted on Election Day by the top of the ticket, which features two Republican candidates popular in Northern Kentucky - President Bush and U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Southgate.

The lack of a state budget also provides fodder for Groob. Legislators deadlocked over the budget and left Frankfort earlier this year without passing a two-year spending plan. That left major projects unfunded.

"We don't have a state budget," Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen said last week while in Villa Hills for a Groob campaign fund-raiser. "We need a Senate that is willing to move forward on progressive policies and legislation to keep this state moving forward."

Another likely topic is the state Legislative Ethics Commission preliminary probe into Florence resident Marc Wilson, a lobbyist and frequent GOP consultant who has advised Westwood's campaign.

Roger Auge, a Covington Democrat and Groob supporter, filed an ethics complaint alleging that Wilson broke state law by providing campaign advice to Westwood. Advice from a political consultant is considered to have monetary value, but registered lobbyists are prohibited under state law from contributing to candidates.

The commission held a hearing on the matter Tuesday in Frankfort but has not yet decided if a full investigation will be launched.

Wilson described the complaint as "all about the politics of personal destruction, which is what the Democrats do best.

"The charges are baseless and will be dismissed," Wilson predicted.

Auge said Westwood's comments are "fallacious" and a "blatant attempt to divert attention from the real issue of Jack Westwood's ethical impropriety."

Groob called the actions by Wilson and Westwood "a blatant disregard for the law."

But Westwood's campaign finance reports show payments of $3,000 to Wilson's media firm for placing advertising on buses.

"They know the rules," she said. "A senator that has been in there eight years should know that a paid lobbyist cannot give something of value to his campaign."

The 23rd District covers Covington, Erlanger, Edgewood, Elsmere, Fort Wright, Crescent Springs, Villa Hills, Bromley, Ludlow, Park Hills and Fort Mitchell.

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com




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