Renee Shaw: A conversation with the Republican nominee for governor, Daniel Cameron. We talk about his family background, why he wants to be governor, his driving messages on the campaign trail, and if race is a factor in his effort to take up residency in the governor's mansion. That's now on Connections.
Renee Shaw: Thank you for joining us today on Connections. I'm Renee Shaw. We're continuing our candidate conversations as we inch ever closer to Election Day, Tuesday, November 7th. We extended invitations to both gubernatorial candidates to appear on Connections. The governor declined. Republican Daniel Cameron is with us today to talk about growing up in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, working at his parents’ coffee shop, his connections to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, why he wants to be governor, and the historical significance of his nomination and what a victory would mean as an African-American. General Cameron, it's a pleasure to have you. Thank you so much.
Daniel Cameron: Renee, thank you as always.
Renee Shaw: How's it going for you?
Daniel Cameron: It's going well. I mean, we're obviously in the last month or so of this campaign and feel very good about things, and feel like we have a lot of momentum on our side, and we're going to have a new governor come November 7th and I'm excited about that.
Renee Shaw: Yes, a lot of road miles you’re putting on –
Daniel Cameron: Absolutely.
Renee Shaw: -- and we were talking about, like, knowing where you are the day of –
Daniel Cameron: Precisely.
Renee Shaw: -- because we get your press releases. We know how busy you are.
Daniel Cameron: Well, look, this is an important race and I want folks rather, regardless of where you are in the commonwealth to know that I'm working really hard. I’m going to try to show up in your community and talk about the issues that you care about. And we feel like we've gotten a good response from people. And again, I'm excited. I mean, this is the biggest governor's race in the country this year. There's Louisiana, there's Mississippi, and Kentucky, and the eyes of the nation are going to be in the Commonwealth. And I'm certain that we're going to respond and say that we want a governor that respects and stands up for our values and will stand up to Joe Biden. That's type of governor I’ll be.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. Well, I want people to know a little bit more about you. We'll talk a lot about the issues when you and the governor appear on another program.
Daniel Cameron: I think I’ve heard something about that. (laughs)
Renee Shaw: You’ve heard something about that. That’s on your schedule, right?
Daniel Cameron: Yes, it is, absolutely.
Renee Shaw: But tell us about your background because you're not a native Kentuckian, but you got here how?
Daniel Cameron: Well I got here pretty fast. I was born in Plano, Texas, but was there for about a couple of months. They literally were just waiting on me to be born before my dad had been transferred by Federal Express to Elizabethtown. So they're literally just waiting on me to be born. And so after 2 months, I was in E-town. So all my formative years have been in Kentucky. And my dad worked for Federal Express. My mom worked for Dow Corning and at some in around 1990, they decided to open up their own business. The first business they had was a, uh, you see those water jugs that are in offices? That was their first business. They were distributing those across town and then they got into the, the tea and spices business. And from there the coffee business and had, had a couple of different iterations. The first was Cameron Coffee, Cameron’s Coffee and then Zacks Coffee, and learned at a, probably way too early of an age how to make cappuccinos and lattes and --
Renee Shaw: (laughs) I bet you make the best one in the house?
Daniel Cameron: Well, you know, my parents would, you know, beg to differ when I was young, that's for sure. But I do like, like coffee now and, you know, my parents not only make coffee, but they made sandwiches as well. In fact, if you ask folks in E-town, one of the big sandwiches they made was called a veggie bagel. And folks still to this day talk about that veggie bagel that they made. There were some secret sauce that my dad had concocted –
Renee Shaw: Well before avocado toast took off, they had it already cornered –
Daniel Cameron: That is precisely right. But you know, that, that business closed the mid-2000s. It had a good run, and people still to this day talk about it. But a lot of my a formative years were spent working in that shop, and it was a cross-section of our community. A lot of folks from different walks of life came in there. And so if I wasn’t on the ballfields or at church, I was in that store.
