- Associated Press - Thursday, January 22, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Republican James Comer officially filed paperwork to run for governor on a day when the state’s unemployment rate dipped below 6 percent for the first time since 2008, another in a string of good news announcements for the current Democratic administration.

But Comer is not convinced Kentucky is recovering, and he’s betting the governor’s mansion on it.

“When you’re governor, you’ve got to be optimistic, you’ve got to be a cheerleader for the state and for that I applaud Gov. (Steve) Beshear,” Comer told reporters Thursday shortly after signing paperwork to appear on the ballot in the May 19th primary. “But I’ve traveled the state a lot over the past six months and I’m meeting a lot of families that are struggling.”

To illustrate his point, Comer took on Kentucky’s embrace of the federal Affordable Care Act. The federal law, while unpopular with many in Kentucky because of its association with President Barack Obama, has been heralded as a success in state by health reform advocates. The state’s health insurance exchange has been touted as a model for the country, and Kentucky’s uninsured rate has been cut nearly in half.

But most of that was because the state added nearly half a million people to Medicaid, the government-funded health insurance plan for the poor or disabled.

“We now have 25 percent of Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid,” Comer said. “Now they will say that’s because we’re a poor state. And I agree with that. And I’m sympathetic to that. But the problem with that is there is no plan to take those people out of poverty.”

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers have teamed up to form the Saving Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR. The effort has led to a $350 million project to lay 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable throughout the state, including economically depressed eastern Kentucky. Comer said he supports SOAR, saying he applauds everyone coming together to come up with a plan to create jobs and attract investment.

“But we’re going to actually do that,” he said. “We’re going to actually attract investment to the state.”

Comer’s plan is a combination of expanding the state’s tax incentives for businesses, cutting income taxes and spending more on the state’s roads and bridges, although he offered no specifics. He would also push for laws that he says would entice more businesses to move to Kentucky, including a law banning employers from requiring workers to join a labor union - a law fiercely opposed by Democrats and unions.

But before Comer can implement that plan, he has to convince Kentucky Republicans to nominate him for governor. He is in an increasingly crowded field, which includes former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, who will have support in eastern Kentucky, and former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, who has given his campaign $4 million and is already running TV ads.

But Comer appeared confident he would win the nomination, promising a positive campaign in the primary and saving his criticisms for presumed Democratic nominee Jack Conway. Comer criticized Conway for his support of “Obamacare,” and hinted the two-term Attorney General did little to support the state’s declining yet still politically powerful coal industry.

“Coal’s not dead, we just need people in the executive branch and in the Attorney General’s office that are going to fight to defend the coal industry, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

Mark Riddle, Conway’s senior adviser, said Comer is “clearly misinformed” about Conway’s record.

“Jack Conway is the only Democratic Attorney General in the country to sue President Obama’s EPA,” Riddle said. “What has Jamie Comer done for coal? So far we’ve seen facts matter very little to Comer.”

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