At the midpoint of his first four-year term in office — with hopes for a second four-year term to start in 2023 — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear reflected Monday on his continuing efforts against the coronavirus pandemic and maintaining the economic investment boom the state is enjoying.
The 44-year-old governor also spoke of his rocky relationship with the Republican-led General Assembly as lawmakers prepare for its 2022 session to begin in January and other important political events coming up next year.
In addition, the Democratic governor, who said he is in good health though he gained a few pounds during the pandemic, criticized Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Lewis County for distributing a controversial Christmas card of himself and others holding guns in front of a Christmas tree.
Beshear’s comments came during an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader from the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort.
‘This thing is still so deadly’
Beshear was only in office for about three months when the coronavirus pandemic began in Kentucky. He has spent most of his waking hours trying to fight the virus that has killed more than 11,000 Kentuckians, urging people to get vaccinated and boosted.
Beshear said the most personally satisfying part of the battle for him has been “the goodness of our people on display, sacrificing for one another and the willingness to help each out in whatever it takes to get through it.”
“What we have been able to do as a people though has been nothing short of incredible,” he said, noting the advances in testing, vaccines and treatment.
The hardest part of the battle, he said, is “this thing is still so deadly.” He said it has been frustrating to have “tools that we know work removed, knowing that if I had certain authority that I no longer have we could save more lives and we could make tough decisions that we see others are unwilling to.”
He was referring to the legislature’s decisions this year to curb the governor’s authority on issuing executive orders dealing with the pandemic. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the legislative action.
‘Kentucky economy on fire’
So far this year, companies have pledged to invest more than $10.4 billion in the state and the governor hints at possibly more.
With the help of legislation to allow more financial incentives for investments of more than $2 billion, Kentucky this year landed the single largest economic development project in its history, a $5.8 billion investment by Ford Motor Corp. and South Korea-based SK Innovation to build two battery manufacturing plants in Glendale in Hardin County that are expected to employ 5,000 people.
Businesses now have a confidence and see stability in Kentucky “that we can ultimately accomplish their goal,” said Beshear.
Some Republicans say the economic gains are because of actions of Kentucky’s GOP-led General Assembly.
They cite legislative action in 2017 in approving bills that ban mandatory union membership as a condition of employment, do not allow employers to deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks without written permission, and forbid public employees from going on strike.
They also repealed Kentucky’s prevailing-wage law, which guarantees higher wages for workers on construction projects paid for with public money.
Beshear said those issues have not come up in discussions with business interests. “What they want to know is what type of teammate you are going to be, how reliable you are, the competence that they have working with you, that you can do it right, you can do it quickly and that there is a viable future at your location,” he said.
Kentucky is looking at “multiple projects out there that are over $2 billion that we hope to land,” he said, saying it was too early to reveal them.
A year ago before the 2021 General Assembly was to begin, there was much talk about racial injustice, especially with the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville by police.
Kentucky has made some gains this year in tackling racial injustice, said Beshear, but he quickly added “there are those who rightfully feel that we have not moved fast enough.”
Most of the gains in the state has been on the policing side, said Beshear, noting changes in police training. He also mentioned his proposal to raise state trooper salaries and expand Waterfront Park in Louisville to the west part of the city.
U.S. Senate race in 2022
Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Bowling Green is seeking re-election next year. His most likely Democratic opponent at the moment looks to be Charles Booker of Louisville, a former state representative.
Booker has not backed away from his progressive ideals in supporting Medicare for All, criminal justice reform, universal basic income, and a Green New Deal.
Beshear said he expects to support whoever is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and declined to define himself politically compared to Booker.
“I don’t necessarily analyze where somebody else is versus where I am,” he said. “My job is about Kentucky, not national politics.”
He said he is is “disappointed in many ways where Sen. Paul has addressed the pandemic. I think he could have been a really strong voice for science and protecting our people..”
Priorities for 2022 General Assembly
Beshear will present to lawmakers in late January his budget proposal for the next two years. He said it will be “a budget that will continue helping us to turn two years of great economic progress into 20 years of prosperity.” He specifically mentioned investing in public K-12 and higher education “in real and substantial ways,” preparing the next round of business and industrial sites, investing in efforts to cement Kentucky as the agri-tech capital of the world, and investing in “hero pay” for essential workers during COVID and wage increase for state workers.
The legislature also will have to deal with redrawing political boundaries for its districts, as it does every 10 years following the U.S. Census to make sure districts have equal populations.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, wanted a special session this year on redistricting and has criticized Beshear for not calling one.
Beshear said Tuesday Stivers never asked him to call a special session. “My door is open. He never walked through it.” He also said he had heard the redistricting maps were not ready, which he wanted to see before calling a session.
Asked if he trusts the Kentucky General Assembly, Beshear said, “I believe there are issues we can and should be willing to work on. I always stand ready to do so.
“My job is to be an adult and to treat everybody else like adults, and no matter what back-and-forth there has been, to be ready to find common ground and to move forward. “
He said he hopes the 2022 session is not dominated by politics and re-election concerns, but will focus on revitalization and progress.”
Kentuckians next November will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow legislators to vote themselves into special session.
Beshear said he will vote no on his ballot.
“That turns a part-time legislature into a full-time legislature, allowing them to be in virtually every day, which is not how that separation of powers works,” said Beshear. “It allows special interests to go to them, whether that is offering campaign contributions or else and ask them to go into a special session for things that benefit and only benefits them.
“It could, and likely would, create a General Assembly gone wild with virtually no limitations on authority.”
Concerning Rep. Massie’s Christmas card that asked Santa to “please bring ammo” four days after four high school students were killed in a Michigan mass shooting, Beshear said he believes strongly in the 2nd Amendment that gives the people the right to keep and bear arms but the card was inappropriate.
“Not appropriate,” he said “Just try to be a good, caring human being and know that you can have strong opinions, but not the time and it wasn’t the place. We are taught better than that in school, at church and by our parents.”