Renee Shaw: Right, and when people hear you say E-town, for those who are not in the know, that’s Elizabethtown –
Daniel Cameron: That’s Elizabethtown, that’s right, that’s right.
Renee Shaw: Those of us who know commonly call it E-town. I want to talk about when you met the U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell because you were his, ah, legal counsel. But before that, you’d met him in college and you were, gotten a scholarship, McConnell Scholar. Talk about his influence on your life, not just your political perspective and aspirations, but personally.
Daniel Cameron: Well, as a young kid, I mean, obviously you watch television. You see the senator from Kentucky, Senator McConnell, and I’d see him on television. I’d think, oh, I that's really neat. My, my parents were conservatives, I grew up in a conservative household. So for me, it was Reagan. Bush, those were sort of the memories I had very early on. And so from there was Senator McConnell. He was standing up for, you know, our principles in D.C. And then I had the occasion to meet him when I was a senior in high school applying for the McConnell Scholars program. And at that time he was the majority whip of the United States Senate. And I remember going to that program, doing the interview, my mom was there with me and we, we walked up to take a photo with him. And I just though how neat is to have somebody that's working daily in Washington, D.C., to, to be here taking this photo with me, interested in where I'm from, and interested in in my future. The McConnell Scholars Program is a program that's about, you know, developing young folks to do a lot of different things with it, but, but with the focus of civic leadership. You could be on any side of the aisle but this program was available to you. And that just meant a lot to me. In course, from there, obviously he's a big avid football fan, and I happened to play a little football in college at U of L. Play, a very generous term, as I've told people before. But we bonded over that and, you know, my political philosophy and he's been a good friend for a number of years.
Renee Shaw: Does that singular connection of being connected to Senator McConnell, has that been formative for you in terms of your trajectory and your political aspirations? Without his influence, do you think things would be different?
Daniel Cameron: Well, I, certainly, you know, certainly I’m grateful for the McConnell Scholars program, and then obviously stayed U of L for law school, and after that I clerked for a federal judge for two years. Then I worked at Stites & Harbison and did that for a while, and then went up to D.C. to be a Senator McConnell's legal counsel. Got to work on some really neat things, whether it was judicial nominations and appointments, whether it was working with our law enforcement community back here, or working on the, the Farm Bill. Those were really neat experiences. And so when I came back in June of 2017, I had no notion. I, I was content to go to Frost, Brown, Todd and try to work my way up the ladder to be a partner there. And so it really wasn't until uh, roughly the end of 2018 where some friends within the law enforcement community and the legal community encouraged me to seriously look at the race for attorney general. And I prayed about it and consulted my mom and others and ultimately made the decision to jump in. But certainly whether its Leader McConnell or Senator Paul or a whole host of people, my mom, my dad, my wife, Mackenzie now, they've all been really helpful in supporting me as I've the run for attorney general and now for governor.
Renee Shaw: When we think about the influence that Senator McConnell is on the entire political landscape and the judiciary that you alluded to, right, I mean it's an indelible mark his legacy is. He's behind you. But we also know that former President Donald Trump has endorsed you. We've, many of us think that Senator McConnell was more low key during the primary, that he didn't seem to be as visible in your corner. When you think about whose endorsement, whose influence means more to you in this quest to become governor, is it Mitch McConnell or is it President Donald Trump?
Daniel Cameron: Well, the endorsement that means the most to me is the folks that go to the polls on November 7th. I want Kentucky and, look, what I hope to have done during the primary and now is to unify as many people around the message that, that we need a governor that is focused on these foundational issues that are really important for commonwealth. Issues like reducing the crime rate, making sure that we have world-class schools and a world-class education system, making sure that we get our income tax down as far as we possibly can so that we can compete and attract people into the state. And so obviously I'm glad to have the endorsement of President Trump and, you know, he's been the voice for a lot –
Renee Shaw: Still?
Daniel Cameron: Absolutely. He's been the voice for a lot of hard, you know, so much so that, Renee, you know this, Andy Beshear is now running an ad on television trying to suggest that somehow Donald Trump has endorsed his campaign. That simply could not be further from the truth. I mean, Donald Trump would never endorse a candidate that's let out 2,000 criminals. Donald Trump would never endorse a candidate that has vetoed legislation to protect women's sports from biological males. President Trump would certainly never support a candidate that shut our schools down for nearly two years. But that is Andy Beshear and I think it's somewhat laughable that he would try to suggest in some way that he's connected to Donald Trump. But I think it demonstrates how popular President Trump has been in supporting the working-class folks of our commonwealth and this country.
Renee Shaw: Many people bemoan the state of politics, particularly national politics, right? So divisive, tribal many people have called it. They don't see their connection at all. And they think that leaders are just power mongering and self-centered and self-directed, either they're far left or the far right. Who is your message designed to persuade? You've, you've got Republicans. You talked about unity. Are you trying to get to the swing voters, the independent voters with your message? Do you think it resonates?
Daniel Cameron: Well, look what I've, uh, felt as I’ve travel across this state is that there so many parents and grandparents and I never really know their political affiliation. I don't know if they’re Republican, Democrat, or independent. But I know that I’ve talked a lot of parents and grandparents that are concerned about the future for their kids and in particular when it comes to our education system. They want to make sure that we have schools that are about reading, writing, and math. And I know a lot of teachers and, look, let me just say if there's a teacher watching right now. I want to know that under my leadership, the Republican Party is going to value and appreciate you. I’ve said that –
Renee Shaw: And you've apologized for Republicans who may have offended the education community.
Daniel Cameron: -- and I have apologized because, again, as I offer these ideas on education, and we've offered the Cameron Catch-Up Plan, I want to do it from a spirit of humility. And my wife is a teacher. She spent nearly seven years in the Oldham County School System. My sister-in-law teaches in JCPS right now. My mother retired as a public educator, so education is really important to us. And it's important to parents and grandparents. And a lot of our kids, because of the decision by Andy Beshear to shut our schools down, have fallen behind. And I think we owe it, as folks that are in leadership, to figure out a way to catch our kids up. And that's what our education plan is about. And that's what I've been talking to parents and grandparents about, again, making sure our schools are about reading, writing, and math, and they aren’t incubators for liberal, progressive ideas.
Renee Shaw: But many public educators, General Cameron, are concerned about what you're not saying and that's about school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, the privatization of education. That's what they fear. You're still going to pursue those school choice issues and those concerns if you are elected governor, correct?
Daniel Cameron: Well, as I’ve talked about in my first budget, we will be prioritizing public education because the majority of our kids are in our public schools. And so we have a responsibility to undo the damage and harm that Andy Beshear did by shutting our schools down. I mean, if you look at any of the indicators for success, whether it's reading, science, or math, our kids have fallen behind on those issues. Now, Andy Beshear certainly professes a profound appreciation for public education, but has actively tried to undermine it as governor. I mean, he shut our schools down and because of his indifference to school, there are a lot of kids that have been indifferent to going to the classroom. So much so that chronic absenteeism is at 30 percent, which is a high for this state. That means there are kids that are not even, that are barely even going to school. And I think, again, as a leader in this state, particularly as it relates to our public education system, and again, I, I will continue to say this not only on November 6th but I'm going to be saying it on November 8th when I'm the governor-elect here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that we have got to look out for our teachers. We've got to make sure that we take care of our public education system. Look, I believe, as a Republican nominee for governor I’ve said this, we need to increase the pay of our teachers. I think we're in the bottom 40s in terms of starting pay, that, that, that has to change, particularly if we want our teachers focused on our students, building those connections so that our kids can be the best and brightest version of themselves.
Renee Shaw: So starting pay, you want to increase. But what about retaining the teachers already in the classroom? What kind of boost would they say?
Daniel Cameron: Well, that's the important part of my plan as well is that we want to give a discretionary fund to superintendents to make sure that those teachers that are in the classroom and have been there, that they can receive additional bonuses and rewards, But I also believe if we increase the starting pay because of the way in which our system works, it will make sure that there's a ripple effect through our school systems to raise the pay of all of our teachers. And again, I think the other thing that's really important to note here as well that on the topic of education, Andy Beshear has been in office for roughly three-and-a-half years and has done nothing for our teachers. Instead, he's created division within Frankfort, such that there's no relationship between him and the legislature. Before I unveiled my education plan. I talked to the members of the legislature because it's that important to me that they, that I receive there by and so that we can actually get this thing done. Because if we get it done, it's going to be good for our kids because they'll have a 16-week program in which to help catch them up on those indicators for success. But it will also be good for our teachers because we're going to make sure that they're in a position to increase their salaries and restore discipline to the classroom, and make sure that we're getting rid of some of the bureaucracy that exist. My wife would come home from school sometime and talk about filling out the professional growth plan, the PGP, if you will. She’d submit that and never get any feedback on it. Again, if we're going to do those things, we want to make sure that our, that the development of our teachers, is, is actually something that we're prioritizing and not just doing paperwork for paperwork’s sake.
Renee Shaw: And we should note that the governor has in his budget addresses and his proposals and recommendations to the General Assembly proposed pay increases for teachers directly out right, not just through a larger appropriation to the SEEK formula or the education, overall education budget.
Daniel Cameron: Let me just say on that point, that front as well. I mean, it's one thing to make an announcement about a plan. It's another thing to do the hard and difficult work of working with the legislature to actually get it done. Andy Beshear's gotten good and making announcements, particularly in an election year. But he hasn't been good at developing the relationships to actually get these things done. And that's the difference between me and Andy Beshear. If we care about quality education, if we care about reducing the crime rates, if we care about increasing our workforce, you've got to do the hard work of actually making sure to develop relationships with our legislature to get those things done.
Renee Shaw: And of all those things you mentioned, one of the things you haven't mentioned is there's been a really critical focus on transgender issues, abortion. And like I said, we're going to try to keep this interview just to some other matters, philosophical in conversation, and let you debate those issues with the governor. But when we think about how important that seems to be to the campaign that you're running, transgender issues, some people would say are you, you, running even more to the right? So for a moderate Kentucky voter, what are you offering them?
Daniel Cameron: Well, Renee, what, what I will say to use that this is actually the first time this is came up in this conversation. I mean, what I’ve tried to talk here is education. Try to talk about the fact that there's been a governor that is let out 2,000 criminals and made it challenging on the public safety front, and want to talk about workforce as well because I know there are a lot of employers that are, uh, struggling right now because they cannot find people to work in their facilities, in their plants, and in their businesses. And I think we have to make sure that we're addressing those issues, and those are things that I'm going to work on. Again, education, crime, workforce, of course. As I've said repeatedly, I think you do need a governor that is, is willing to say and is willing to support legislation that protects women's sports from biological males. I think most parents at home want to make sure that their daughters and granddaughters have a fair opportunity to compete in their sports. I, I, I think that's a common-sense idea. But when we think about this race and what is at stake, it's our kids and our grandkids. It's about making sure that they have quality education. It's about making sure as well, in my view, that we eliminate our state's income tax. If we want to encourage people to get back to work, I think we can do that through, you know, making sure that government encourages that, but also let's not penalize people for going to work in the morning. Let's eliminate that income tax.
Renee Shaw: And so you have also recently proposed, uh, petitioning the federal government to allow you to institute what would be, I assume, a waiver for Medicaid that would institute rules for able-bodied Kentuckians to get off the Medicaid rolls and to go to work.
Daniel Cameron: Renee, and I appreciate you saying, because this is about able-bodied individuals.
Renee Shaw: What is an able-bodied individual?
Daniel Cameron: Someone, as I think most people at home would, would consider, someone who's able to go to work. And as, uh, Medicaid exists right now, and look, I understand from talking to a lot of health care providers that the expansion of Medicaid was really important. And I'm telling you right now, and I'll say this until I'm blue in the face, that I will not cut Medicaid. And I know Andy Beshear is running a campaign ad right now about me cutting Medicare for our seniors. I'm not going to do that either. What I want to do, and I think this is a common-sense idea, if we want Medicaid to stay solvent for those that are considered means-tested and medically necessary, if we want it to stay solvent for that, those folks that are able-bodied individuals, we need to transition them back to work, particularly –
Renee Shaw: How many able-bodied Kentuckians could be working? Do we know numbers?
Daniel Cameron: Well, I think it's im, important to, to make sure that any of those folks, we are transitioning them back into the workforce. Again, Governor Beshear, you know, touts his economic agenda, but he leaves out the fact that since he’s taken the oath of office, there are few or Kentuckians is working. The, the BLS, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, says that there's roughly 27,000 fewer Kentuckians working right now. In addition to that, there's roughly 80,000 people that are on unemployment benefits and tens of thousands that are not even looking. And that leads us to the 47th lowest workforce participation rate in the country. And, again, as I talk to people here in our commonwealth, employers are saying we cannot find people to work. And I think it's important for government to encourage people, again, particularly those that are able-bodied individuals, let's get them working again. And I think that's important for a governor to, to address.
Renee Shaw: You’ve come out rather boldly against DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion policies and programs and companies, law firms, and even, I think, a scantily known minority management program in state government. Have you yourself benefited from those types of programs that seek to level the playing field, some would say, for African-Americans who have historically been discriminated against? Haven't you yourself benefited from those programs now that you denounce?
Daniel Cameron: Well, look, I think what is really important is that if we want to, and the Supreme Court has said this, the only way to, to stop discriminating based upon race is to stop discriminating based upon race. And, you know, I'm proud of my record. I came out of high school with a 4.0 GPA, did pretty well in undergrad and, uh, was, uh, did very well in law school as well. So much so that I got a federal clerkship. And I think it's, you know, one of the things that I think makes this conversation really difficult is that you look at me and, and think, well, you know, Daniel, you've done a good job, but maybe it's because of the color of your skin. And I want to get to a place in this commonwealth and in this country that we're not saying, well, maybe you did that because of the color of your skin. We're saying that you did it because of merit. And I think that's really important. The other thing I'll make --
Renee Shaw: Do you believe that racism still exists?
Daniel Cameron: -- The other thing, well, let me on that front, I mean, there are going to always be challenges. Look, we are a fallen people and sin exists in our world. And sin will always exist in our world. As the hands and feet of Christ, we've got a responsibility to address that –
Renee Shaw: And racism is sin in your view?
Daniel Cameron: And so I, and I think, you know, any, any of this stuff exists in our world, and we've got to be willing to address that. But at the same time, you know, look, when I ran for attorney general in 2019, I never once considered, well, because I'm Black, I cannot win this race. And you and I have talked about this before. And when I jumped into this primary to, to, to be the Republican nominee for governor, I never thought, I can't win this race because I'm Black. What I thought and what I continue to think is that people here in Kentucky care about your values and they care about your work ethic. And that is what the ultimate judge and decision should be as it relates to anything in this country.
Renee Shaw: Do you believe Kentucky is ready to elect the first Black governor?
Daniel Cameron: I think Kentucky is ready to elect somebody that reflects their values. And I happen to be Black, and I would be honored to be the first Black American to be the governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It would be an extreme honor in the same way that I've been honored to be the first Black attorney general, an independently elected statewide officeholder. It's a great honor. And I'm, and I, look, I hope there are kids at home right now that see me and say, because he can do it regardless of political affiliation, I can do that as well. And I'm honored, but at the end of day, this is going to be about values. And you've got me, who's going to be willing to stand up to Joe Biden and you've got Andy Beshear that is beholden to Joe Biden. So much so that Andy Beshear has gotten $250,000 from Joe Biden to his campaign, making Joe Biden the largest contributor Andy Beshear because he has done his bidding here, whether it was shutting down our churches, whether it was shutting down our small businesses, whether it was shutting down our schools, whether was letting criminals out of jail. Those are all things that And Andy Beshear has done on his watch, and that isn't reflective of the values of the men, women, and children of our 120 counties.
Renee Shaw: I am going to ask you about abortion and not about where the stances have been, right? But about what you believe personally, General Cameron, not if the courts were to mandate it, not if the legislature were to send you a bill. In your heart of hearts, what do you believe about abortion rights or pro-life?
Daniel Cameron: Well, I, look, my, uh, my views on this are shaped by my faith, and I think we have a responsibility to our unborn to, to keep them alive. And I know that, as, as I've talked about earlier with Mario [Anderson of Spectrum 1 News] earlier this week, this is a sensitive issue and I understand that. And I want to be in the responsible position of making sure that I speak gently and kindly about this because I know that there are a range of opinion on this topic. And yes, I am pro-life, and, yes, I believe firmly that we need to protect our unborn. But I understand, whether it's the young lady in the ad other Kentuckians that have different views from me. But I certainly am going to continue to talk about the responsibility that we have to protect the unborn. And let me just say, you know, this is in contrast to Andy Beshear, who when he was in my position as attorney general, he refused to defend a 20-week ban on abortion. As governor, he has vetoed a 15-week ban on abortion. In 2022, he signed legislation or signed a pledge, if you will, saying that taxpayers should pay for abortions. And just recently refused to sign a bill that will keep a baby alive after a failed abortion. Again, I don't think that's reflective of the majority of Kentuckians. I am pro-life and there's no, no way I'll ever walk away from that. And I firmly believe that, right now, we have a governor in Andy Beshear, who his values on this issue are inconsistent with the majority of Kentuckians.
Renee Shaw: State Senator Whitney Westerfield, who is judiciary chairman in the Senate, has filed a bill draft that would, and this is my final question, General Cameron, that would essentially get beyond this conversation, the post-Dobbs conversation into how do we aid pregnant women?
Daniel Cameron: Absolutely.
Renee Shaw: Are you for enlarging public assistance programs that would support pregnant women who would not legally be able to get an abortion in Kentucky?
Daniel Cameron: I absolutely am and I've made that clear. I mean, even something like a universal pre-K, I think should be on the table, particularly if we care about lives and we care about life. I think it's important that we have a really robust conversation about how we can, whether it's foster care, whether it's expanding level of public benefits, we need to have that conversation. And someone who is pro-life needs to be actively engaged in that conversation --
Renee Shaw: And are you going to push for that conversation to be had in the next session of the General Assembly should you become governor?
Daniel Cameron: I certainly will along with Whitney and others. Again, if we are pro-life, we need to figure out ways to help mothers and families more broadly and make sure that fathers are engaged in the lives of the mother and the child. Those are really important parts of this conversation, and I will be fully supportive of those efforts.
Renee Shaw: Well, General Cameron, I thank you for your time. I’ve taken a little bit more than I maybe promised or said I would. But I appreciate –
Daniel Cameron: I always enjoy talking with you.
Renee Shaw: I appreciate your candor and being here with us today. Thank you.
Daniel Cameron: Absolutely, yes, ma'am. Thank you.
Renee Shaw: Thank you for joining us for Connections today and stay up on the latest on the campaign trail each week night at 6.30 Eastern, 5.30 Central on KET’s Kentucky Edition. Connect with me on Facebook X, formerly known as Twitter, and Instagram.
Until I see you again, take really good care.